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To all the bosses I’ve endured…

With the global work from home experience still going on in most parts of the world five months and counting, there have been quite a few discussions in business publications such as Forbes or Harvard Business Review around management styles and what makes a good manager. A few characteristics come up over and over again – taking ownership, accepting accountability, leading by example, showing empathy, having emotional intelligence are some of the characteristics many leaders seem to share.

As a manager, who’s got a range of management experience over the years from having just one report to managing teams of 10-15 people, I am always keen to work on my shortcomings as well as identifying and honing my strengths. Brutally honest with my flaws, I am also quick to look back on years of experience and remember times where I felt despicably short of leading in positive ways.

Likewise, I like looking back to the managers I’ve had over the years and how they have excelled or miserable failed in their management of others or me. I am a huge fan of the thinking that people come into our lives for a reason, or a season or a blessing, and when it comes to managers, I’ve had my share of the lot, and with each article I read on management, I can’t help but reminisce on the ones I’ve endured and what I learned from it all.

Cherry the Bully
She was the Head of English and Head of Sixth Form at my first work place where I joined as a rookie English teacher. I was just 23, she was nearing retirement; yet instead of taking me under her wing and showing me ropes, she would often bully me, give me the worst classes, stand outside my classroom to make a list of all my failings as a new, unqualified teacher to report back to my students’ parents. One day, she shouted at me in front of a whole teacher’s room of colleagues because I’d taken papers home to mark – a common practice for her and everyone else but suddenly when it was me, it was a fire hazard. It was a tough time to endure but for a long time after I knew no matter how bad a working environment got, it could never get as bad as enduring Cherry, the bully.

The Karen
Her name was really Karen, and she was the ur Karen long before Karen became Karen. Entitled as her mother had been working as the headteacher’s PA, Karen considered herself an authority on anything without much substance to support her arrogance. Karen went from a secondary school teacher to Head of Department through no other virtue than pushing her way in so she could throw her weight about. While claiming to be an authority on the English language almost daily, she would almost daily discover something new about the subject she fancied herself an expert on. If anything, Karen through those five years I endured her made me not take people in positions of power at face value and challenge them where I think they are out of their depth.

Ade
Let’s call her Ade, shall we? As over the years, some Ades have come and gone through the revolving doors of my work life. Ade was sickly sweet when she was happy – you could do no wrong if you’d done something to please her and you could ride on the wave of achievement for a few hours, days or weeks – depending on how soon something would happen, or often some criticism given by her ‘nearest and dearest’ to tip the balance. Never mind the fact that the said nearest and dearest didn’t have any expertise on what they were criticising, but somehow, their word would be the gospel and all too soon you will fall from favour and become the most useless employee who couldn’t do anything right.

Another flaw with Ade was her impatience; once crossed, she had a nasty temper. Imagine a woman screaming like a banshee as a seasoned London cabby about why he should be going into a pedestrian street because it was raining and she possibly couldn’t get wet. I had to walk away when finally after months of sleepless nights of working around the clock I too got shouted at for not delivering a document she had asked for within the hour. My excuse? I had just come out of invasive surgery and should have been off work to recuperate – it just didn’t cut it with Ade.
To be continued…

In this article:
Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
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