I’ve never had any hang ups when it comes to female bosses.
I want what they have and I believe theirs may just be the shoulders I’ll need to move up. As a young employee, I realised some ladies preferred not to work with female bosses. I didnt get it; to me, it was like saying they had no wish to climb to executive positions or even own their own companies and mentor people.
Years back, I was still trying to master the craft of copywriting. So after some four years of labouriously climbing up the ladder in a small advertising firm I started out with, I wanted to test new depths; I resigned to join a bigger firm; still as a copywriter of course.
Now, copywriters are the concept developers, the writers of the stories in every ad, the ones who usually come up with the ideas on how to persuade consumers or the public to buy into a perception, a product, a brand. They are the writers of TV commercials, documentaries, radio scripts and those jingles that get the public singing after products or services. Copywriters are the creative minds that merge words and images in the advertising world; remove them from the mix and you’ll only have a marketing company.
The task of a copywriter can be blood draining because every brief is a fresh test of your creativity; a challenge of your ability to deliver fresh ideas again and again.
So, I had this Lady Boss, who I reckon must be my age mate or younger by a year or thereabout. She is very intelligent, was always laughing and above all, I considered her very creative. At the beginning of my working relationship with her, she was quiet patient, to be honest. She would query my rationale and help me think deeper and differently about my brief…this only lasted a few weeks; two or three weeks maybe.
She soon became irritated with me. It seemed the mere sight of me angered her. She would call me away from colleagues if she saw me gisting at the corridor or merely taking a break, (may I say here that I never play with my work.)
She often felt I was wasting too much time per brief; she felt I was not original enough. Shortly afterwards, she resorted to insults, verbal insults. These were like knife cuts that never healed; they sliced deep and made me bleed every time. One day, she asked me if I had a brain in my head as she couldn’t understand if I ever thought deep about anything.
I didn’t understand why she had to be verbally abusive because she was displeased with my work. I didn’t protest this, I ignored the insults hoping she would find shame and stop.
She didn’t. In fact, it got to a point where I queried my own intelligence, ‘May be I don’t have the capacity for this fast paced industry…’ I began to think.
‘Maybe I should just return jejeley to my old firm where I was a local champion’ (they were still asking me to come back, o)
Every time a new brief came, I would hear her in my head, insulting me, and threatening to get me fired as I was not worth the position I had got in the company in the first place.
It was worse those days when we had to travel out of station to work and we travelled a lot. She would call me over to her hotel room and recall every wrong step I had taken in the past one or two weeks, depending on the last time she had her talk with me. She talked very fast and so I mostly had to strain to hear the accusations, in order to provide a defence.
‘On Tuesday, at a few minutes after 10 am, you were laughing like a hyena when Chuks told the story of xxx, you were meant to be focusing on your work…’
So I stopped laughing at the jokes my colleagues told in the studio.
‘On Friday, at 6.32 pm, you spent five minutes two seconds talking to Cynthia by the water dispenser when you should have submitted the scripts for xxx four hours earlier!’
So I ticked off talking to Cynthia on my list. On some days though, I wouldn’t be sure if it was Cynthia she wanted me not to talk to or that I shouldn’t even be drinking water or perhaps because I never missed my deadline, couldn’t afford to, because it would affect the overall team.
You see a brief moves from desktop to desktop so everyone must meet their deadlines.
On the other hand, she just amazed me with her ability to retell hour for hour, minute by minute detailed accounts of what happened months ago when I could barely remember what happened an hour ago!
Now hear this, at no point did I seriously contemplate resigning.
Ni’ bo? Hunger for wire me; my kids were still quite young and I had to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. So I sat tight like an African despot…only I was no despot.
I bore the insults, I bore the hisses, the flinging of my scripts to the floor and me scrambling to pick them up and running back to my table at the studio, the humiliation of being told over and over again that I would never be exceptional because I was simply impervious to learning but I learned to switch off after many painful verbal lashings.
Before then, of course, I wouldn’t even take PP (private practice) from outsiders because I would be afraid my lady boss was right after all, nobody would pay for crappy scripts. Oh, by the way, I learned the word ‘crappy’ from her.
But I learned other good stuff, too, only she didn’t teach me. I would read her discarded scripts, I mean scripts she’d begun to write but trashed maybe because she thought they weren’t good enough.
I wanted what she had; so I studied her each time she had a brief she didn’t want those of us working under her to handle. She was never under any apparent pressure. She laughed a lot, she read a lot, she talked to people a lot…
Now, I know what you are thinking; Lady boss appears to be a people person, right? So the fault really must be with me, not with her. I mean, I deserved the insults, I was dull minded, I couldn’t even successfully write a documentary on a popular malt drink when she passed the brief to me back then. I had struggled with the script for hours, trashing several ideas I began with but couldn’t finish because I would hear lady boss in my head pointing out all my errors and why my idea was boring and wouldn’t fly.
However, one day, the head of HR called me upstairs for a meeting; someone had gone to report lady boss to HR, in fact, I was told several had and it seemed her cup was full. HR lady said, it seemed I was the ‘only one enjoying a healthy rapport’ with lady boss.
I burst out laughing. ‘Rapportttu ko, rapporteur ni!
‘So why didn’t you report her since?’ She asked after I told her the story of my life.
‘I need this job,’ I replied.
‘Well, she can’t fire you! Not without the corroboration of negligence and incompetence from two or three colleagues.’
Long story short, I was instructed not to report to lady boss anymore, so I avoided her like ebola but one day, she met me skipping like a deer with a bellyful of fresh grass on the staircase. She stopped me, needing to remind me how she thought she could help me but was disappointed at how I betrayed her.
I gave her ‘you gat to be kidding me look.’
But I felt sorry for her; she was voted the meanest staff that year in the agency; junior staff members didn’t want to run errands for her anymore and there were rumours about her marriage swirling around the office back then; besides, at that time, too, she had poisoned that place for me and I had secured another job at another big advert agency, so there really was no point talking to her.
My new bosses at the new firm were men and they thought I was heaven sent; they believed my work was great. They saw me as an asset to the company such that years afterwards, when I wanted to resign so I could spend more time with my son, who at that time wasn’t doing so well in school, my bosses offered me flexible hours. I think I still remain the only staff they offered such to. I was allowed to work two days a week and still got paid for it.
I must have given my new bosses juju, so powerful, these Igbo men are yet to recover from my jazz because they still call me to date to handle jobs for them.
As for lady boss, I thank her for her meanness; I learned to think deeper than I normally would over every brief and I use her methods to measure some of my own work before passing them to clients but most of all, I learned never to be like her with people who work under me.
Lady boss taught me a few things, after all.