I'm Lindsay Ferrier, a Nashville writer with a passion for family travel, exploring Tennessee, and raising kids without losing my mind in the process. This is where I share my discoveries, along with occasional deep thoughts, pop culture tangents and a sprinkling of snark. Want to get in touch? Use the CONTACT form at the top of the page.
January 22, 2021
When it comes to bad bosses, she was one of the worst — the kind who had no personal life outside the newsroom she managed.
We joked that she slept in her office and never actually went home, and honestly, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine her emerging from beneath her desk each morning, straightening the shoulder pads on her Kasper jacket and settling in her chair to wait for the rest of us to arrive.
My cubicle was right across from the open door of her office and sadly, that was probably the main reason why I became her primary target. I was the newest and youngest reporter in a newsroom of seasoned professionals and from her office chair perch, my bad boss noted every move I made. I was working long hours to prove myself and stayed busy, but in the rare event that I sat back in my chair for a moment, or laughed, or yawned, she’d make a beeline for my desk.
“Since you seem to be free,” she’d say, “Why don’t you help out the assignment manager and make beat calls to all the police departments?”
“Actually, I’m right in the middle of a –”
“I’m sure you can find the time,” she’d interrupt with a tight smile. “Since you’re clearly not busy.”
She was a predator, and I was her prey. She’d assign me the worst, most grueling stories, force me to come in early and stay late, call me at home if I took a sick day to make sure I was there (“Is that even legal?” a co-worker asked), and basically do whatever she could to ruin my life. I’ll never forget the time I spent months getting security clearance to fly with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels for a story. On the morning the flight was scheduled, she was waiting at my desk when I arrived at work. “I need you to cancel that Blue Angels story,” she said. “We have more important stories to do today.” (Spoiler alert: We didn’t.)
“But I can’t just cancel,” I said. “They’ve jumped through all kinds of hoops to make this happen for us. I’ve been working on setting it up since January.”
“I need you to cancel it,” she repeated, turning on her heel and heading back to her office.
Mortified, I called the Public Information Officer and told him the news. He was understandably livid. “You do realize this was a $10,000 flight we arranged for your station?” he asked. “Don’t ever think about asking to fly with the Blue Angels again.”
As I hung up the phone, I could feel her watching me from her office, eyes gleaming.
One evening a few months later, we received word that a state lawmaker facing criminal charges had just committed suicide. My boss sent me to report the news live from the state capitol building for the 10pm newscast. With less than an hour before the show and no real way to get more information so late in the evening, I didn’t have much to report. “Start calling all the legislators,” she instructed me on the phone. “Ask them for comment.”
“Is that a good idea?” I asked worriedly. “It’s really late to be calling them at home, and I doubt they’ve even gotten the news.”
“Are you saying you don’t want to do your job?” she asked. “Because if that’s what you’re saying, we can find someone else who’d be happy to do it.”
I hung up and began dialing numbers. The first lawmaker I asked for comment promptly burst into tears and hung up the phone. The second gave an anguished cry, then handed the phone to her husband, who began yelling at me. “Why would you call us like this?” he demanded. “What kind of horrible person are you?”
I didn’t make any more calls. I gave my report at 10, then walked around to the back of the live truck and cried in its shadow — something I never did on the job. She’d finally done it. My bad boss had broken me. I started looking for another job that week and left the station soon afterward, never to report for local news again.
You probably have a bad boss story of your own. Bad bosses come in many forms and have far more control over us and our sense of self-worth than we’d care to admit. They take inordinate pleasure in their power and seem to enjoy creating unrest, pitting us against our coworkers or leaving us feeling small and worthless. Once you’ve worked for a bad boss, you can sense their presence in a place almost from the moment you enter it. Is it dirty or disorganized? Are the employees surly with customers and each other? Is there a high rate of turnover? A bad boss is unquestionably in charge and probably in the process of driving the place right into the ground. Their tactics are surprisingly similar, whether they’re in charge of a convenience store, a restaurant, a church, a major corporation… or a nation.
For the last four years, we’ve had a bad boss.
I have friends who are Democrats and friends who are Republicans, and I have watched our bad boss’s toxicity trickle down from the top and negatively impact every single one of them. Our nation has had a boss who demeaned and ridiculed those he perceived as being weaker or less fortunate, who regularly lied when the facts didn’t suit him, who relentlessly insulted his enemies, who left us struggling over and over again to explain his behavior to our children, who continually divided us and turned advisors and staff, legislators, neighbors, friends, and even family members against each other. It’s hard to believe one man was able to create such turmoil among so many, at least until we view him through the bad boss lens — Then it all makes sense. Bad bosses often have the power and potential to do all these things to the people he or she controls, even after you’ve gotten away from them.
My own bad boss shaped the trajectory of my life. Who’s to say where I’d be now if she had motivated and inspired me rather than convinced me to leave the TV news business altogether? And while I’d like to say her power over me ended the day I left the newsroom for the last time, the truth is it took me a long time to work through the bad feelings and self-doubt she inspired. For months, my stomach would knot involuntarily every time I drove past my former workplace, in the exact same way once it had every morning I went in to work, wondering what she’d have in store for me that day.
I have that same kind of knot in my stomach now. It’s going to take time for us to clean up the mess created by our nation’s bad boss over the last four years. I worry the divisiveness he’s created in our country will never entirely fade away. I worry he has opened the door to others like him, whispered to America’s bullies and braggarts and liars that they can achieve what we had all once thought was impossible.
Bad bosses aren’t supposed to win but sometimes they do. And when we’re responsible for their climb to power, we have only ourselves to blame.