Here is story number four from my paperback ’50 Cautionary Tales for Managers’ – a book that every manager should read (I’m the author so naturally I’m biased!).  All the stories are true but with names and organisations changed to avoid lawsuits.

Bob was the managing director of a publishing company.  Small in stature (he stood 5 feet 4 inches tall) but a larger than life character.  He was a self-made man with a chip on his shoulder about anyone better educated than him.  He had failed the 11-plus and gone to a secondary modern school that he had left at the earliest opportunity, aged 16.  He claimed to have been taught only woodwork and knitting for four years and to have read Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson in class half a dozen times.  This was because he had a Scottish teacher who was crazy about the book and, as it happens, also about the woodwork teacher!  Bob took great pride in telling people about concealed dovetail joints and in his office he even had a coffee table he had made whilst at school. 

He regarded anyone with a university education as fair game; targets for a relentless barrage of put-downs.  This meant that most of his staff were in the firing line. He would take every opportunity to belittle them and, if opportunities didn’t arise in the normal course of events, he created them.

One of his favourite techniques was to inflict a general knowledge quiz on his unsuspecting staff.  Bob compiled the quiz so he knew all the answers (one of his little jokes was to announce the quiz by saying ‘Here’s one I prepared earlier’). The contents of the quiz were deliberately obscure.  If someone dared to answer correctly, Bob would go berserk and accuse them of being a  geek and a know-all. People quickly learned not to produce a correct answer – or even to risk an inspired guess in case it turned out to be accurate. 

Another device he used to ‘prove’ he was smarter than everyone else, was to delegate tasks but to withhold vital information. This virtually guaranteed that the delegatee would fail, and made it easy for Bob to ridicule the inadequacies of his/her work.

Bob was even more vindictive towards female graduates.  Plump girls with big bosoms were irresistible targets.  He’d single them out one by one, summon them to his office, and tell them they were disgustingly fat and demand to know what they were going to do about it.  He’d only let them go once he had reduced them to tears.  Bare midriffs, regardless of whether you were fat or not, were very dangerous items to have on show if Bob was around.  He’d look pointedly at the offending navel and shout, ‘I know you were born. I don’t need to see the evidence!’

He enjoyed telling sexist jokes at inappropriate times in inappropriate company.  One of his favourites was about a well-endowed woman who went to her doctor worried about a lump in her breast.  The doctor asked her to strip to the waist so that he could examine her breasts.  When she emerged from behind the screen he saw that she had superb breasts and asked if he might weigh them.  The woman was surprised, but assumed it must be a routine part of the check-up.  To her astonishment, he cupped each breast in his hands, joggled them up and down, flung his head back and shouted ‘whey!’.

All in all, Bob was a little shit.  As you might guess, staff turnover was high – not just females but males too.  This didn’t seem to trouble Bob in the least.  In fact, he took it as a sign of his effectiveness, ‘Good riddance!’ he’d say, followed by one of his favourite mantras, ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’

One day Bob’s secretary (a thin woman who wisely never showed her midriff) found Bob in his office in tears.  Never having seen him in such a state before, indeed never having believed he was capable of tears, she assumed he had received news of some catastrophe.

‘What’s wrong?’ she asked, fearing the worst.

‘My wife has just phoned’, sobbed Bob. ‘She says the dog has taken a turn for the worse and the vet says it would be best to put it out of its misery.’

It seems that even bullies have soft spots.

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