UWC Prof Lawack’s latest book, Impossible Bosses, hits shelves

When the book Impossible Bosses hits shelves today, it will cap an “incredibly exciting journey” for University Western of the Cape (UWC) Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Vivienne Lawack. This project has been 16 years in the making. But it was only in the last two that it gained momentum.

What started as an ever-growing list of anecdotes about awful managers and leaders has morphed into a manuscript and eventually a book which has been selected by Exclusive Books for its recommended reading list for July.

The proud author who has her roots in the Eastern Cape, shared the idea with her close friend, Hanlie Lizette Wessels. The rest, as they say, is history.

“It was the start of a long friendship. And it grew as we grew in our careers from middle to senior management, and eventually, both of us as executives. We shared the difficulties we observed and what happened to us.“We started sharing notes and eventually became what we describe in the book as friendtors – a friend who is also a mentor. We’ve given each other advice that helped us navigate difficult situations.”

Wessels is a corporate executive with an impressive CV, having held directorships at several big companies in South Africa. She currently serves on the UWC Council. The pair roped in an expert on management and executive coaching, Robert Craig.

The publishers, Jonathan Ball, loved the idea for the book so much that they immediately gave the project the green light, “and then the deadlines began”.

The pair were given their deadlines, and the editing process started once the required chapters were submitted. The team narrowed their focus to the eight worst leaders, hence the title: Impossible Bosses: Secret strategies to deal with eight archetypal managers.

For each, they describe:

  • Who they are.
  • What their characteristics are.
  • How to recognise them in the workplace.

“Sometimes, when you have an impossible boss, they can put what we call ‘invisible ladders’ there for you. You’ll never get to where you’re supposed to because you can’t see this ladder that you are constantly stepping on. The other thing they sometimes do is that if they don’t want you to advance, they put you in an invisible cage. So, you’re trapped there.
“We started testing this. We gave our network different pieces to read. Some of them said: ‘I know someone like this, or, I have worked with someone like that’,” explained Prof Lawack.

Using various profiling strategies, the authors identified eight archetypal managers who create uniquely challenging situations in the workplace. Miss Say-Me – the competitive control freak; Mr Tumbleweed – the indecisive worrier; Miss Crosswire – the disorganised people schmoozer; Mr Make-Up – the seemingly nice manipulator; and their four demanding friends.

“Miss Say-Me is a play on Lionel Richie’s famous song, Say you, say me, but it’s actually just say me, say me in the book,” joked Prof Lawack.

This book offers practical tips to rapidly regain control of your career and navigate tricky situations. Prof Lawack, Wessels and Craig describe it as “a coach in your pocket”. Impossible Bosses shows you how to manage your manager. “So once you’ve identified that problematic boss, we give you the strategies to deal with them,” said Prof Lawack. “It is also about the impact on your career.”

“There’s also a chapter for those who may recognise themselves as an impossible boss. Some of the executives we gave the book to asked: ‘Is this me, is this me? What do I do if it is me?’ We show bosses how they can manage themselves and avoid making life miserable for those working under them.”
There’s certainly enough research to suggest that many workers suffer in silence. That “getting on with it” is the only option when working for an intolerable boss. Impossible Bosses also explores why people stay in miserable jobs.
The Cape Town launch is at Exclusive Books’ Cavendish Square store in Claremont, on July 6, and the Johannesburg leg at Exclusive Books Melrose Arch on July 14. Jonathan Ball UK is set to release the book in London in September.