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From Debra to Debby: The tale of two bosses

In this blog I'll be sharing a very personal and embarrassing story of when I went from Debra to Debby, or what I like to describe as the tale of two bosses. Here goes . . . . .

When I was a new boss I found it very challenging to deal with stressful situations. Whether it be a tight or unreasonable deadline, too many conflicting priorities, or a difficult customer. Things would and did throw me into a stress spin (I know that’s not a real phrase, but let’s go with it). The result was that my alter ego, who when I was a child my friends and family called 'Debby', magically appeared! Let me introduce you to her. She was impatient, short and sharp with her people, and often extremely demanding. Not at all like Debra, my other personality.

The result of this was that I turned into a bad boss. In fact, multiple types of bad bosses. This not only made it difficult for my people, but it also made it confusing as they weren’t sure when Debby would emerge. Looking back, I would put her into these bad boss types which come from the 10 types we explore in our book:

Avoider - Most of the time, Debby would hide away, which is what an Avoider boss does, only coming out to shout orders or lean over someone to try to get them to finish something quicker. This meant she wasn’t actually there for her people when they needed her, giving them support at the right time and in the right way.

Ignorer - She was also an Ignorer, ignoring what her people had to say and contribute as she was too focused on her stress and on what she felt needed to be done and happen. This meant she missed out on what her people said, did and needed from her.

Hoarder - Thinking back, she was also a Hoarder as she was either hiding away or rushing from one thing to another, not spending the time sharing the information, feedback, etc. that her people needed from her.

Coercer - And she was absolutely a Coercer. She’d pop in and out, using power to get things done, often intimidating the people who she actually genuinely cared about and for.

If you’d like to be more aware of your boss traits (good, bad and great), take our free and confidential online test. Go to:


Does this sound familiar? I wouldn’t be surprised if it did since, for many of us, we let stress consume us, drawing out our alter egos. To help in these situations, let us share with you some solutions and some ways to overcome these bad boss traits using building blocks from our Great Boss Building Block Model™:

Authenticity & Vulnerability - The starting point is the use of the Authenticity and Vulnerability building blocks, which we describe as things you “wear” to show your all-important true self. In situations like the one described, we too often hide the stress from our people, not wanting to show (and wear) it for fear that doing so will make us look weak and not worthy of their trust and respect. Rubbish! From our experience, your people will be more likely than not to understand and relate with you when you show and don’t hide these feelings from them, especially when it comes to stress, as it’s something we all have experience dealing with.

Because of this, we suggest that in these situations, you come clean with your people. Admit that you’re having these problems and “wear” them so that they’ll understand why and when your alter ego may come out to play when things get too stressful. You may be surprised that they will relate to you, sharing that they have similar problems, or may even have some coping mechanisms that they have successfully used that you can try out yourself. And the added bonus is that when you role model authenticity and vulnerability in this way you show them that it’s ok to wear them, which in the future makes it easier for them and you.

Empathy & Compassion - Too often when we get stressed we focus solely on ourselves, which stops us from taking the time to be empathetic and compassionate towards our people. As we explain in our book, when it comes to empathy we need to remember that the “door” to it swings both ways, so you don’t just need to be empathetic by opening the door to the feelings of your people, but you need to open the door to your own self-awareness, being intentionally and consciously aware of how your emotions and behaviors are influencing those around you. 

But it isn’t enough to just be empathic, you need to take it to the next step by showing compassion and taking action both in the short and long term. For example, in the situation described, the long term solution would be to figure out ways to remove the stress so that Debby never appears. However, since this may take time, there are short term actions that could take place. In fact, after openly explaining my challenges to my people, we agreed that until I got the stress under control, I would hang a sign outside my office door (yes, this happened in the days of bosses having separate offices), one  that said: “Debby is in the office - enter at your own risk.” It was far from perfect, but it was our way of accepting and embracing my bad boss traits as I worked on overcoming them and at the same time, protecting everyone from Debby!

In summary, should you face similar challenges remember to:

  • “Wear” authenticity and vulnerability, showing your people that you’re not perfect, letting them know that you’re having some challenges.

  • Show your people empathy and compassion, considering their needs and not just focusing on your own.


Learn more

If you'd like to learn more about our book, which covers the bad boss types and building blocks included in this blog plus more, you can download the first chapter here.

Need a speaker?

If you'd like to have someone come in to speak or run a workshop with your leadership or management team about how to be a great boss, sharing what we call the 3 A's, please contact us, we'd be glad to help.

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