When to quit working for a bully?

From Monday’s question pile an anonymous reader asked:

After five years of consulting I accepted a full time job with a startup. My hiring manager is someone with whom I’ve worked as a consultant: I knew he had a temper, which is why I declined his first few invitations to work for him. After a full-court press (by him, his CTO, and the founder) I signed on.

The salary is amazing, the work is interesting. And he promised to control his temper. It’s been two months and he had his second nuclear meltdown all over me last week – a total ambush. He’s an out-of-control bully behind closed doors, and rules by fear and intimidation. He’s lost friends and employees as a result of this character trait.

The job I signed on for isn’t the job I’m doing. The players have changed; a new clique-team of developers have been put in charge. They are disinclined to work with folks they didn’t hire. They’re jockeying for control conducting political power plays, micromanaging me (and I’m a Director), and trying to slice my position into being marginally useful instead of being integral to the team and product.

What to do in this situation? I’m really at a loss on how to improve the situation, aside from walking away.

Walk away, walk away, walk away. Run if you can. Crawl if you must. But leave.

Damage to your health, mental or otherwise, is something no salary or perk can compensate you for. Ever.

If you were starving or were unable to afford new shoes for your kids I’d understand working in a hostile workplace, but otherwise it’s a sign of lack of self-respect. The existence of someone with his problems in a managerial role means his boss has problems too. It always runs deeper than just one bad seed: it takes at least one other bad seed to overlook the need to fire the first bad seed.

It is never your job to fix another person’s psychological problems. If a job requires this for you to succeed you are set up to fail. You should have never believed in his commitment to change as most people don’t possess the ability to make those changes, certainly not as quickly as he promised. Your years of working with him told you more about what to expect than anything he could ever say.

Startups are chaotic places. It’s not surprising that things have changed. But every major change is an invitation to you to change your employer. Take that invitation as a gift. Get out now, on your terms, with your sanity and self-respect intact.

Also see: How to Survive a Bad Manager

9 Responses to “When to quit working for a bully?”

  1. Stephane Daury (@stephdau)

    I’d have given the very same advice.

    One thing is pretty clear: if his bullying tactics already had some people leave in the past, and he is still there, said tactics must not just be ignored by his own superior(s), they must be working out for him/them.

    Run! Run like the wind! (maybe after finding another job, but don’t delay the search for one)

  2. Trent Wood

    I agree…run away as fast as you can! It definitely is not your job to put up with this type of behavior, or fix someone else’s psychological problems…unless you’re a psychologist! Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” I believe that quote is very appropriate for this situation.
    In his book “Life Code,” Dr. Phil says that one of the things that has been instilled in us in the past is to give the other person the “benefit of the doubt,” and to ignore our gut instinct. Times have changed. This may work for when certain people in your life make mistakes, but when someone constantly shows bullying type behaviors, the “benefit of the doubt” goes out the window! Giving these people that “benefit” can lead to situations just like this.
    Use this as a lesson to trust your gut the next time you have that “feeling” about someone.

    1. Ross Greene

      A most intelligent comment. Listening to the beloved Angelou, has served you well. I apply that technique 24/7 and it has disturbed the imposters out there! Sorry if I blow someone’s cover, but Hidden agenda’s can not possibly be hidden . You have to utilize them in order to achieve your ulterior motive’s. The only one it’s hiding from is them, themselves!

  3. Phil Simon

    Scott is right. Quit. Take less money. Buy yourself a sane work environment.

  4. Human

    It’s important to understand that bullies don’t have psychological problems that can be fixed—they have a pathological disorder that will not change. Remove yourself and warn others!

  5. Ross Greene

    This has got to be the most intelligent advice and display of personal integrity as it applies to so many in our world today. Having to be caught in an individual’s needs to be a functional “CONTROL FREAK”, to me, is worse than prison. Control Freaks, are only trying to get you to volunteer as a prisoner of their own design! I should know, I had to live in a foster home, growing up with a Preacher and his Warden of a Wife.Once they hand you that ORANGE JUMPSUIT and BED ROLL, next they want you to wear their SPECIAL JEWELRY, “Handcuffs”.

  6. Sean Crawford

    Perhaps it was an encounter with a bully that led to the story of the country mouse and city mouse. As I recall, the country mouse took Scott’s advice and voted with her feet.

    A local columnist, Catherine Ford, noting how bullies are rewarded in the business world, wrote, “Little wonder schools are incapable of routing bullies; the world around them can’t and won’t.”

  7. Ski

    I spent 3 years working for a guy like this. In a 10 person company 5 people left during that time. The work was fun and enjoyable, but I reached the stage where the boss’ ire was frequently directed at me. I didn’t take this lying down, but I also looked around for other work – not easy in the region I live in.

    As a result, I work in a well managed more rewarding environment. The work is less exciting, but a side-effect of this is securing my career by changing my skillset to more saleable skills.

    I am now treated like a grown adult and allowed to make my own decisions as to how I do my work.

    No contest.

    I keep seeing job adverts for my old position with the salary increasing every few months. Obviously no amount of money can make people want to work in a poor environment. That’s satisfaction for me.


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