It wasn't pretty.
'No-one particularly liked my boss (or at least no-one I knew). He wasn't very approachable, and flew round the office most of the time like a bear with a sore head.
He seemed to be well regarded at the firm, though, and had built up a good contact book and enjoyed some success over the years brokering medium-sized M&A deals. He wasn't a superstar by any means, but was the kind of professional firms like - they easily cover their costs and build a portfolio of contacts that can be leveraged by other areas of the organisation.
I'd worked for him in a fairly junior role for around two years, but (together with the rest of the team) had begun to notice a change in his behaviour. If anything, he had become even more irritable. He never suffered fools gladly at the best of times, but - towards the end - you only had to look at him to have your head snapped off (unless you were one of his bosses, of course, when he would transform into Mr Nice Guy and nothing was too much trouble).
Then one of the girls noticed that he'd started sometimes wearing the same clothes to work two days running. At first we thought he was shagging someone in the office and not going home. It later transpired that we were half right - he just wasn't going home, where things had apparently become strained (he was married and had a couple of young kids).
We knew the pressure was going to be on this year. The firm was struggling with revenues, and was looking for M&A to come good. But as the went through the first quarter, it became clear that few deals would be done in our sector - there just wasn't the confidence among CEOs. So our small group was downsized and got smaller. The boss did it (with help from HR), and you could tell he didn't enjoy letting some of his team go. He took it personally. And that's when we began to view him somewhat differently - we started to see his increasingly erratic behaviour not as a personality defect, but as a sign that this highly professional man was actually under huge pressure, and needed some support.
But what were we to do ? We knew he wouldn't take kindly if one of the team tried to reach out to him - in fact, we thought that that might make it worse. We then thought of HR - perhaps the best thing to do was to have a quiet word with that department ? But, then again, how would that be perceived ? Not handling pressure is seen as a major weakness in our macho world. What would the consequences be for our boss and his future career ?
In the end (predicably), we did nothing. And that turned out to be the worst thing we could have done.
It was one morning around 3 months ago. Amazingly, our boss wasn't the first one in the office that day. We couldn't remember the last time that happened - even when he had a client breakfast he still managed to get in before any of the rest of us.
He looked even more on edge as he sat down at his desk and turned his work station on. After a brief moment, he focused hard on his screen. Something had clearly got his interest. His hand came up and covered his mouth, then swept up further to mop his brow. The blood seemed to drain from his face, and he slowly stood up. What happened next seemed to unfold in slow motion.
He tilted his head back, and grabbed his screen, hurling it across the office where it came to rest on top of the photocopier. Next came his keyboard, and then the base unit flew through the air, crashing through a glass partition that screened off a small kitchen area on one side of the floor.
We all froze, as our boss simply sat back down in his chair and stared out over the chaos he had created. No-one said a word as, within just a couple of minutes, someone from HR came down to look over what was occurring. She quickly left, and returned a few minutes later with some guys from security. Still our boss just sat there.
Seeing the security team approach, our boss slowly got up from his chair, took his jacket off the back of his chair and calmly put it on, picked up his briefcase, and walked out the door with him. We never saw him again.
Later that day the girl from HR came back and introduced us to another team leader who would be 'temporarily' looking after us. No mention was made about what had happened - in fact it was as if this kind of thing happened all the time, and was therefore unimportant.
We later found out that our boss was fighting to save his marriage that morning, and the final straw came when a deal we had all been working on for months appeared to finally be on the rocks. Ironically, in the end, the deal went through. No credit was given to our old boss, of course. It was like he never existed.
I wished we could have done something to help him, but even now I'm not sure what. God, this can be a nasty business'.
image: © stuartpilbrow