Derek was a lot of fun when he first hired me and he was the last boss I ever had for reasons that will soon become obvious. He was also a brilliant salesman and he’d been so successful in his career that by the age of 40 he didn’t really need to work anymore. Not for money at least but he did feel the need to work for respect and to “make it big” in the corporate world.
As my sales manager he sometimes went to client meetings with me and everyone loved him. He was great with people, fun to be around and genuinely a very likeable person. I learned a lot from him – I learned to be myself when I met people, to listen attentively and to go out of your way to make sure the customer got what he needed. He was living proof that you could be honest, ambitious and get ahead without manipulating prospects into buying.
And the basis of his success was his delight in meeting people, cracking jokes and having a good time while still making sure the work got done. He always had funny stories to tell and I heard him tell the same stories again and again with the same enthusiasm only to different people. He taught me that you don’t have to be original, your stories can be fun and interesting to all the people you meet for the first time.
Derek worked long hours. He’d leave home early, say goodbye to his wife and two young children and be in the office before most people had left the house for the morning commute. He also worked late and sometimes he’d head to the movies at the end of the day to relax. This was a source of fun in the office because he loved the movies and somehow the morning after he’d still be in character, he’d still be playing the role of the action hero he had admired the night before.
One day you’d call by his office and he’d be smiling and laughing and you knew he’d spent an enjoyable evening watching a comedy. He’d be cracking jokes and if you needed him to sign off your hefty expenses it wasn’t a problem. But another day he’d call you to his office and he’d be pounding his fist into the desk and shouting, he’d be talking like business was war and no matter what you said he’d be furious. On days like that you wished he’d watch fewer macho adventure films and maybe more romantic comedies. Those were the days when people kept their heads down and avoided him whenever possible.
Over time Derek got more and more agitated and angry. Instead of just now and again he was in a bad mood most of the time. When I was out of the office meeting with clients I’d switch off my phone so I’d didn’t have to deal with him and when I was in the office I’d steer clear of him, shut the door to my office and get stuck into my work. One day I was busy at my desk when he phoned to scream down the phone at me. He was furious about something and it was my turn to feel the full force of his anger. I reluctantly and nervously walked over to his office, I closed the door behind me and waited for the rage to rise and subside.
He was in a foul mood so I gave him my complete attention, I agreed with him in saying that things needed to change and I assured him that things were looking up for the better. I knew that there’s no point in trying to reason with someone when they’re angry so my main goal was to wait it out and not provoke more trouble for myself. He slammed his fist into the desk a few more times and told me to get out of his office which I did, gladly.
I retreated back to my office and I knew not to take it personally. Derek had one by one given the same treatment to all the senior staff reporting to him. One day the top technical person had fled his office in tears. Because this was consistent treatment that a lot of people had been subjected to I know it was a statement of how he operated, it wasn’t personal even though it was very unpleasant.
I sat at my desk and checked my email, I tidied up the papers on my desk and I decided to waste time online until the time came to commute home. I’d had enough. I knew Derek wasn’t going to change and I knew there was nothing I could do to get him to stop being such a bully.
What did I do next? I decided to accept him as he was without trying to change him and then I asked myself if I was going to tolerate anymore of this aggressive treatment. I decided it was unacceptable and a few weeks later I told Derek I was leaving the company. I told him on one of his good days, it must have been a comedy he’d watched the night before, he was smiling and care free and he couldn’t care less whether I was staying or leaving. We had a good chat and he was his friendly, attentive and fun to be with persona.
Looking back on it now I guess the constant and always ramping up pressure from his boss got to him. It destroyed his peace of mind and caused him to snap. His warm and friendly nature got frayed around the edges and he forgot who he really was. Stress, tiredness and relentless pressure will do that to a person.
We all need to be emotionally healthy if we are going to be happy and at our best when we meet people. When Derek was happy he was the best company you could ever have, someone you’d want all your friends to meet but when he was out of balance he was to be avoided. Make sure you take good care of yourself so you can let your light shine.