Within the past week, I’ve seen two different articles published in The New York Times about bad bosses and toxic work environments. While I told myself many times that I would wait to write about my boss or rather bosses, I’ve changed my mind. It’s funny, part of me never even wanted to ever write about it. The only reason I contemplated it was because I had heard from so many people how my story is the Entertainment’s version of The Devil Wears Prada. I do not disagree.
In the past, my life left little to be desired. Sucked into the entertainment lifestyle and way of thinking, I believed that people admired, respected and liked me because of where I worked and what position I was in. I was wrong. While that was definitely important to the people within the entertainment bubble I used to play in, outside of the bubble, no one cared. People wanted to know about me, not my work.
Never thinking that I would become a brainwashed victim of the entertainment industry, I came to that conclusion after my bubble burst. Looking back on the culture I was immersed in, it’s no surprise that my priorities were more than mixed up. I was working twelve to seventeen hour days, barely taking a lunch, a break, a vacation, personal day or even a sick day.
The further I’ve gotten away from the place I used to consider “home”, the more I am able to see just how disturbed my delusions were. Here was a place people from the inside considered dysfunctional. As dysfunctional as it was, my coworkers and superiors still hung their hats on the fact that they believed that everyone who didn’t work there was envious of them. I guess that’s part of the Los Angeles Entertainment culture, or so I’ve heard, but having come from inside of those walls, the reality could not be further from the truth.
My boss, let’s call him Boil, was a short man fighting his napoleon complex tendencies. A control freak who took pride in taking credit for other people’s work, not only was he “uncivil” in the workplace as defined by The New York Times article, “No Time To Be Nice”, he actually believed in the legend he had created in his own mind.
As demoralizing, demeaning and overbearing as he was, part of me wonders how much of his behavior I can blame on him, as opposed to the corporate culture. While I did not catch on as quickly as I would have liked, I was not blind to the emphasis the company placed on “chain of command” and “insubordination”. Sometimes I wondered if I had gotten off of the wrong freeway exit by accident and taken a turn into Camp Pendleton.
Boil embraced the company’s culture just as his boss did. Both he and his boss would give orders over email that contained little or no information and zero direction. The common joke among me and my fellow coworkers, was that reading their emails was like “deciphering code”. Projects would seem as though they fell from the sky and landed on your head without warning. Not encouraged to ask questions for fear of being called stupid or having to endure yet another condescending conversation, people would just attack projects as they best saw fit.
Fear permeated the atmosphere as producers and staff were afraid of others stealing their ideas. So much so, that a producer friend of mine used to call me down to her bay to show me her trailers and stress the importance of always having her name on her finished product. Coworkers would throw each other under the bus without flinching and back stab without question. There were no loyalties and you never knew who was on your side and who wasn’t. Even if someone told you that they were on your team, you never knew if you could really believe them. Closed door conversations were a common occurrence and you never knew where you stood with management. Sometimes when we would have company staff meetings, I would joke that there was going to be a public firing. There never was, but that didn’t mean that we all didn’t hesitate before shuffling into the conference room.
Boil flexed his executive muscles whenever given the chance. In The New York Time’s article titled “No Time to Be Nice”, Christine Porath talks about how incivility “hijacks the workplace”. In a study she conducted with a colleague, they discovered how incivility in the workplace causes employees to miss information that is right in front of them. While some are skeptical about being nice in the workplace as they fear it will devalue their role and authority, they don’t realize how much of a disservice they’re doing to their company. Incivility keeps employees from being efficient. It holds them back professionally and affects them personally.
I do however find humor in power trips. There is so much irony and insecurity, how can you not find it comical? I was talking to my mom the other night and asked if she read one of my blog entries. When she handed me her notes, she told me how uncomfortable the process of “judging my work” made her feel. Not coming from the same page as her, I asked for clarification and we quickly concluded that her role and her feedback was positive, not discouraging. Her critiques were making me a better writer. It’s like a sports coach telling an athlete that their performance was good, but that they can do a better job and be great. I see that as constructive criticism that I can work with.
Uncivil managers who surround themselves with “yes people”, do themselves a disservice. These people are not looking for confrontation and they certainly do not like when their ideas or decisions are questioned. Uncivil bosses are easily threatened and insecure. They are the kind of people who feel the need to assert themselves and remind their staff of their authority. While uncivil bosses think that their incivility puts them at a competitive advantage, their perception of reality could not be further off the mark. Their behavior does not demonstrate leadership. In fact, in a study done at a biotechnology company, they found that individuals seen as civil, were twice as likely to be seen as leaders. Power can be used to coerce employees, but when it comes to performance, civil behavior wins. Studies by Morgan W. McCall Jr. and Michael Lombardo have actually shown that the number one cause for an executive’s failure is a bullying style. Whether abrasive, insensitive or bullying, an executive can be sure that their uncivil behavior will eventually sabotage their success.
I was watching CBS This Morning earlier this week as they happened to be talking about Holacracy. Holacracy, recently adopted by Zappos is a new business model. Rather than relying on bureaucracy and the futile system that we currently have in most work places, Zappos decided to break away from the norm and adopt Holacracy as its mantra. Holacracy distributes authority through employees. Roles are defined by the work that you do, not the title that you have. While the anchors on the morning show were skeptical about this new way of governing when it comes to companies, the author being interviewed, Brian J. Robertson, who just released a book called, Holacracy: The New Management System for a Rapidly Changing World, had many valid points. His research showed that when a city doubles in size, it increases in innovation and productivity. When a company grows in size, however, innovation and productivity go down.
Having come from a bureaucracy, I see a benefit to adopting a new way of thinking when it comes to designing the infrastructure within a company. Some may think that in an environment where there are no bosses, chaos is likely to ensue, but Robertson doesn’t seem to think so. He compares Holacracy to living in a neighborhood. I’m guessing he’s referring to the fact that in a neighborhood, you own your own house, take care of your own property and do not need a boss to tell you how to live. He believes that people should take ownership and responsibility in the workplace. When an Olympic athlete is competing on a relay, they’re inspired to perform their best for their team, not because the coach told them to.
In a world where bad bosses are more common than bullies, I’d say the change is up to us, but when it came to Boil, I was trapped. His superiors were just as unsupportive as he was. While I’m not sure what fighting advice I have for you other than get out, I can tell you that I can completely identify. One Thanksgiving I confided in my brother and told him about my work environment. He was appalled. His response was, “well that’s a bureaucracy for ya”. I said, “What’s a bureaucracy”? He said, “It’s when your boss makes you feel like shit so that they can keep you down and in your place”. I was horrified. I had no idea.
Whether or not Holacracy is the answer, only time will tell. 300 companies have tried it and 80% who have tried it, still do it after a year. Those are favorable numbers and definitely present a solid case for why switching things up may not be so bad. While some places are just bad apples or great apples with a few too many worms, my experience was what it was . . . an entertaining experience in the entertainment industry.