December 22, 2005


A Survival Guide for Working with Bad Bosses. By Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. AMACOM. $15.

     ‘Tis the season to be jolly, but not if you work for one of the pointy-haired idiots (to borrow a Dilbert description) discussed in these pages.  Unfortunately, Gini Graham Scott’s book is about workplace reality, not the almost-reality (or surreality) of Scott Adams’ super-popular comic strip.

     This is a depressing tome in which columnist Scott, who has written more than 40 books, accurately portrays some of the worst boss types around through a series of to-the-point, based-on-reality anecdotes.  Unfortunately, the book does not quite live up to its subtitle: “Dealing with Bullies, Idiots, Back-Stabbers, and Other Managers from Hell.”  The reason is that Scott’s prescriptions are less helpful than her descriptions.  Her recommendations tend to involve becoming devious, creating a lot more work for yourself to track what a bad boss does, or finding a new job.  These may in fact be the best things you can do in the particular situations Scott presents, but if that is true, the modern workplace remains as drab and dull as any long-ago assembly line.  Not a pleasant thought.

     For example, Scott tells the story of Janice, an assistant to a demanding film director.  The director insisted on having child actors work beyond allowed hours, despite the protests of a child-welfare guardian on the set, and then decided to have the children do a physically dangerous scene in those non-allowed hours.  By coincidence, the director was injured during the filming and the scene was not shot, but that did not solve Janice’s bigger problem.  Scott lays out her options, as she does for everyone whose story she offers: say nothing and hope for the best, discuss the problems with others or the director, etc.  But Scott concludes that “this situation is one of those cases where you can do little” and suggests that people who do not fit well in an organization should “find someplace where you will find a better fit” – not an easy or pleasant task.

     Other examples involve the perfectionist/micromanaging boss (“be ready to stand up for yourself”), the boss who combines praise with putdowns (“don’t take the putdown personally”), the boss who pits coworkers against each other (“come up with some plays to end the game”), and many more.  There are 37 chapters here, almost all of them dealing with specific types of bad bosses, and one has to admire Scott for the amount of research she has done on distinguishing characteristics of boss trouble – while bemoaning the many variations of the species.  Scott’s greatest service is helping readers see the signs of particular types of mismanagement in their own bosses – and letting them know they are not alone; others face a similarly miserable environment.  Scott’s specific suggestions, though, are sometimes too glib and sometimes too difficult and time-consuming to implement while also doing one’s job and hopefully having a life outside work.  Since it is not always practical to find a new job (and possibly a new bad boss), Scott’s ideas are at least worth attempting, but the cures seem unequal to the severity of the disease.

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