There are three people I think about virtually every single day:
- My late mother
- My late best friend
- My former boss
“Are you sure?”
My wife’s instincts are almost always right, especially with big decisions, so it was a bit ominous that those were her first words upon hearing that I was going to accept that job offer we had discussed.
It was not exactly what I wanted to hear. Of course, she turned out to be right.
It was the summer of 2016. Just three years earlier, I had started what I thought was my dream job — a role at the headquarters of a multinational that is in the top twenty of the Fortune 500 every year, something that I had been dreaming about for nearly a decade — but, as so often happens in life, the reality didn’t match the vision. Some parts, like the bonus and being surrounded by smart, driven people, were amazing; other parts, namely the long hours and especially the four-hour roundtrip commute, were terrible. Regardless, I was planning on staying there a long time.
They had other ideas.
Word began to circulate that they would be moving our department to a different state. This rumor gained much more traction when every single person on the floor was asked to come in and describe what they did on a daily basis for an entire month. It was exactly like meeting with the two Bobs. Then, someone with inside knowledge quietly suggested that it may be a good idea if I start looking elsewhere.
So I began interviewing. There were some possibilities, but nothing clicked — sometimes the company went in another direction; other times, I realized I wasn’t right and withdrew my candidacy.
Finally, I interviewed with a local manufacturing division of another multinational that wasn’t as large but still highly profitable. The office looked like an abandoned elementary school from 1954, quite the step down from the worldwide headquarters to which I had become accustomed. The division was struggling, looking to turn things around. It was a global role, meaning I would be supporting locations in Europe, Asia, and north Africa, as well as the United States, so conference calls would be held at all hours of the day and night.
It didn’t feel right.
I may not have been totally desperate, but in retrospect it’s pretty clear I panicked. I had a toddler at home and we were making plans for a second child, so I needed something stable. Plus, I had really liked the director and the VP that had interviewed me and for whom I’d be working. They seemed to get it. In my experience, by and large, the biggest factor in job success and happiness is your relationship to your boss.
So I said yes. I should have said no.
Less than three weeks after my first day, an email popped into my inbox announcing that both the director and the VP — my boss and my boss’s boss — would be let go. A new vice president of finance would be brought in to basically clean things up and right the ship.
I met him a few days later. He seemed friendly, his thick Australian accent often followed by a smile, but we quickly learned that it was all an act.
I was only an analyst, but due to the management restructuring, I reported directly to the VP for the first several months. He was not a fan of mine. He constantly compared me to a colleague who was ten years younger than me, but had spent her entire career in that company, so of course she knew the best people contact. I had just started. I was still waiting for the previous occupant of my cubicle to empty his stuff out of the desk drawers.
He inherited me — he inherited all of us — and he quickly made it clear that he would not have chosen most of us, me especially. He mocked me for being so involved as a father. He found it ridiculous I wanted to see my child before she went to sleep each night and made snarky comments about how real men don’t do work around the house. He didn’t think I was dedicated even though I thought about the job constantly. Every night, after everyone else went to bed, I would disappear into my home office and work beyond midnight.
I was working harder than I ever had, yet I constantly failed to satisfy him.
I was absolutely miserable.
One time, after I had stayed up nearly all night finalizing a slide deck, my director sent me home in the early afternoon after the presentation to get some rest. As I was pulling into my driveway, the VP emailed me to tell me that he was disappointed I had left and that he expected me in the office early the following morning to make up for all the time I would lose that afternoon by going home early.
He demanded an emergency conference call on Easter Sunday. He kept us on the call for more than two hours for no reason other than to prove he could do it. He was in the office and was both angry and disappointed that we were not. When I told him we were hosting both of our families for Easter dinner, he chastised me for my poor planning. I wanted to rebut that the timing was actually dictated by Jesus, but chose to keep my mouth shut.
He was supposed to be the savior — like Jesus — but under his watch the numbers kept getting worse, which in turn made him act even worse. He made baffling decisions, pretended to understand things that obviously went over his head, was horrible people for absolutely no reason, and constantly lied to his team. He also probed Human Resources for personal information about us. Just a great guy all around.
Every day was enveloped in stress. He would pit us against each other, even though we were on the same team within the same company working for (theoretically) the same goal. He took credit when things went well and assigned blame when they went poorly. That’s the opposite of leadership.
I could go on and on…
I was finally able to escape after eleven months. I landed a new opportunity and quickly thrived, getting promoted several times and being tapped to lead several departments and projects. Moreover, I’ve never been happier in my career.
Over the next eighteen months, an exodus of people followed me out the door. Profits were down and morale was even lower. Ultimately, leadership had seen enough and sacked the VP, sending him back to Australia. He had failed both on a professional level and a human level.
It’s been almost five years since I left that job, but I still think about my former boss almost every single day. I think about the decisions he made and the things he valued. I think about his penchant for bullying and his management style, which was based on insecurity and arrogance. When interacting with my own team, I’ll think about what he would do, and then do the total opposite.
Mostly, I think about how much happier — and successful — I am now.
He certainly did not mean to, but he absolutely transformed my life. He not only changed my career trajectory, but also completely altered my entire mindset surrounding the professional choices I made and prioritize what is really important in life.
So in that regard, perhaps I should say thank you, but if we ever cross paths again, there’s a different two word phrase that I would much rather express to him.
Christopher Pierznik has an MBA, a Six Sigma Green Belt, and a Business Analytics Graduate Certificate. He is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.