Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beware of Vampire Bosses

HR practitioner and author ANNA TAN reveals the traits of toxic bosses that suck employee productivity and morale dry. Are you one of them?

ONE MONDAY MORNING, I rode the elevator with a colleague who heads the finance department. Complaining bitterly, Rona told me she was unceremoniously handed another challenging project in addition to her day job. “As if I don’t have enough issues to handle, I am given a project from hell,” she lamented. “The budget is minuscule and with a skeletal team, I am doomed before I even started.” When she tried to push back, her protests fell on deaf ears. Her boss’s reply was, “I don’t care how you do it, but for your own good, you better get it done!”

Let’s face it; we have all seen and experienced bad and dysfunctional bosses at work. In Albert J. Bernstein’s book Emotional Vampires: Dealing with People Who Drain You Dry, emotional vampires are typically people who are “extremely critical, controlling, narcissistic, or generally very negative and manipulative.” According to Bernstein, such “vampires” fall into five types: Antisocial, Histrionic, Narcissistic, Obsessive-Compulsive and Paranoid. While these may sound technical, they are characters and behaviours I am sure you have come across on a daily basis at work.

Rather than do a technical analysis, let me draw on famous villains from Batman who exhibit traits of these emotional vampires and imagine them in a corporate setting where they reign supreme and inflict harm on undeserving victims. So, here are my villain-themed vampire bosses:

The Joker
A vampire boss, Darren is a known comedian-of-sorts in the office. Without fail, he would turn up at the pantry at 3pm—on the dot—every day, regaling eager co-workers with his tall tales and jokes. Possessing the gift of the gab, his stories are delightful, captivating and generally interesting. Many of the employees find him entertaining and charming. Working in a pressure cooker-like environment, they appreciate his light-hearted and easygoing approach. As time passes, spooky vignettes about a darker side of Darren began to emerge. From the grapevine, we heard that morale is slumping and his department is showing signs of diminishing productivity.

Min is having her weekly one-on-one with Darren. As she waits outside, she feels the niggling dread in the pit of her stomach. Darren, as she discovered, loves to hijack meetings by talking about himself relentlessly and complaining about everything under the sun. He just can’t say anything positive or constructive. Instead, he is quick to criticise and find fault with almost everyone.

Woe betide those who are unfortunate enough to cross his path. Having no respect for others’ time, Darren frequently turned their 30-minute touch-base sessions into three-hour marathons. Min is always exhausted after these drawn-out one-way exchanges. Akin to being bitten by a vampire, she is sucked dry and drained of all blood and energy. Darren’s toxic persona in private is far removed from his pleasant and good-humoured public image.

When Min enters the office, she found Darren sipping his morning tea. Out of politeness she asks if he is enjoying his tea. At that, Darren turns around and, with a serious demeanour, leans in and delivers his lethal rejoinder: “No, I am not having tea. I am drinking my own urine!”

Thrown off-guard by what she hears, Min is shell-shocked. Her expression of horror gives Darren such a rush that he bursts into a rapturous laugh which lasts a good minute. What ensues is a blur to Min. When she finally flees the toxic scene, she heads straight for the HR office and lodges a complaint.

Poison Ivy
When questioned by Human Resources (HR), Darren defends his case with aplomb. He promotes himself as a coaching boss, approachable and, at times, friendly to a fault. Using humour to lighten things, he admits that his jokes might not be everyone’s cup of tea. He proceeds to trivialise and water down the complaint by alleging that Min is too sensitive and has misinterpreted a harmless act. To further undermine Min’s credibility, Darren claims that she is prone to exaggeration and has a tendency to overreact.

Character assassination is a low-down practice that vampire bosses use to shed unfavourable light on people who get in the way. Alas, there’s no happy ending or victory for the underdog in this scary movie.

From A-list to Blacklist
On the surface, it appeared that Darren has gotten away with murder. However, as he is a senior leader, the case attracted “paparazzi” attention when it was escalated to senior management at HQ. Words have it that Darren’s superstar status has gone from the A-list to blacklist after the HR investigation.

So, take heart! There are indeed companies which are genuinely committed to shaping a respectful workplace, and they will stop at nothing to ensure that workplace bullies are stopped in their tracks. While the fang-marks are still there, Min has moved on to another department and studiously avoids Darren. Although her garlic strategy is not ideal, it nonetheless gives her peace of mind, knowing that he can no longer harm her.

See the Light!
Toxic bosses cause much unnecessary stress in the workplace. They are a major cause of reduced productivity and employee disengagement. If you exhibit any of the above-mentioned villainous personalities, I urge you to stop before you leave shrivelled hollow shells of people in your wake. As a leader, you want to create a climate of trust where your team members are empowered and engaged to give their best.

The whole point of work is to find purpose and meaning in what we do. When people are treated with respect, they will reciprocate with respect. The vampire treatment achieves exactly the opposite and the malignant culture that results will leave emotional scars and permanent damage to the organisation. See the light and leave the dark side!

ANNA TAN is a bean counter who found her calling in HR. Her journey in corporate HR has led her to write Stretched!: Unleashing your Team’s Potential by Coaching the Rubber Band Way, a book which likens human potential to the flexible and agile rubber band.

Reproduced from the January-March 2014 issue of Quill magazine

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Good Books Advocate

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan. 3 — Behind every great book is a seasoned book editor toiling away at the manuscript, often not merely correcting it but improving the final product. Eric Forbes, senior editor at MPH Publishing, has seen it all—the good, the bad and the ugly—and the years haven’t dimmed his love for good books and stories. In addition to his day job, Forbes blogs at Eric Forbes’s Book Addict’s Guide to Good Books (http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com) and continues to introduce readers to a new generation of interesting writers and books.

How do you go about choosing the right books for publication?
Sourcing for manuscripts is always a challenge. You never know whether a book will be successful. We can’t exactly wait for manuscripts to land on our laps. Very often the manuscripts that land on our desks are unpublishable. Our strategy is to be proactive in developing new manuscripts through the commissioning of work and contract publishing. We tend to reject more books than we publish for obvious reasons. Out of over a hundred manuscripts we receive annually, perhaps around 30 to 40 end up being published. The rest is made up of commissioned work and contract publishing.

Describe the editor’s role.
Writing well will always be a challenge. Getting an editor to like your manuscript enough to publish it is another. Writers need to write better and editors need to edit better. Writers tend to write without perfecting their work before submitting their manuscripts to publishers while local publishing is often done in a hurried manner without rigorous editing. Editing a manuscript is no piece of cake. Those were the days when editors line-edit text, check facts and figures, weed out inconsistencies and clichés, etc. Sad to say, such days are long gone. We are also short of good editors, especially those who excel in fiction and children’s books. The task of editing a typescript is nerve-wracking. Most of the typescripts are not only badly written but lack content or substance; there’s not much in the way of depth or breadth or width in the writing. Writers must learn to write the best books of their lives, ones that editors can sink their teeth into. It is essential that editors not only have a flair for writing but write well. Excellence in language is a definite must. You cannot edit without understanding the mechanics of writing. Editors must be well read in as many genres as possible, both fiction and non-fiction, and be excellent in grammar and syntax, the twist and turns of language. Most editors are especially weak in grammar and make no effort in checking out grammar texts for reference. You must develop a perfect ear for tone when it comes to constructing or rewriting sentences. Editors who are weak in grammar tend to introduce more errors to the text they are editing rather than minimising or fixing them. Editing must add clarity and layers to the text. Editors very often fail in this regard because they are resistant to change and thus do not grow intellectually. Always consult the dictionary when you are in doubt. Most of the editors working in publishing today seem to have an aversion to using the dictionary.

What is the state of the English-language publishing industry in Malaysia today?
One challenge we face is foreign competition. We are spoilt for choice when it comes to good books by international writers. Local books will always end up the poor cousins of foreign books. Quality and quantity must improve; otherwise nothing much will change in the long term. There is also this unseemly haste to get books to market before they are ready. The editorial process is not taking as long as it should. There are so many books out there. Some of them are worthy of the reader’s time, but most aren’t. However, we need more publishers who appreciate the value of good editing, especially those who attempt to grapple with the conflict between perfectionism and commercialism and at the same time try to find ways to improve public taste.

How about local writers and readers?
There’s not much range in contemporary Malaysian writing. Malaysian writers tend to write the same stuff again and again: how to make a million bucks, feng shui, self-improvement, etc. Our range is limited; though we have lots of cultural, historical, educational, lifestyle and anecdotal stuff, there’s somehow a shortfall in these genres. There’s not much local fiction and essay collections. There’s more money to be made in non-fiction than fiction in Malaysia. Malaysian writers therefore tend to write more non-fiction. Another challenge is readership—or the lack thereof. If the readership is small, it isn’t viable to publish. It is clearly a vicious cycle we have here. I don’t think we have much of a reading culture here in Malaysia. We are still a long way from that.

What are your thoughts on traditional print books vs. e-books?
For better or worse we have to change with the times. It has been a year since we started publishing e-books through the MPH Digital imprint.

How far can a book published in Malaysia reach other markets?
Online bookstores and e-books will help overcome this hurdle. If we cannot physically export books overseas (due to the non-feasibility or non-viability of transporting books overseas) then Malaysian publishers must focus on e-books and the selling of foreign and translation rights to increase the sales of Malaysian books overseas. As a reader, I hope e-books will never totally replace print books. There’s something about turning the pages that adds to the experience of reading. I believe that both e-books and print books in time will have their share of the market.

This story was first published in Crave in the print edition of The Malay Mail on January 2, 2014

April 2014 Highlights

1. The Art of Floating (Berkley, 2014) / Kristin Bair O’Keeffe
2. The Temporary Gentleman (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Sebastian Barry
3. Tapestry of Fortunes (Random House, 2014) / Elizabeth Berg
4. Ghost Moon (Salt Publishing, 2014) / Ron Butlin
5. The Closet of Savage Mementos (New Island Books, 2014) / Nuala Ní Chonchúir
6. Kingmaker" Winter Pilgrims (Cenrury, 2014) / Toby Clements
7. No Book But the World (Riverhead, 2014) / Leah Hager Cohen
8. The Wolf in Winter (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / John Connolly
9. The Brunist Day of Wrath (Dzanc Books, 2014) / Robert Coover
10. Frog Music (Little, Brown, 2014) / Emma Donoghue

11. The Train to Warsaw (Grove Press, 2014) / Gwen Edelman
12. And the Dark Sacred Night (Pantheon, 2014) / Julia Glass
13. The Fortune Hunter (Headline Review, 2014) / Daisy Goodwin
14. The Telling Error (Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / Sophie Hannah
15. The Museum of Extraordinary Things (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Alice Hoffman
16. Be Safe I Love You (Virago, 2014) / Cara Hoffman
17. Off Course (Sarah Crichton Books, 2014) / Michelle Huneven
18. The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden (trans. from the Swedish by Rachel Wilson-Broyles) (Ecco Press, 2014) / Jonas Jonasson
19. Fallout (Harper, 2014) / Sadie Jones
20. American Romantic (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / Ward Just

21. The Pink Suit (Little, Brown, 2014) / Nicole Mary Kelby
22. All Decent Animals (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Oonya Kempadoo
23. In Praise of Hatred (trans. from the Arabic by Leri Price) (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014) / Khaled Khalifa
24. Diary of the Fall (trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa) (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Michel Laub
25. I Pity the Poor Immigrant (Little, Brown, 2014) / Zachary Lazar
26. The Medici Boy (Astor + Blue Editions, 2014) / John L’Heureux
27. In Paradise (Riverhead, 2014) / Peter Matthiessen
28. The Dead Ground (Headline, 2014) / Claire McGowan
29. Hidden (New Harvest, 2014) / Catherine McKenzie
30. Blue Is the Night (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Eoin McNamee

31. Bodies of Light (Granto Books, 2014) / Sarah Moss
32. Talking to Ourselves (trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Andrés Neuman
33. The Ballad of a Small Player (Hogarth, 2014) / Lawrence Osborne
34. Quiet Dell (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Jayne Anne Phillips
35. Lovers at the Chameleon Club: Paris, 1932 (Harper, 2014) / Francine Prose
36. The Other Story (St Martin’s Press, 2014) / Tatiana de Rosnay
37. The Giraffe’s Neck (trans. from the German by Shaun Whiteside) (Bloomsbury USA/Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Judith Schalansky
38. The Walk Home (Virago, 2014) / Rachel Seiffert
39. The Hungry Ghosts (Telegram Books, 2014) / Shyam Selvadurai
40. A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Kamila Shamsie

41. Family Life (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Akhil Sharma
42. Astonish Me (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Maggie Shipstead
43. The Casebook (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Mona Simpson
44. The Ten Thousand Things (Gerald Duckworth/Duckworth Overlook, 2014) / John Spurling
45. Secrecy (Other Press, 2014) / Rupert Thomson
46. The Cold Song (trans. from the Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland) (Other Press, 2014) / Linn Ullmann
47. Love and Treasure (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Ayelet Waldman
48. History of the Rain (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Niall Williams
49. Into the Trees (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Robert Williams
50. All the Birds, Singing (Pantheon, 2014) / Evie Wyld

51. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014) / Gabrielle Zevin

First Novels
1. Waiting for the Man (ECW Press, 2014) / Arjun Basu
2. Steal the North (Viking Adult, 2014) / Heather Brittain Bergstrom
3. Life Drawing (Picador, 2014) / Robin Black
4. Ruby (Hogarth, 2014) / Cynthia Bond
5. Bonita Avenue (trans. from the Dutch by Jonathan Reeder) (Pushkin Press, 2014) / Peter Buwalda
6. Viviane (trans. from the French by Linda Coverdale) (The New Press, 2014) / Julia Deck
7. ’Til the Well Runs Dry (Henry Holt, 2014) / Lauren Francis-Sharma
8. The Steady Running of the Hour (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Justin Go
9. Sedition (Henry Holt, 2014) / Katharine Grant
10. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Black Cat/Grove Press, 2014) / Eve Harris

11. The Gypsy Goddess (Atlantic Books, 2014) / Meena Kandasamy
12. The Natural Order of Things (Vintage, 2014) / Kevin P. Keating
13. Land of No Rain (trans. from the Arabic by Jonathan Wright) (Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing, 2014) / Amjad Nasser
14. After Darkness (Allen & Unwin, 2014) / Christine Piper
15. In the Light of What We Know (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Zia Haider Rahman
16. Look Who’s Back (trans. from the German by Jamie Bulloch) (MacLehose Press/Quercus, 2014) / Timur Vermes
17. Chop Chop (Viking, 2014) / Simon Wroe

1. Saltwater (Liberties Press, 2014) / Lane Ashfeldt
2. Can’t and Won’t (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Lydia Davis
3. Only the Animals (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Australia, 2014) / Ceridwen Dovey
4. Acts of God (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014) / Ellen Gilchrist
5. Tell Me One Thing (Nan A. Talese, 2014) / Deena Goldstone
6. All the Rage (Jonathan Cape/New Harvest, 2014) / A.L. Kennedy
7. The Frangipan Hotel (Spiegel & Grau, 2014) / Violet Kupersmith
8. How does a single blade of grass thank the sun? (Nightwood Editions, 2014) / Doretta Lau
9. The Other Language (Pantheon, 2014) / Francesca Marciano
10. Thunderstruck and Other Stories (The Dial Press, 2014) / Elizabeth McCracken

11. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (HarperCollins Canada, 2014) / Heather O’Neill

1. Moontide (Bloodaxe Books, 2014) / Niall Campbell
2. My Family and Other Superheroes (Seren, 2014) / Jonathan Edwards
3. Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2014) / Mark Ford
4. Corridor (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Saskia Hamilton
5. Poems That Make Grown Men Cry: 100 Poems on the Words That Move Them (Simon & Schuster UK, 2014) / Anthony & Ben Holden (eds.)
6. The Tulip-Flame (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2014) / Chloe Honum
7. And Short the Season (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Maxine Kumin
8. This Blue (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Maureen N. McLane
9. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting (Little, Brown/Sceptre, 2014) / Kevin Powers
10. The Road to Emmaus (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Spencer Reece

11. The Tame Magpie (Hanging Loose Press, 2014) / Paul Violi
12. The Pedestrians (Wave Books, 2014) / Rachel Zucker

1. Charlie Chaplin (Chatto & Windus, 2014) / Peter Ackroyd
2. Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Simon Armitage
3. The Land Where Lemons Grow: The Story of Italy and its Citrus Fruit (Particular Books, 2014) / Helena Attlee
4. Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918 (Harper Perennial, 2014) / John Baxter
5. Updike (Harper, 2014) / Adam Begley
6. The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Family (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Richard Benson
7. Hans Christian Andersen: European Witness (Yale University Press, 2014) / Paul Binding
8. 1965: The Year Modern Britain Was Born (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Christopher Bray
9. The Embrace of Unreason: France, 1914-1940 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Frederick Brown
10. New Life, No Instructions: A Memoir (Random House, 2014) / Gail Caldwell

11. A Farm Dies Once a Year: A Memoir (Henry Holt, 2014) / Arlo Crawford
12. The Sea-God’s Herb: Essays & Criticism, 1975-2014 (Dzanc Books, 2014) / John Domini
13. Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert (University of Chicago Press, 2014) / John Drury
14. Italoamericana: The Literature of the Great Migration, 1880-1943 (Fordham University Press, 2014) / Francesco Durante (ed.)
15. Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything (Twelve, 2014) / Barbara Ehrenreich
16. Revolutionary Russia, 1891-1991: A History (Metropolitan Books, 2014) / Orlando Figes
17. Odd Job Man: Some Confessions of a Slang Lexicographer (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Jonathon Green
18. Language!: 500 Years of the Vulgar Tongue (Atlantic Books, 2014) / Jonathon Green
19. Gandhi Before India (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Ramachandra Guha
20. A Poet’s Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / Edward Hirsch

21. Kolyma Diaries: A Journey into Russia’s Haunted Hinterland (Portobello Books, 2014) / Jacek Hugo-Bader
22. The Empathy Exams: Essays (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Leslie Jamieson
23. In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying (Patrick Crean Books, 2014) / Eve Joseph
24. Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty (Random House, 2014) / Diane Keaton
25. The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories (Scriber, 2014) / Marina Keegan
26. The Object Parade (Counterpoint, 2014) / Dinah Lenney
27. Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir (Crown, 2014) / Frances Mayes
28. Not for Everyday Use: A Memoir (Akashic Books, April 2014) / Elizabeth Nunez
29. The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century (trans. from the German by Patrick Camiller) (Princeton University Press, 2014) / Jürgen Osterhammel
30. Limber: Essays (Sarabande Books, 2014) / Angela Pelster

31. The Novel: A Biography (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2014) / Michael Schmidt
32. The Soul of the World (Princeton University Press, 2014) / Roger Scruton
33. You Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body (University of Chicago Press, 2014) / Peggy Shinner
34. Lady in the Dark: Iris Barry and the Art of Film (Columbia University Press, 2014) / Robert Sitton
35. The Informed Air: Essays (ed. Penelope Jardin) (New Directions, 2014) / Muriel Spark
36. The Expedition to the Baobab Tree (trans. from the Afrikaans by J.M. Coetzee) (Archipelago, 2014) / Wilma Stockenström
37. The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (Spiegel & Grau, 2014) / Matt Taibbi
38. What Would Lynne Tillman Do? (Red Lemonade, 2014) / Lynne Tillman
39. The Living Goddess: A Journey Into the Heart of Kathmandu (Penguin Books India, 2014) / Isabella Tree