BOSS, the Long Read


Originally out as 3 instalments Boss 1, Boss 2 Boss 3.

Boss is a name that runs the complete gamut of emotions from dread to ultimate happiness. There is inherent power in being a Boss. It can be used and abused or for the benefit of all. The following details some of many Boss experiences over forty odd years working.

It has been a 50:50 experience of being the Boss and having a Boss. Some do stand out from the pack.

Boss … Boss” discusses a recent and current observed Boss type not known before. Possibly may become my favourite Boss type. More research needed, but the evidence is starting to look solid.

1. Boss … Boss

“Roads are busy“, I remind myself. Entry to the timber and hardware store is in a relative blind spot left hand side of almost jammed two traffic lanes, with all vaguely merging into one lane, or is that two? Is tricky, but am used to it. Very early indicator shown and a gradual slowdown to ensure am not hit in the back end. Turn left into the Timber and Hardware Outlet, compacted gravel and clay carpark slightly shiny from the recent rain.

Park. Straight in through glassed heavy timber framed double doors towards a desk with person on other side to take the order. “Hi Boss, I need these.” I pass over the shopping list. This one quietly nods and grunts, no fuss keyboard action. 10 seconds later, invoice spits out, one yellow copy for the boys in the yard. Two bags 3/4″ gravel, 1 bag cement, 1 Litre Matt Black external paint, a roll of Drop-sheet. I pay, while nodding and stating “Thanks Boss”, get up, hop in the car for the short drive to the supply yard area.

Have been visiting the Yard for a few years now. Roughly 6-8 men, Forklift, Front end Loader and small truck fleet compliment what they look after. We sort of know each other, pretty friendly nods. My Bahasa Malaysia “sikit” (a little) and their English about same. Closest comes over to drivers side window, “Yes Boss, what you need?”. Yellow slip passed across the door divide.

He heads off to round up my bits, while I maneuver the car to make it easier to load these heavy bag weights. “Ok Boss”, one of the Boys gives a Thumb up to the Drivers Side Mirror. I stop, flick the Rear Hatch lever, get out and watch them load the bags. Job done, Rear Hatch is closed. I nod, “Terima Kasi” (thank you), “Sama sama” comes back from the yard workers.

Carefully I work my way back out onto the now even busier road and head home to continue the backyard landscape job. It was not a quick journey. What normally took 10-15 stretched to 30 minutes.

In that awfully slow car tango home, mind diverts to everyone calling everyone else “Boss” at some time. I called the Hardware Office guy “Boss”. In those minutes of life he is my Boss as only he can give me what I need. My landscape job fate is in his hands. “Boss” fits. The Boys in the Yard calling me ‘Boss”? That fits as they are supplying me. I own the Goods, therefore am “Boss”. Speaking life in Malaysia is wound in Boss word.

There is always a context to call someone Boss. Floor sweeper and Rubbish bin emptier is still a “Boss”. They are in charge of what they do. Is good, no harm done, so to speak. A measure of respect happens from both directions of the employment ladder. I like this use of “Boss” in Malaysia. It is accidental Socialism at it’s best.

There is still the other side of “Boss” in more traditional terms Boss. You know, those that own or Run whatever enterprise you are working in. The Real Boss. Here in Kuala Lumpur there are some seriously Bully Bosses that run with fear as their best management tool. In some ways it feels that I have been time warped to the early 1980’s Australia. Have met the exact opposite Bosses here as well. Humble, friendly, open and smart they are. Balances the Boss ledger enough.

The following describes seven Boss types encountered. My terminology has been applied and the list is by no means exhaustive.

Nothing like the launching point of a Professional Career to start off with the following Boss.

2. Sadistic Boss

My earliest Boss immediately after graduating as a Landscape Architect. What a way to start. Didn’t seem to matter how well thought out my arguments or proposals were, he would be so dismissive. It was as if he couldn’t be bothered lowering himself to talk to the fresh faced grad who seriously needed Boss help after being loaded up with major projects not long after starting.

Gains particular pleasure in the public humiliation of staff. Happy to be belligerent for no reason and tends to have a sarcasm draped smile while doing so. Loves hearing own voice ranting on during staff meetings. Is always prone to displaying as many Framed Certifications and Qualifications on his Office wall as possible. Is quite intimidating for newbies. Will accept full grovelling as a communication method and only answer if called Sir.

Staff meetings, he would have something derogatory or condescending to state to each of us about whatever we were presenting. “Useless” was a favourite word. His pet occupation was publicly humiliating outside workforce staff over the Organisation wide two radio network for all to hear.

Things finally came to a head in an across the office floor shouting match with me doing most of the shouting, culminating in what he could do with my Job and that I was resigning!

Surprised that he came out from behind the desk towards me, not angry, bit of a smirk almost bordering on a smile. He started laughing and put out his hand to shake mine. I was caught off guard and didn’t really know what to do, most likely a bit slack jawed.

“About bloody time someone stood up to me around here, am so sick of everyone being wimps! That is a great submission and will support fully when presented at Committee”.

He turned round back to his office chuckling. I ended up working with this mad human for a tick over two years. Never a bad or crass word said to me after that. Always gave great support. The other staff? He was still at it, bullying and intimidating and all for the fun of it waiting in forlorn hope that someone would get stuck into him.

Heck of a way to manage staff. Maybe his version of “Tough Love”? Could be. Truly an amazing learning curve to kick off the career. Sink or Swim ……? At least I kept my Head above water. Not sure about the rest though. It certainly toughened me up though.

Boss Rating 5:10 No one deserves to be treated as a sadists punching bag just for their perverse pleasure, no one. The only reason I marked 5 instead of zero, is knowledge gained over those critical early career few years, especially the art of concise report writing, specifications, contract documentation, committee presentations, PR and crisis management. Great base office skills that set me up for the rest of the career.

3. Arrogant Boss

Some would say there is no difference between the Sadistic boss and this. I disagree. This variety maintains an aloofness which is clearly demonstrated by the closed door. It is never open unless being used for that purpose of human movement.

Loves sitting behind the desk, arms usually crossed during conversation. Has the uncanny ability to lift up the chin while at the same time frowning down at the gnat sitting at the door side of the desk. Will play favourites.

Will always talk down to the suffering employee and is prone to grossly exaggerating their own professional ability and importance to the organisation.Is always a one way conversation and loves tossing painstakingly prepared reports across the table at the staff member and calling it total rubbish without offering any form of critique.

That one was in recent years, having the unfortunate experience of putting up with this person for a bit over twelve months. I was more fortunate than others. He struggled with the broad knowledge base required of the job. I was his 2IC who had the handle across the job scope. I had a long term good relationship with his Boss, having worked directly for him over the previous few years.

It was a case of Arrogant Boss forcing himself to be nice to me which must have pained him considerably. He took out his frustrations of being nice to me on other employees, especially our wonderful highly organised office admin boss who happened to be a woman. Misogynistic he was.

Arrogant Boss definitely overestimated himself sending threatening to resign unless he got paid more, bluff emails to the big Boss. He did this one time too many, had his bluff called and was out the door not long after. Good!

Boss Rating 2:10 and that is being nice.

4. Standard Boss

Yes, they and we do exist.

This is one Boss that considers staff welfare important. Don’t be mistaken, there is nothing wishy-washy about this person. They can and do make firm decisions. You will be pulled aside and have it clearly enunciated where you have gone wrong. They expect people to be on time and courteous in deliberations.

Usually trademarked by pleasant demeanor, likes a bit of fun, office door always open (mostly). Approachable by all levels in the hierarchy. Has good knowledge across most of the required areas and is always happy to ask the question if they don’t. Staff generally have a measure of loyalty and actively volunteer tasks assigned.

I have had few of these going right back to Part time jobs during Uni days. The Cleaning Boss, Bar Manager, Plant Nursery proprietor and Landscape construction Boss. I had a good run with all of them and learnt much in the process. Maybe that is why the Sadistic Boss was such a shock as I assumed that all future Bosses would be like those during Uni days.

Boss Rating 8:10 because no one is perfect.

5. Avoidance Boss

Thankfully, just one of these graced my working career. Nice person to talk to, but wholly ineffective when it came to managing staff and issues that cropped up. Didn’t like the concept of uncomfortable issues and willfully ignored them as long as he could, even if firm decisions early would have resolved the problem.

His ability to duck or disappear for cover when the heat was applied was truly a skill I will never master. His underlings including me were constantly left to deal with the mess as best we could. Even though he had a great level of autonomy, he was always making decisions based on conversations with his Director. Never to make one solo decision.

Always asked myself – how did he end up where he was? It was because our Director wanted exactly that Boss type under him as he was a serious micro manager. Staff turnover? Absolutely shocking because of this do nothing Boss that most of the time would avoid any responsibility with staff ending up tossed under the Bus!

Boss Rating 5:10 just because he was a nice and honest person and understood process far more than most I have worked for. Take those out and it would be 1.

6. Stealth Boss

They can be a mystery. It is as if they exist in a peripheral plane of existence, but declare their visibility at the crucial times of support. Their office always with minimal lighting, just enough to tastefully distinguish the face from the shadows. Usually a coffee peculator conveniently located near the desk with the World’s most vigorous coffee grinds within.

This one would magic his way into my office, apparently aware of the innermost machinations of my brain, within seconds suggesting a sensible solution that has been avoiding me for hours. While I consider the implications I look up and Boss has gone, journeyed via his peripheral plane to elsewhere. Never a raised voice, just plain simple surety and calmness of sounds, words and phrases that come out. There is nothing that cannot be solved in a calm and simply reasoned manner as far as Stealth Boss is concerned.

Boss Rating 9:10 because they are so sublime.

We started with “Boss … Boss”, where everyone is Boss, to start of career Boss that you never will forget Boss (for better or worse). “Or worse” mode was maintained and transitioned to “for better” mode.

Almost 40 years of working and that pretty much sums it up. A roller coaster of Boss experiences. Can “or worse” actually become even worse? Read on ….

7. Corrupt Boss

I would have preferred to have a working life free of this particular slimy sub-species. Alas, not to be. This one had elements of Sadististic Boss and Arrogant Boss.

This one was into much self grooming through to hair products and good wide lapel shirt with minimum two shirt buttons undone, bit of throat and wrist Bling topped off the ‘fashion’ statement. If you didn’t compliment it for the particularly wide lapel or the hair jell configuration, for some reason the seat offered became further away from its desk, relegated to standing room at the back, maybe even the hallway.

If opportunity presents, check under their desk blotter. Will usually find the latest issue of Speed Boat Monthly or Jacuzzi tub of the Month magazines open.

If an Invitation is declined to an after hours ‘Party’ by certain contractors or consultants to a Corporate Box at the Football, there is an exceptional chance that ‘cold storage’ looms to the extent of being shunned and excluded from even the normal and minuted weekly office meeting.

If it gained a sniff that whistle blowing of it’s nefarious activities might be about to happen, the rumour mill would get rolling of sexual harassment and bullying by the alleged whistle-blower.

Sycophant staff caught in it’s corrupted web fed the mill. This persecution based on deliberate falsehoods would be relentless. Whatever it took to protect their long term corrupted interests. Who gets damaged along the way? They didn’t care.

Karma did eventually catch up with it and the sycophants. Is still a cold comfort though.

Boss Rating: ZERO Call them out when you experience them. They must be exterminated or at the least periodically culled.

8. Dysfunction Boss

Office door is closed too many times. Usually the closed door conceals them hiding behind their inadequacy to manage anything in an accountable manner. They are seriously unable to accept assistance of established staff expertise or that staff might be correct. There is an element of Denial in their existence. They must control every aspect of decision making, with staff meetings a farce as they become his talkfest. Nothing is ever their fault, is always the fault of subordinates.

A Contract that didn’t make sense to the Project Manager. When major items were checked and confirm measured off plan, then compared to the items priced in the Bill of Quantities, huge discrepancies were discovered.

Thinking Cap put on and finally realised that when Boss did the original measuring for the schedule of rates, he didn’t check the Plan scale and measured off the wrong one. A serious stuff-up. Our big ticket material items were quadruple the quantity of the pricing in the Bill and accepted by the Client.

Door knock, go in and explain the issue found. His head went down, drawn out windy grunt issued out. He knew he had stuffed up in a big way and if we proceed we would lose big money.

Was suggested that we withdraw from the Contract or at least enter into negotiations with Client. Reasonable business suggestion as the alternative would be major losses. Get pushed out the door with “don’t bother me, I know what I am doing. If this Job doesn’t make a Profit then you are out the door”, being aggressively stated. Maybe he should be called Delusional Boss! This was just the tip of the severely indebted dysfunction.

I did build the job. First and only time I was sacked happened about a month later. Suppose he was good at his word. I wasn’t unhappy. The Business folded not long after with significant creditors and many one – two person contractors who never saw a cent.

Boss Rating 4:10 It may seem a touch generous, but this Boss was a wonderful source of what not to do if in charge. Lessons I have kept forever.

9. Boss … Boss reprise

Good, Bad and Ugly Bosses have partly shaped the career and reinforced the type of Boss that I became. Not one moment is regretted, even though there was pain coupled with joy along the way. I learnt so many key characteristics of people that helps in conversations and difficult moments. Am generally not intimidated by the nasty ones (little bit scared sometimes). They helped mold my Boss credentials, just as Standard and Stealth Boss did.

During childhood observing Dad at work in a senior position managing and on the tools with un-skilled and skilled workers. They all seemed to do their job and with smiles. I grew up in a happy workplace. Home was pretty happy too. It all counts heading into potential Boss adult years.

Me? “Standard Boss” type fits best. I used to aspire to “Stealth Boss” type, but tend to wear my heart on the sleeve too much for that subtle, cool and collected Boss manner. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Plenty of books, podcasts and other modern stuff are out to quench the Boss theory thirst. Theory is good! Just need to back it up with practical.

One lesson learnt is that most humans are far more unique than what their Job description states. We can confound established stereotypes.

Best Boss? Myself of course! (ego is not a dirty word!)

Be open, straightforward but not overbearing. Try to keep the Office door open and demonstrate real compassion. Appreciate that you don’t know everything, that staff have expertise to be encouraged, tapped into and learnt. Be a mentor not a tormentor to the newbies. Be fair, honest and always try to do your best. My Boss description might be cliched, but is true.

What sort of Boss are you? Come on, be real on self assessment. Take the 3rd Party observation stance. Plenty to gain and maybe a bit to lose as well.

What sort of Boss can you become is the most important question.

Meanwhile, back to the Job site from the hardware run, yelling out to the boys in the rear yard, “I’m back, come and grab the stuff”. “Hey Boss, coming.” Head up the front stairs, on the landing, veer to left to go through kitchen door towards the rear yard and almost collide with the Wife who is loaded up with some freshly dried clothes. “Whooa, sorry Boss!” is blurted out to the clothes carrier. “Just remember that”, comes back with a cheeky smile. “Remember what? Remember who is the Boss around here!”.

She saunters past, chuckles mostly to her Boss self and onwards to clothes deposit zone. Just when I was romanticizing about the Socialist nature of Boss-World in Malaysia, and She who must be obeyed reminds that in reality Dictators are the real deal Boss, not this Socialist happy clapper Boss society that I am immersed in. From now a safe distance, I shout, “The fight isn’t over yet Comrade!“, and make sure I keep moving away with purpose.


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