I tattooed the title of this post on my bleeding heart during my previous employment. For the entire two years, most projects I worked on happened to be fronted by a senior banker whose name I would rather forget. I will not mention it here; I actually doubt the person himself remembers the correct spelling of it after years of switching back and forth between its Americanised and original versions, depending on the mood. Let us call that person Dick. As I think back on some of Dick’s utterly abnormal behaviour, I am shocked by the mere idea of HOW such screaming examples of stupidity were tolerated in a professional environment. I have been musing on this for too long. Time has come for it to come out.
I initially found Dick rather normal. He was always good at suppressing any sign of anomaly at first encounter – like most of us would be in a subconscious attempt to secure a favourable initial impression. Dick was also one of those responsible for turning my internship into a permanent contract. I therefore felt rather grateful when I finally joined his team. I was likewise excited to find myself suddenly useful as the only Russian speaker in a team increasingly involved in Russia. Dick claimed to speak some Russian from his childhood days and steered the regional focus. My fate was sorted. I was stuck with Dick for pretty much my entire career at that particular company.
My initial “normal chap” impression quickly began to crumble. Something was wrong there. Eccentric is the word that springs to mind, and one could argue that nothing is wrong with being a bit eccentric. A bit. But Dick was shockingly so. Let me give you only a few examples of his behaviour.
Those of you in possession of a Blackberry know the default “Sent from My Blackberry Wireless Handheld” signature which appears under outgoing email messages. When it becomes annoying, some of us choose to shorten it, remove it or even replace it with something unassuming. None of that apparently seemed worthy of Dick. His was, proudly, “Sent from My Washing Machine”. No comment.
Or take another example. LinkedIn is a professional networking website used by many in the City of London. Until recently, Dick’s position there was listed as “Cleaner” at a company called “Toilet”. A sole proprietorship, I presume. Is this screamingly unprofessional, humorous or simply gross? I have checked his profile there recently and noticed, with relief, that it had been replaced with Dick’s actual position. A much more glamorous one but, according to some recent research, way more value destructive to society.
Further still. We used to have weekly team meetings in a large conference room. Some people were usually away travelling, but, occasionally, our full team of just under 20 people would gather around a long table. Dick tended to be running late everywhere and make it just in the nick of time. On one of such occasions, Dick rushed in to find all the chairs in the room occupied. Without missing a beat, he turned upside down a rubbish bin – yes, a RUBBISH BIN! – after which, ladies and gentlemen, he SAT ON IT. He sat on it for the entire duration of the team meeting. Silence prevailed in the room; everyone seemed to have lowered their voice. We tried not to look at one of the most senior people on the floor crowning an upside-down garbage container. Is this normal?
Another thing on my memory is Dick’s peculiar grammar obsession. He was paranoid about font style, size and colour. He was likewise obsessed with punctuation – semicolon topping his personal preference list. Many a night did I wait for his comments on a proposed presentation, only to be given a mark-up modestly containing (in that order): (1) one bullet point reduced from Font 10 to Font 9; (2) one comma replaced with a semicolon; (3) one clumsy adjective transformed into an auxiliary sentence; and (4) “states” in “Baltic states” reduced from capital to lower case. Obviously, things you would need to keep an analyst awake all night for.
Travelling with Dick was like a nightmare materialised. Firstly, he never checked in any luggage for time constraints and assumed this ultimate ban to spread onto his junior companions. I once dared to check in a bag and was exposed to a day-long shower of sarcasm and general harassment. It taught me a lesson. Perhaps Dick wasn’t as effeminate as myself (although I had my doubts) and failed to grasp every woman’s vital need to carry plenty of liquids even on business trips – which those pathetic 10x100ml containers could only dream of accommodating.
Secondly, Dick would refuse to enter an aeroplane until the final call, choosing to chill in the business lounge before that. Uniquely gifted with an unbelievably speedy walking pace, Dick clearly did not find it problematic to make the flight. His less talented companions suffered, however. I could not count the times I had to trail that devoted Forrest Gump disciple, the airport speakers announcing my name among those other evil passengers delaying the flight. What a nightmare.
Oh, and Dick has studied at one of the best universities in the US. Naturally, he has taken some of that precious knowledge with him through the years. In particular, he was rather nostalgic about history. St. Petersburg for him was forever Leningrad. Perhaps it was a joke I failed to get. Istanbul was – what else? – Constantinople. Once I asked Dick to explain his irrational attachment to outdated names, to which he responded that he didn’t actually mean Constantinople. He meant Byzantium. And the curtain fell.
I could mention other things. Things like never looking at me during a conversation. Things like proudly riding his 20-year-old derelict student bicycle to work. Things like extending his personal CV on an entire page of our team presentation when the Team Head’s only went for half of that. Things like listing about 15 languages in that particular CV, including “a modest understanding of several Scandinavian and Slavic languages” (impress me with that!). Things like childishly begging colleagues to bring him a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato from downstairs. All the things which make me cringe.
All the things which make me wish we could indeed choose our bosses.