“I’m positive she’s the world’s meanest boss,” I thought to myself every day and often voiced to my partner, friends and parents about my jefa of two years.
At the time, I was working at a boutique (read: small) agency in Tempe, Arizona that had enticed me with its cute office décor, a team of perky mid-twenties and a boss lady with an impressive résumé.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that her grand CV also included skills like “Regularly makes employees cry” and “Capable of causing minor panic attacks after a 15-minute meeting.”
“Vanessa,” she would call from her office, always reminding me of that scene in “The Devil Wears Prada” where Meryl Streep’s character softly beckons and everyone is expected to drop everything and run in there. In our office, the volume was louder, but the effect was the same.
I would speed-walk in her office, clutching my notebook so I could write down all of the things she didn’t like about whatever project I had just finished. “Just a few changes,” she would say, and then proceed to rip apart the entire document with orders to have it back to her by end of day because “it really shouldn’t take too long.”
Nothing was ever good enough and, what was worse, she expected 24/7 availability from her employees if she decided she needed us — no exceptions for days off, vacations or even funerals.
But with time and distance, I’ve come to realize that, although working for her was mostly miserable, the experience wasn’t a total waste. While I can file the majority of what I learned from her under “Things I’ll never do as a boss,” if I try hard enough, I can also remember some of her best traits.
Here, four lessons — though gained with blood, sweat and way too many tears — I learned from the world’s most cabrona boss.
1. Claim your place as queen bee.
This was a woman who would never be served cold food, let alone the wrong item, without emerging with a free meal and a gift card for her next one. If things weren’t exactly perfect, you can bet someone would have to pay, and it definitely wouldn’t be her. As her employee, this translated to lots of late nights perfecting presentations and reports (as well as a chronic tooth-grinding habit). But on the other side of the coin were the inevitable perks and royal treatment that extended to me, too, any time we went anywhere together.
2. “Immediately” is not soon enough.
This lesson, probably the most valuable, was the one I learned most quickly. Coming from a previous job mired in bureaucracy, I was used to flexible deadlines and projects that took forever to complete. So when I first started working for the boss in question, I fell into my old habits of working hard on the fun tasks and procrastinating the awful ones. News flash: this will not make you employee of the month. You can bet that after the first few times I got yelled at for moving too slowly on my projects, I learned to do the hard stuff first and do it fast. A skill, I should add, that has served me well in every job and personal project since.
3. Delegation is critical.
In our office, we had a small sitting area with some couches and chairs. I can still remember the resentment I felt looking at my boss laying on the yellow couch in the middle of the afternoon having “a little nap” as I typed away furiously on something that I would inevitably have to take home to finish anyway. “What does she even do all day,” my co-worker and I would groan to each other after meetings in which every task and project was assigned to us. But now I’ve come to realize: being great at delegating is not just a skill; it’s an art. Sometimes it seems easier just to do things yourself—you know it will get done right, and you don’t have to spend time training anyone or explaining what you meant. No, this is not how a true jefa thinks. Get those tasks off your plate and save your valuable time for world domination.
4. Use your voice.
One day, in a room full of men in suits, I searched desperately for something brilliant and profound to add to the conversation. “You can’t say that,” my inner voice scolded, “it’s so obvious, it isn’t even worth saying.” Just then, I heard my boss say the exact thing I had been thinking but hadn’t said. I watched as everyone in the room nodded enthusiastically, appreciating this bit of wisdom. This is the final lesson: trust in your expertise and speak up. The world needs to hear that perspective that only you have.
Would I ever want to go back and work for her? Hell no. But I am grateful for what I learned during a critical period of growth. As Shakespeare wrote, “And thou shalt see how apt it is to learn / any hard lesson that will do thee good.” And what I took from the world’s meanest boss were some pretty valuable lessons after all.