The Broken Spirit

In this post we are going to focus on developing strong spirits, both individually and organizationally.

lori-tulips-backgroundIn this post we are going to focus on developing strong spirits, both individually and organizationally. To get us started on a serious note, let’s begin by taking a close look at the not-so-pretty, not-so-happy, broken spirit.

If we want to understand how to build our spirit and the spirit of our organization, we need to look at how spirits get broken. This will give us some key insights. We will be better equipped to know when our spirit is breaking and can take action to preserve it. If it’s broken before we know it, we can learn how to mend it.

I am a rather high spirited person so I have had more than my fair share of a broken spirit. Not staying in one’s box can leave one venerable to “breaking” so I have a lot of experiences of breaking and mending. One time in particular comes to mind. It was one of those long drawn out breakings that went on for a few years. These are the worst kind and the kind that is hardest to get over. It’s sort of a chronic brokenness as opposed to an acute painful break that is over quickly.

I was working in an organization that was fun with high energy. We were doing creative work that was meaningful and rich. Then our boss left for another position and we inherited the meanest most sinister boss I have ever met. He worked from a mindset of “command and control” which was the polar opposite to what we were used to. He did not appreciate our creativity and in fact, he was the only one who could have a new (or even an old) idea.

This new boss’s management style was based on intimidation and humiliation. When he could, he would fire one of us, much like a terrorist kills a hostage in order to scare the other hostages into compliance. This is how he controlled us. We hated him.

I had a reoccurring fantasy that helped me cope. It went like this: I’m in his office and he is telling me how incompetent I am. He often says, “You just don’t get it do you!” As I leave his office, I turn and close the door, and hold it closed from the outside. He tries to get out but I am stronger than him and I can hold the door closed against his jerking on it. He is yelling to be let out but I don’t stop holding the door closed. Other employees see what’s happening and we take turns holding the door closed. The boss calls the cops. The cops come and we tell them that he is dangerous to others and needs to be retained in his office for all of our safety. The cops leave and we hold the door closed for days.

Occasionally one of us would get the notion that we could win him over, or that we were his favorite, and we would, for a moment, turn on our fellow employees in the hope of gaining a little grace from him. This trap always failed and after a couple years no one tried it anymore. We, for the most part, banned together for survival. He united us, no matter how large our differences, against him. Of course we dared not let him know that because it would have meant certain termination.

Something happens to mistreated employees. We become like a battered wife who does not leave a violent and abusive relationship. We come to believe that we are so useless that no one else will hire us, so we stay. The longer we stay, the more profound our brokenness.

3 thoughts on “The Broken Spirit”

  1. I also had the horrible boss like many people encounter. I had been working in hospitals for about 10 years and there was a lot of fear around AIDS, especially since they weren’t really even sure what AIDS was. This was in the early days of the HIV epidemic and I keep running into nurse friends that had exposures due to infected bodily fluids from HIV infected patients. I found myself getting more and more anxious and scared as nurses I worked on a daily base were having to get HIV tested and it really was the last straw when my Medical Director, who I just loved, had an exposure. I needed a job in the nursing field without exposing myself to body fluids, at least until the HIV crisis was figured out.
    I found this fantastic job that was working as a nurse managing schizophrenic patients. I loved my new job, the stress was low and and I talked to psychiatrists all day long on the phone, plus I made a fantastic salary with big bonuses. Life was good at first. I also started a new business on the side with my husband. That became quite successful and as my boss was watching me get a bigger house, a newer car etc. and that is when all the trouble started. She went from being my best friend to trying to get rid of me. I hug in there for 8 years with 6 of them being quite miserable. Around the 6th year of working there, my boss was overseeing billing irregularities that I would have considered fraud, however I wasn’t an attorney so I didn’t know for sure. The entire company became the target of a FBI investigation and ended up paying one of the largest fines for government fraud ever. When the investigation started, even though we were a very small branch of the business, she called me in her office and accused me of billing irregularities that she used for making sure we got big bonuses. I explained to her how I couldn’t really have any responsibility due to how I used the computer and didn’t sign off on any bills etc. When her scheme to dump any fraud issues on me wouldn’t work, she was extra horrible to me. She finally did get rid of me after I had a baby. They flew out the VP from Pittsburgh to let me know my position was being eliminated. He told me that company policy required me to be escorted immediately off the premises, however in my case I could get my belongings and clean out my desk. I was devastated, even though I had a new baby.
    So what did I learn from all this. It is always better to be a happy and work toward that goal in everything you do. If your job is bad, start immediately on finding a new one, stop telling yourself that things will change, because generally that don’t. A job is never worth the mental and physcial toll that the stress takes on the body. I still can suffer stress related dreams from this job. Just RUN towards happiness and don’t look back.

  2. I saw my own spirit break when I had a business partner who would have unpredictable underhandedness. From her mouth, she’d tell me I was awesome. I was great. My ideas were brilliant. The business would not thrive without me. Then, she would sabotage our business accounts, bring in consultants without my knowledge, and just be generally shady. I didn’t know what to trust. It eventually become so bad I realized I had to leave the partnership. I lost my whole investment plus attorney fees just to walk away. I even left town and moved hundreds of miles away. It took around two years to rebuild, not just financially, but also my broken spirit. I’ve heard it said, there is more room in a broken heart. Maybe. But is still influences my business decisions and friendships today.

  3. I’ve certainly had a similar “boss” experience. He was so bad that I became afraid to answer my phone for fear it would be him on yet another rant. It not only extinguished my enthusiasm but created a culture of fear with my entire team. While I often did feel like my spirit was broken, I was able to dig deep inside myself and confront him. That didn’t go well.

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