The Management Fruitcake Sampler

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, July 8, 2007

I once had a boss who could put my stomach in knots just by walking past my desk. This person was so scary that even today, decades later, I still get chills thinking about her reign of terror.

Such management by fear is not uncommon in the business world, writes Stanley Bing in his newly revised book "Crazy Bosses." Unlike many business books, this one needs no subtitle.

"After nearly 6,000 years of evidence on the subject, one thing stands clear: The people who end up as leaders in any organization, large or small, are often the craziest guys around," Bing writes.

You need merely start a conversation at a party with "My boss has lost his mind," and those around you will pipe in with their own stories, which would go on for hours.

In "Crazy Bosses" (Collins Publishing, $21.95), Bing uses corporate history, his own experience and that of others to put to rest a question you may ask yourself every day as you walk into work: "Am I crazy?" Nope, it's more likely your boss, Bing writes.

If you're seeking proof that your boss is indeed nuts, read Bing's book, which is the Color of Money Book Club selection for July. Bing is a columnist for Fortune magazine and best-selling author of "What Would Machiavelli Do? The Ends Justify the Meanness," a satirical and humorous look at how to become rich and powerful. Bing is the pseudonym for Gil Schwartz, executive vice president of corporate communications at CBS. So he can write with authority on corporate leadership.

"Crazy Bosses" is both entertaining and therapeutic. There's comfort knowing you are not alone.

Bing identifies five types of crazy bosses. There's the bully boss. Yup, that's the word I would use for my former tormentor.

"I begin with the bully not because he is special -- but because he is common, ubiquitous throughout all organizations large and small, private and public sector, domestic and international, successful and unsuccessful, found in every ethnic persuasion and religious denomination," he writes. "The most mediocre man or woman can suddenly seem dynamic, forceful, and decisive if he or she is mean enough."

And ladies, here's a heads up. Throughout the book Bing mostly uses the male pronoun to refer to crazy bosses. Don't take offense. Bing admits he means "he or she."

"Let there be no mistake, however," he says. "Women are no slouches in this department. In fact, I believe the female bully is perhaps the hardest to deal with of all, at least for any man who had a mother who scared him."

Perhaps your boss is the paranoid type. "The politics of the workplace function to heighten paranoia in even normal people, and the damaged, friable crazy boss is ill equipped to establish any kind of equilibrium," Bing writes.

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