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Who's the worst boss in PR?

From bully bosses who make rude, personal comments to ones who have strange, personal habits, PROs describe their worst bosses ever.  

Bosses who throw personal insults  

‘Your eyes are too close together’  

An outrageous story of being discriminated against and bullied is described by Douglas Shields, creative director at agency 72 Point: “I was a youngish reporter on The Sun in 2001. I was working nights trying to build a reputation amongst a newsroom full of older, legendary and vastly experienced newsmen and women. At the time we had a formidable female news editor. I did my best to try and get on with her, but she was as cold as ice no matter how hard I tried!  

“One evening a decent story broke, I think it was something like a Russian diplomat or official being murdered or dying mysteriously somewhere in London. I remember standing up during the call she took from a tipster or local stringer, in the hope of being directly in her line of vision when she put down the phone and selected the chosen one. She glanced at me for a split second and just as I thought ‘This is it, this is my big break’ she said in the most matter-of-fact manner ‘Not you, I don’t like you. Your eyes are too close together... ‘”

You have too much personality’

Robin Lander Brinkley, freelance PR and marketing practitioner at Maxwell Communications, was insulted about his personality, rather than his looks: “I was 25 years old and sitting in my first one-on-one appraisal in a new job when, after being told I was good at my work, liked by my team and praised for winning new clients, I was informed I had ‘too much personality’. It was suggested I take on a different persona when I was at work. To illustrate the point, my boss reminisced about how, when he was my age and working in London, he would be in a suit working by day and dancing on nightclub podiums in leather shorts by night.

“That 20-minute appraisal blew both my mind and self-esteem in so many different ways – it greatly influenced my view of London, made me question colleagues and friends as to what I needed to change about myself (they all said it was rubbish and to ignore what was said, but I found that very hard to do) and I subsequently felt paranoid, inferior and vulnerable when at work. Needless to say, I only lasted a few more months at that company, but having been self-employed for 14 years so far, looked after myself both financially and in terms of my self-worth, and even won awards for my work, I am delighted to report that I have never, EVER worn leather shorts!”

How not to manage people  

‘He wouldn’t drink from office cups so brought in a flask’

A nightmare boss who made female employees walk behind him carrying his papers is described by Rachel Knight, account director at PR and public affairs agency Maxim: “My first boss in PR was extremely pernickety. To be fair to him, it meant I was trained well. The importance of attention to detail and high standards has stayed with me throughout my career.

“However, it also meant he was incredibly difficult to work with. He wouldn’t drink from the same cups as the rest of us so brought a flask from home. If he had to make a phone call in another room he would unplug his own handset and move it to another phone socket.

“He had very little respect for female employees. At client meetings, we were encouraged to walk behind him carrying his papers. He refused to type his own emails, instead dictating to the office manager. She would then have to print out any replies.

“This was at a time when internet usage was charged per minute so he would stand behind us at the one computer that could access the web, monitoring exactly what we were doing.

“I resigned after 11 months to join Maxim. He didn’t speak to me from that day onwards and refused to sign my leaving card.” 

‘He would never stand behind an idea’

John Humphreys, corporate communications manager at food giant PepsiCo UK & Ireland, says that in a previous company his worst boss ever refused to take any responsibility: “My worst boss was someone who would never stand behind an idea – his own or his teams'. He thought he was canny in always presenting to fellow directors the options for what the business 'could' do, but would never take a leadership position and say what they 'should' do. As such, you could never guarantee his backing of your own ideas and proposals. Nor did you learn any leadership (apart from what NOT to do). He obviously thought this was the key to self-preservation, but it was actually demoralising, demotivating, and caused untold damage to his personal brand. He was sacked eventually, but it took 10 years.

“It’s particularly important for those who work in comms to get people to trust in your personal brand, as you’re often in unchartered territory and have to take a punt on instinct.”

Being a boss isn’t easy, but following basic rules of human decency should be part of anyone’s code of conduct at work. Bullying is obviously never acceptable, but it is also important to lead by example.

For more information on how to be a great boss, there are five simple tips here

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