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Working for a Tyrant—Life is too Short...

November 28, 2010
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A simple checklist to see if you are working for a toxic leader


My phone rang last month with yet another story of a very talented person who’s simply miserable working for a bad leader. This is a scary problem that I hear about more than you might think. Great and talented executives working for an ego-maniac- micro-manager—or worse a toxic leader. I can't think of a situation that is much worse for employees in the workforce to deal with. To deal with daily abuse knowing the odds are great that some form of abuse will occur without notice—sometimes in front of others (peers and subordinates). It sounds very painful—another day of biting your tongue, sucking it up and enduring more abuse.

For those that have dealt with this for years you become conditioned and find ways to cope. Not me. What a terrible way to live. I, for one, have experienced working for a toxic leader and made a personal promise to myself to never let that happen again. EVER!

What makes (terrible) leaders treat people the way they do? I don’t get it. Life is way too short and you need to honestly ask yourself the following questions about your leader:

Does your boss:

1. “Call you out” or demean you in front of your peers or subordinates?

2. Always communicate in a manner that makes you feel like you just can’t score any points or be good enough in their eyes—no matter how hard you work?

3. Elevate your stress level every time you are in his/her presence?

4. Never compliment you on a job “well done” and refuse to give you positive reinforcement?

5. Ask you to work long hours or be available for calls in the evening or over the weekend on a regular basis?

6. Micro-manage everything and every project you have responsibility for?

I love to give career advice to executive leaders—and I’m thrilled to help when I hear from a HCIT leader with a question where I can add some value. Glad to help. Here’s piece of advice that you can take to the bank. If you answered YES to any of the questions above—start looking for an exit door soon. Life is too short. If you answered YES to more two or more of the questions above—make a decision today to get out of the environment you are in. NOW. You can’t change the stripes when the zebra has a huge ego or a toxic personality. Don’t even try. Formulate a plan today to change your life—and put it to paper. Start working your network and others that can help you exit your unhealthy environment. Do whatever you have to in order to change your world. Just don’t stay.

You won’t believe how great you will feel when you exit the building for the last time and escape to freedom. There is a huge world out there and you deserve to be happy. Now, go make it happen!



Joe: I also feel that I can get along with most people. I draw the line on dealing with jerks. I feel sorry for those that don't have the courage to find another home. It's sad - but employees can change the situation if they so choose. In employment markets like the one we are in - it becomes much more difficult. The HCIT boom should change that for everyone - and soon!

Great post and comments. I worked for a Tyrant too. People don't believe these managers exist in corporations today but they do and they thrive. People are often afraid to speak up. The people in our group even tried to talk to our local HR rep but she did nothing but go to the Tyrant who then took out his anger on us by slowly finding reasons to terminate several of us. The VP of HR wouldn't listen either and the Tyrant is still with the company. Your advice to leave is correct. Don't try to wait out the Tyrant - our version was inept and had all of us doing his work for him. We were sure he'd be gone long before us. We were wrong.

Kobi: You are quite welcome! I think the best way for employees to deal with this is with ACTION. Words mean nothing to people that are wired with TYRANT DNA. Take the high road, find a new role and LEAVE. That sends a message to them and to the entire organization.

Karen: Thanks for your post. It's true - the only REAL answer is to get out! Any company where HR endorses this sort of behavior by ratting out those employees that are asking for help is simply a company I want NO part of. Like I said, you cant' change the stripes on that zebra. Don't even try. It is a lost cause. I'm glad you were able to escape Karen!

Thank you, Tim, for giving a voice to so many who tolerate such abuse silently. I ran into early in my career and swore never to tolerate it again. Better yet, in my own business, I have pledged never to allow this to happen to anybody. But at the end of the day, you are right: we all must put a stop to such behavior. And yet, too many good people out there have yet to realize that they do have the power to do so. Thank you!

Nice post, Tim. Like Pete, I can recall such a Tyrant. Prior to working for her, I believed I could get along with and work with anyone, at least in some tolerable fashion. I no longer believe that.

Thanks Pete. Love the dartboard story! Losing out on the fun is the worst part of working in this God-awful environment. My sound advice - GET OUT!

Great Post Tim! I worked for a Tyrant, but it was a client that I was contracted with. She followed the exact six points you mentioned. They must have the same cookbook.
It could have been a fun project, but she made everyone's life miserable. You don't want to leave because you don't want to feel like you failed, or feel like you can't handle the situation. Most of the time you are in denial, feeling like the Tyrant is just having a bad day or you start feeling sorry for them. It's like a co-dependency or enabling type situation.
I ended up leaving the project because as you said, "Life is too short." Once I was gone, I could see everything clearly and was mad at myself for having stayed as long as I did.
I have been fortunate to work for other clients that are professional and fun to work with, but I still keep a picture of the Tyrant on my dartboard.