How to Cope With a Mean Boss

With my upcoming book, Mean Men, I hope to be part of a shift away from our current climate of mean in leadership culture. Meanness as a strategy for success is finally starting to come into question in the mainstream media. Even Forbes weighed in last week, noting that the extraordinary careers of people like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs happen in spite of their bullying personalities, not because their behavior and the culture of intimidation they create is a tactical advantage. But as much as things might be changing in our cultural discourse, mean men still run amok in the real world. And while there’s hope that more and more employees will be able to leave when the men in charge get mean, that’s not always a possibility. So what can folks who find themselves stuck between a mean man and a hard place do to preserve their sanity? Are there ways to, at the very least, blunt the impact of these characters?

Psychologists have been developing specific strategies that help others buffer and deflect the full-on abuse that mean men display when left unchecked. These strategies will not transform aggressively controlling behavior, but they will put boundaries around it.

A near-universal trait of mean men is that they are deeply manipulative. They distort reality, making those around them question themselves and their perceptions: it’s a mean man’s world, and we’re all just living in it. But while we can depend on them to deflect blame, criticize others’ work, and grab the credit that others deserve, we can also be proactive in minimizing the effects of their emotional attacks.

Andrea Kimble,* a senior manager under the infamous Dov Charney who I interviewed for my upcoming book, survived by physically avoiding her unpredictable boss and minimizing one-on-one communication whenever she could. She strategically planned her workspace and her workday so as to always have allies around her when she thought Dov might appear. She even had colleagues give her a heads-up if they knew Dov was on his way to see her so that he couldn’t have the upper hand of catching her off guard.

If you’re not able to physically separate yourself from your boss, detaching emotionally can be a good technique for getting some internal distance. Viewing your situation from a fresh perspective so you can see your circumstances objectively puts you in a better position to consider options than getting overwhelmed by how you feel. The emotional part of your brain requires balance with its rational part so it can cool down, calm down, and strategize.

To practice, take a moment to assess your feelings when you’re agitated but are not in a situation where an immediate response is required—for example, when you’ve received an upsetting e-mail from your boss but are not in the room with him. Take an inventory of the situation by going through the following questions:

  1. What’s happening right now? Write down what you see, hear, and feel.
  2. What are the facts? Assess your personal (and organizational) needs in the moment, and quickly summarize how you are being treated as a result of trying to get those needs met. What are you trying to accomplish? What do you need to get it done?
  3. What is he doing? Identify how he is acting and what you think may be sparking his toxic behavior. Don’t try to psychoanalyze him; the best you can do is find the “triggers” that set this behavior off.
  4. What am I doing? Determine as best you can your role in the situation. List how you are reacting (behaviorally and emotionally) and how you have reacted to this same or similar behavior in the past. This is usually the toughest question of the five to answer.
  5. What are my options? Write down some concrete actions you might take to help the immediate problem. As easy as it may be to find rational answers, it can be just as difficult to act on them.

When a situation causes us emotional pain, our natural reaction is to blame the obvious offender and not do a gut check to see what we may be doing to contribute to our own pain. Looking more rationally at our own role in—and vulnerabilities to—the situation can give us points of leverage for reducing the impact of mean behavior. These kinds of coping mechanisms are not a long-term fix, but they can certainly help you hold on to your sanity and values until you can seek greener pastures. I’ll be exploring additional strategies for dealing with mean in the blog posts to come, so stay tuned if you need some support.

*name has been changed

This post originally ran on my blog on July 20, 2015.

Mark Driscoll: The Teflon Mean Man

Mark Driscoll has been back in the news this month after announcing that he will be launching a new megachurch in Phoenix. Perhaps he’s hoping his new hometown is far enough south of his old stomping grounds in Seattle that people won’t care as much about the trail of wreckage he left there. I originally wrote about Driscoll last summer, but with the unstoppable egomaniac back in the limelight, I thought his misdeeds were worth revisiting. Mark Driscoll started a Bible study class in his home in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle in 1996. By August of 2014, he’d grown his operation, Mars Hill, into a megachurch, at its height counting thirteen thousand attendees across five states. He preached to a packed crowd at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field (home of the Seahawks), guested on prime-time national television, threw out the first pitch at Mariners’ baseball games, and turned his brand into a franchise. Brand is Driscoll’s word, by the way, not mine. Among the other Mars Hill pastors, he would often refer to himself as “The Brand,” making it crystal clear that Mars Hill would always be about “me in the pulpit holding the Bible.”

His precision branding, matched with his ability to scale his enterprise, would make any business entrepreneur blush with envy.

Driscoll appealed to the young families who showed up to worship with him in jeans and flip-flops, those disenchanted with more established versions of organized Christian movements. Known as the “hipster pastor” with his charismatic, edgy rhetoric, dressed-down blue jeans style, and family of seven, Driscoll knew and embodied his market. He had a reverence for Jesus and a seeming irreverence for everything (and everyone) else. He enjoyed being outrageous, and it worked for him. Yoga, for example, was “demonic.” Increasingly, his writing and sermons took on strong misogynistic overtones: he famously called America a “pussified nation” and claimed that mainstream Christianity characterized Jesus as “an effeminate-looking dude,” and a “neutered and limp-wristed Sky Fairy of pop culture.”

Driscoll declared that anointing a woman as an Episcopal bishop was akin to choosing “a fluffy baby bunny rabbit as their next bishop to lead God’s men.” He joked onstage that wives who denied their husbands oral sex whenever it would please them were sinful, his unique interpretation of a verse from the Song of Solomon.

His outward style charmed many, but behind the scenes, he was often vicious, abusive, and controlling. Those who disagreed with him were shunned by the church, ensuring that other members would know what was in store if they came forward.

Fearful of his influence, many church members felt forced to complain indirectly or through third parties. But Driscoll’s strategy for defusing the discontent was to claim that he wasn’t sure how to respond since his dissenters remained anonymous.

Singularly, disaffected congregants felt powerless against the megachurch, a dynamic Driscoll was counting on. What he underestimated, however, was what would happen when they banded together.

As complaints about Driscoll reached a fever pitch, a large crowd started protesting during Sunday services, holding signs reading “We Are Not Anonymous.” Others started to directly and openly call for Driscoll’s resignation.

After eighteen years of stunning growth at Mars Hill, the groundswell of disgruntled congregants began to drive other churchgoers away. Within months, attendance and giving had plummeted so fast that church elders announced it would have to close several Seattle branches and cut its staff thirty to forty percent.

Driscoll had a knack, like many mean men, for deflecting blame. In 2013, Christian radio host Janet Mefferd accused him of plagiarizing fourteen pages of his book A Call to Resurgence from another preacher. She pushed Driscoll during an interview to be contrite. He apologized but peppered his concession with indignation.

He got in yet more book-related trouble in 2014 when he was accused of misappropriating $200,000 in church funds to get his book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list via shady marketing tactics.

Each new accusation emboldened more critics, and by August 2014, Driscoll was hounded by the new accounts that emerged almost daily of his bullying, abuse, and outrageous behavior with congregants.

Driscoll resigned in October 2014 amid allegations of emotional abusiveness, plagiarism, and misogyny—with congregants fleeing to other houses of worship or losing faith altogether.

Driscoll ultimately wasn’t taken down by the church’s governing body but by those who—in small groups or individually—found their power in numbers and through their collective voice of public dissent. Driscoll’s charisma and normally effective ability to flip he blame to deflect culpability was drowned out beneath the indignation of those he’d harmed.

Sure, there were Christian media heavyweights calling him out for plagiarizing others’ work and his smarmy misogyny. But what brought him down was his arrogance and abusiveness, as well as those current and former followers who shouldered the risk of condemnation from others and stood together and exercised their power.

But his downfall didn’t last. Much like Donald Trump—who has famously claimed that he could shoot a person on the street and not lose voters—there seems to be nothing that can keep Driscoll out of the spotlight for good.

The folksy announcement video about his latest venture is drenched in faux humility about starting a new chapter of his life and “healin’ up” in Phoenix. The legendary bravado is MIA, but for how long? He’s already received very public support from Pastor Robert Morris of Gateway Church, the fourth-largest church in the country, along with a handful of other A-list evangelical names. Time will tell whether Driscoll will actually change any of his ways, but looking at the history, it seems about as likely as Trump naming Megyn Kelly his VP.

The heart of the problem with mean men like Driscoll is that they don’t truly feel they were wrong in the first place. The only thing they did “wrong” was get caught or called out by their peers. Driscoll can tone down his rhetoric and talk about healing and forgiveness all he wants; rest assured, it’s not about contrition—it’s about getting back on top.

Do You Have a Mean Man in Your Life?

In a recent post, I came up with a working definition of the kind of “mean” man I discuss on my blog and in my forthcoming book. We defined him as a man who is “almost pathologically driven to succeed and doesn’t care who has to suffer for him to do so. His flagrant, unchecked abuse of others is enabled by the immunity granted to him by his wealth, power, and/or sheer charisma.” If this describes the genus of our bête noir, what are the different species of mean men that roam our halls of power?

1. The Unprincipled

This man has an inflated sense of self, shows an indifference to the welfare of others, and is routinely deceptive in his social interactions. He exploits others and expects special recognitions and considerations without taking on the necessary, reciprocal responsibilities. Unprincipled has little access to an inner moral compass, what psychologists call our superego, which represents society’s standards and determines our personal sense of right and wrong. He enjoys the process of outwitting others, and he maintains relationships only so long as he has something to gain. Unprincipled displays an abject indifference to the truth and an artful, cool lack of concern if confronted with his own deception. He is adept in the nuances of social influence, using glibness, charm, and a studied naïveté to get away with his lies.

Mascot: Double-talking, bloviating New Jersey governor, Chris Christie

2. The Disingenuous

Disingenuous is the life of the party, characterized by friendliness and sociability. But it’s all a show. While he makes favorable impressions on new acquaintances, the facade begins to crack as the hallmarks of his true self come through: unreliability, impulsivity, and deep resentment and moodiness. He is facile in social settings, seeking attention and excitement with more than a hint of seduction. However, his relationships are shallow and fleeting and often come to a disastrous end. Underneath his superficial charms, Disingenuous is contriving and plotting; crafty and scheming; insincere, calculating, and deceitful. His insincerity is boundless, as he does anything necessary to get what he needs and wants from others. He seems to enjoy seductive gamesmanship, deriving satisfaction in the excitement and tension of the deceit. Disingenuous is sometimes mistaken for Unprincipled when seen in the wild, but his deep need for attention and approval are a marked difference from Unprincipled, who has an essential self-centeredness that leads him to not care too much what others think.

Mascot: Shady, sneaky, desperately insecure founder and once again CEO of Zynga, Mark Pincus

3. The Risk Taker

This species engages in risk taking just for the thrill of it. Taking risks gives him excitement and makes him feel alive, which he’ll pursue regardless of the damage to his bottom line, his reputation, or those around him. Risk Taker responds quickly without thinking, his reactions unreflective and uncontrolled. His behavior goes beyond impulsiveness; he is essentially fearless, unmoved by events or circumstances that most people would find dangerous or frightening.

He may appear to others like a fool or a hero—Risk Taker doesn’t care. His need for autonomy and independence overrides his self-discipline. Internally, he is consumed with doubt about ever truly achieving his potential, and his experiences often leave him feeling empty and forever chasing new ways to prove himself.

Mascot: Shamed subclinical psychopathic cycling legend-turned-disgrace Lance Armstrong

4. The Envier

The essential feature of Envier is his blatant self-aggrandizement. Envier feels that life has not given him his fair due, that’s he’s been deprived of his rightful amount of love, support, and material rewards. And now, Envier wants revenge. He wants what’s coming to him. Envier is the most likely species to have brushes with the law, since he may pursue what he feels he’s owed through acts of destruction, theft, or abuse. He will never feel he has acquired enough to make up for what was taken from him in the past.

He is pushy and greedy. He is the poster boy for conspicuous consumption. He is self-centered and self-indulgent, unwilling to share with others for fear that he will lose again what he’d so desperately desired. Envier never achieves a deep sense of contentment. He feels unfulfilled, empty, and forlorn, regardless of his success, and will probably remain forever dissatisfied and insatiable.

Mascot: Rags-to-riches-to-reprehensible advertising impresario Peter Arnell

5. The Explosive

This quarrelsome species is known for their rages and may draw much attention for their temper tantrums and outbursts at friends, employees, or family members. Not unlike the tantrums of children, Explosive’s behavior is an instantaneous reaction to cope with frustration or fear. While this behavior may have the effect of intimidating others into silence or passivity, for the Explosive, it releases pent-up feelings of humiliation. Disappointed and feeling frustrated in life, he loses control and seeks revenge for the mistreatment and criticism to which he feels subjected. His rages often have no apparent provocation. He is hypersensitive to feelings of betrayal or may be deeply frustrated by the perceived futility and hopelessness of his life. Explosive is unable to verbalize what he feels and why, so he responds in the only way possible to remove the irritation. A sense of impotence and failure typically lie beneath his aggression.

Mascot: Impassioned, ranting, raging tech/design genius Steve Jobs

6. The Dogmatist

Dogmatist may be more overtly and directly contentious and argumentative than other species. To him, everything and everyone is an object available for nagging, a sounding board for discharging his anger, or even a target for litigious action. He is relentless in magnifying every minor friction into repeated and bitter struggles. He may insist that his argumentativeness is rooted in certain higher principles, but while there may be a grain of truth found in their beliefs, these “higher principles” are mostly simply opinions. He is unquestionably right; others are unquestionably wrong. Dogmatist achieves delight in contradicting others, regardless of the legitimacy and logic of his reasoning. His hostile and oppositional style is at the core of his persona. His knack for denigrating anyone in the name of whatever principle he happens to espouse is well rehearsed and relentless. Criticism of others “is good for them.” He believes he takes no personal satisfaction in berating people or has any ulterior motives for imposing his opinions, so he feels unconstrained, free to say anything “to set people right.”

Mascot: Scumbag former megachurch preacher who claims to speak for God himself Mark Driscoll

Why Christie’s Meanness Will Be His Undoing

Chris Christie returned to his hometown of Livingston, New Jersey, this past week to make an announcement that many saw coming despite his recent troubles. In the gymnasium of his former high school—scene of Christie’s youthful glory days as president of his class three years running and captain of the baseball team—he took the stage to throw his hat in the ring and join an almost absurdly crowded field of Republican presidential hopefuls vying for the 2016 nomination.

In his admittedly rousing speech, he flayed not only President Obama and his “second mate” Hillary Clinton (yawn) and presumptive opponents like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, but the government at large for its utter lack of ability to compromise and get things done. It was stirring stuff, but no one’s ever criticized Christie’s skills as an orator. Will his inarguable charisma be enough to get him back in the good graces of the American people in time to make a serious bid for the White House?

Governor Christie of New Jersey rose to fame as a brazenly incautious politician. He was the “straight talker,” defined by his blistering rants, searing insults, and perennial public feuds—all of which he labels as “harmless theatrics.”

But Christie’s meanness may be what does him in before the 2016 presidential election, something he spent much of 2014 and 2015 to date getting ready to throw his weight into. Bridgegate, the New Jersey lane-closing scandal rooted in a ruthless act of political retribution, promises to be a visible narrative of the belligerence he’s so known for and which can as easily work against him as it does for him. In early May 2015, two of Christie’s most loyal and trusted lieutenants were indicted. Brigid Harrison, a professor at Montclair State University, says it’s probably the death knell for Christie’s national aspirations. “Even if he is not directly connected to the indictments,” she noted, “he is guilty of creating a political culture in which corruption was allowed to flourish.” In other words, the polar opposite of what he vowed to accomplish with all of his “straight talk.”

There’s backlash too for Christie throwing his trusting staff under a bus in the wake of the scandal, as Christie and his minions are infamous for punishing any who cross him. When times get rough and you need friends, that kind of turncoat behavior makes others nervous. “Exoneration of the man is not exoneration of his leadership style,” commented The New York Times in the wake of the indictments.

During his meteoric rise, as he won hearts and minds during a series of town hall style meetings throughout New Jersey, Christie was the envy of the Republican Party for his savvy branding as a tough-talking but likeable, relatable guy with heaps of New Jersey swagger. His popularity was such that certain Republican insiders are rumored to have begged him to run instead of Romney in 2012. But in a post-Bridgegate world, Christie’s path to the presidential nomination is buried in the underbrush.

As it stands, a mind-blowing fifty-five percent of Republicans polled couldn’t imagine voting for Christie. In fact, the only Republican candidate less popular at the moment is America’s favorite bloviating buffoon, Donald Trump. And even The Donald was told “you’re fired” by NBC, his syndicating partner for beauty pageants and The Apprentice. Might it be more than a coincidence that the two loudmouths with the lowest polls going into the Republican nomination process have a worldview that the best way to influence others is to bully them?

Americans have historically shown considerable forgiveness for personal scandals (there was a little kerfuffle with the now-beloved Bill Clinton, if you’ll recall). But the public sees Bridgegate not merely as Chris Christie’s scandal but as a singular case of public betrayal, an event notable for its bullying quality and indifference to the thousands of people who were impacted by it. Extraordinary rhetorical skill notwithstanding, meanness is what threatens to take Christie down.

Profiles in Mean: Harvey Weinstein

Throughout the seventies, Harvey Weinstein, his brother, Bob, and their friend Corky Burger worked as concert promoters in upstate New York. In the early eighties, Harvey and Bob decided to try out the film industry. Most movie lovers will know how that story goes. Miramax started out on a very tight budget. After the breakout success of The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, the Weinstein brothers grew their business slowly through the 1980s, producing foreign and artistic films. By the end of the decade, after receiving accolades for The Thin Blue Line and Sex, Lies, and Videotape, they controlled a large and profitable company.

While Miramax was an enormous success, by many accounts it was also a brutal place to work. Myrna Chagnard, who is described in Peter Biskind’s Vanity Fair article “The Weinstein Way” as a “hard woman with a don’t-fuck-with-me attitude,” says she almost had a nervous breakdown after working for Harvey and Bob.

“It almost destroyed me,” Chagnard said. “I went on workmen’s comp and stayed out for three or four months. I was a basket case.”

Former Miramax publicist Mark Urman said, “The culture at Miramax was very fierce. It was all about aggression. Nothing was ever good enough. Nothing was ever enough, period.”

And Eleanor Reznikoff, another former publicist said, “Working there was like having your feet held to the fire. My first experience with Harvey was when he was flying out for a premiere. He would usually arrive the day of the screening, and he called from the plane and said, ‘When my plane lands, if I don’t have 25 tickets in my hand, you’re fired!’”

Employees were genuinely afraid of both brothers. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the scariest, Bob was probably at 9.5. And Harvey? Off the chart.

Alison Brantley, former head of acquisitions, said that when Harvey became angry “he would kind of puff up, like the barometric pressure had changed, so you’d think he was going to explode. . . . It wasn’t like he was going to throw chairs. It was more you thought he was going to go right for you, strangle you.”

Harvey was aware that his behavior was problematic, and he has—more than once—told reporters he knows he is considered an “asshole.” He has blamed his ill temper on a poor diet and once agreed to see an anger management specialist, but he has never offered to hand over the reins of power.

After Disney acquired Miramax for $60 million in 1993, people in the industry hoped the Weinsteins might finally be forced to change their tune—that their new corporate bosses would surely demand they curb the cruelty and tone down the outrage. Alas, this never happened: as long as Miramax continued to generate box office hits and profits—which they did—Disney let the brothers run things the way they always had.

If anything, things got uglier. In 2000, Harvey reportedly dragged a New York Observer reporter out into the street and shouted, “It’s good that I’m the fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town.”

Top Disney executives may have considered the Weinstein brothers “pigs,” as one observer put it, but because they attracted Hollywood’s top talent—and made piles of money—they were left alone. There were no repercussions for the Brothers Mean.

It’s not uncommon for top executives and board members who work with men like Harvey and Bob Weinstein to look the other way. For most, this level of raging, threatening, and generally acting like petulant boys in ill-fitting suits wouldn’t fly. But the main objective in the highest echelon of Hollywood is to generate growth and profits, and values such as basic civility and common courtesy come second—or last.

Running people into the ground until their physical or mental health is at risk is a practice not uncommon to mean men like Harvey Weinstein, and people do stick around—until they literally can take no more.

It’s my opinion that men who can’t fathom the possibility of running a company in a collaborative manner show a lack not just of humanity, but also of emotional intelligence. The Weinsteins might be billionaires, they might have an army of minions, and they might not care one whit that their reputation as SOBs precedes them. The world may remember the Weinstein brothers for their work, but how will they be remembered by those who had the dubious pleasure of their acquaintance?

Profiles in Mean: Mark Pincus

Mark Pincus, best known as the founder of Zynga Inc., has never played well with others. The Chicago native began his career at Lazard Frères, an august financial firm with 150 years of tradition and a polished internal culture: a disastrous fit for Pincus. As he later told Details magazine: “I went out of my way to tell people they were stupid if I thought they were. People loved me or hated me. In hindsight I was forcing myself to be an entrepreneur—I was shutting all the doors.” How delightful.

After Lazard, Pincus eventually landed in the MBA program at Harvard. He recalled later that he was the only one in his class who didn’t already have a job lined up at graduation, having not been offered a position at Bain & Company, where he’d interned. It was clear by then that Pincus was not cut out for large organizations. “Even if I’d wanted to work at Goldman Sachs, they weren’t going to hire me, because I was saying things like ‘That’s a dumb question’ when I was asked something stupid in the interviews. I just didn’t have a lot of respect for authority.”

He started his first company, FreeLoader, in 1995. The company, which offered a “push technology” service that downloaded webpages for dial-up customers and presented them at broadband speeds, went on to be acquired by online news site Individual Inc. for $38 million.

After kicking around for a bit, Pincus began his second start-up,, a remote tech-support company. It was here that Pincus’s reputation for being difficult started to gain steam, and his obsession with control emerged. Control is a serious concern for entrepreneurs who use outside funds, of course, as they often end up sharing power with venture capitalists who have their own agenda and vision. Like many young CEOs, Pincus became paranoid.

As started to scale up, the VCs behind the company became less comfortable with Pincus’s leadership abilities and abrasive management style. In 1999, two years after founding, he was replaced as CEO.

He remained involved in as chairman until 2003, when he left to cofound the social networking site Tribe had a very bumpy ride, going through three CEOs in a few years. Again, problems surfaced with Pincus.

Tribe’s former head of IT, Darren Mckeeman, would later emerge as a leading critic of Pincus. By 2008, Mckeeman was the last employee at Tribe (by then owned by Cisco Systems). He resigned in September with a public tweet: “Mark Pincus just cursed at me in email and I sent him back my resignation. My 40th birthday resolution was to stop tolerating verbal abuse.”

Mckeeman would go on to allege that Pincus had “misappropriated” $30,000 in revenue from the company to start Zynga at a moment when Tribe desperately needed the funds to stay afloat.

When Pincus ran into trouble at Zynga years later, Mckeeman would again chime in: “Pincus lies as easily as he breathes. The entire venture was a pump-and-dump, built on the ashes of Tribe (whose users he ripped off to start Zynga).”

In 2007, Pincus started Presidio Media and released Texas Hold’ Em Poker. After securing $10 million in funding, he renamed the company Zynga after his beloved bulldog. This time, he was determined not to give up control.

During a talk in 2009 at the Startup@Berkeley mixer, he explained his early game plan:

I knew that I wanted to control my destiny, so I knew I needed revenues. Right. Fucking. Now. . . . So I funded the company myself but I did every horrible thing in the book just to get revenues right away. I mean we gave our users poker chips if they downloaded this zwinky toolbar which was like, I don’t know, I downloaded it once and couldn’t get rid of it [laughs]. We did anything possible just to just get revenues so that we could grow and be a real business . . . So control your destiny. So that was a big lesson, controlling your business.

Pincus raised $850 million in VC funding, creating games like Mafia Wars and FarmVille and acquiring popular games such as Words With Friends.

Meanwhile, his reputation for being a control freak grew. He structured his stock holdings to give himself dominant voting power and limit the power of his investors. He also reportedly demanded that employees return stock if he decided their work at Zynga wasn’t valuable enough. Employees who refused were fired. These equity “clawbacks” occurred right before Zynga’s IPO. Pincus reportedly believed that he and other executives had given away too much stock in the company’s early days.

In December 2011, Zynga launched its IPO, with the company’s estimated value at around $14 billion (it would eventually settle at $7 billion).

Mark Pincus was now a billionaire, owning 87 million shares of his newly public company. He later sold 7.8 million shares at a high price of $13.96 per share and, in a secondary offering, sold 16.5 million shares at a price of $12 per share. Pincus’s massive off-loading undermined investor confidence, sparked allegations of insider trading, and sent Zynga’s stock price tumbling.

Meanwhile, Zynga employees gave the company and its CEO scathing reviews on One employee commented that management was “disrespectful to employees. They demand 24/7 availability and don’t hesitate to fire. Managers yell and push people publicly. Common to be put down or disrespected. No value for employees.” And another noted: “The company is very disorganized and so political that the environment has often been described as a modern-day Game of Thrones.”

Between August and September 2012, six high-level executives left Zynga, including the COO, the chief creative officers, VP of marketing, and the company’s top technologist. In June 2013, Zynga laid off over five hundred employees—a reported one-fifth of its workforce—and shuttered its New York and LA offices. A month later, Pincus finally relinquished the CEO post, becoming the chairman and chief products officer.

It’s hard to keep a mean man like Pincus down, though, and on April 8 it was announced that he’ll be returning as CEO of Zynga.

Zynga’s shares plunged 18 percent on the first trading day following the news. Not surprising as his ego-fueled deafness to market realities, undiscriminating arrogance, and blatant disregard for shareholders could fill a book.

While he owns less than 10 percent of outstanding shares, he now holds an imperious 59 percent of the voting power due to his creation of multiple classes of stock. Is Zynga a case study of the effect of one horrible entrepreneur, or is it a lesson about a more insidious dynamic of new, badly managed firms? For mean men to stay in control, they need puppet board members who are disinterested in the average shareholder. Maybe Pincus and his board deserve each other.

Profiles in Mean: Dov Charney

Dov Charney, the disgraced founder of American Apparel, is arguably one of the most visible mean entrepreneurs of the past few decades. Charney was born in Montreal, Canada and raised by creative parents: his mother, Sylvia, was a painter and sculptor, and his father, Morris, an architect. Like Peter Arnell, Charney had to overcome an early obstacle: in his case, a learning disorder that he claims made him “functionally illiterate” until he was thirteen. He only learned to read and write with the tireless efforts of a junior high school teacher who spent two hours a day with him.

He moved to Connecticut to spend his senior year of high school at posh boarding school Choate, and there his entrepreneurial drive kicked into high gear. He began bringing thousands of Hanes and Fruit of the Loom t-shirts—purchased in the U.S. in bulk—over the boarder to Montreal via U-Haul truck where he sold them for a profit.

In 1987, Charney enrolled at Tufts University and during his freshman year there he teamed up with his first partner, Bob Smith. Though the latter came up with the moniker “American Apparel” for the company, the name is reflective of Charney’s obsession with American-made goods and values, a rejection of the Quebec nationalism he grew up surrounded by. Charney’s partnership with Smith wouldn’t last, however, becoming the first in a long series of failed business relationships for the driven but difficult Charney.

Charney dropped out of Tufts in 1990 and borrowed $10,000 from his father to focus on his business full-time, moving operations to South Carolina to start manufacturing clothing rather than importing it. By the mid-1990s, the twenty-something Charney had built American Apparel into a thriving company, catering to young urbanites drawn to the “Made in America” label and Charney’s outspokenness about the mistreatment of garment workers in developing nations. Charney had grandiose dreams from the get-go, once proclaiming “I want to be remembered as one of the great CEOs of our time and of my generation.”

But from the earliest years, Charney’s business life was a rocky ride. In 1996, American Apparel had to restructure and file for Chapter 11, after which he moved his business to Los Angeles and branched out into retails stores. His resilience and bold moves over the next few years earned him millions of dollars and plenty of accolades, even landing him Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year nod in 2004.

For a time, Charney seemed unstoppable. But like so many with such outsize business ambitions, the same risk-taking drive that made him successful, eventually led to his downfall.

Thanks to the multiple lawsuits that have piled up against him over the years, the jaw-dropping ways that Charney treated his staff and others is well-known. And it’s an ugly picture.

Like Arnell, Charney was prone to fits of rage that were way out of proportion to whatever sparked them. In one lawsuit, former store manager Michael Bumblis says that Charney grabbed his throat and began choking him during a store visit. The reason? Bumblis was improperly storing inventory on the store’s second floor.

Chaney also inspected one of the dressing areas in Bumblis’ store and, finding dirt and dust on the floor, he reportedly grabbed the dirt and “managed to push his dirt filled hand into [Bumblis’] face with such force as to cause his head and neck to snap backwards.”

Bumblis was fired from American Apparel and was not given a reason for his termination.

Charney’s impulsivity also frequently manifested itself in compulsive sexual behavior, which would be the centerpiece of many of the lawsuits against him. Former female employees described “sexually offensive conduct” by Charney and a sexually hostile work environment. One suit said that photos from vintage adult magazines were “posted in plain view in the American Apparel stores.” Another said that Charney regularly used disparaging terms such as “cunt”, “slut”, and “whore” in front of both male and female employees. He was widely reported to work in his underwear, and then there is the legendary story of Dov masturbating during an interview with a reporter from Jane magazine.

So why did people put up with it? A senior manager of Charney’s who I did numerous in-depth interviews with explained the double-edged sword of working for American Apparel and Charney. “He was disgusting. I avoided interacting with him in any way I could. His mercurial, loud, in-your-face behavior was intolerable.” Yet, she said “I loved the company and the people. I felt for years—from working at the store level all the way to senior management at headquarters—we were on an important mission. We were making a statement about how America could once again be fair to manufacturing employees, and immigrants in particular. Dov made me feel we were part of some movement, with so many outside the company wishing we would fail.”

In 2014, with American Apparel posting losses to the tune of $300 million and the company’s reputation suffering from their founder’s abominable conduct, Charney was fired from the company he created. Despite being ousted, Charney has as yet refused to cut emotional ties with American Apparel, holding a backyard rally with over 300 current employees of the company at his home just this March.

There’s no doubt that Charney has extraordinary drive and singular sense of purpose but for hubristic men like him, the line between golden boy and cautionary tale might be thinner than he ever imagined.

Profiles in Mean: Peter Arnell

I’ve put countless hours of academic research into what makes entrepreneurs tick, so believe me when I tell you that it can be heady stuff. But examining the behavior of real people is always a more interesting way to explore theoretical constructs than data alone, so let’s take a look at a real life example of an entrepreneur gone bad. Legendary advertising impresario Peter Arnell is widely known for being the boss from Hell. One former employee I spoke to—who wished to remain anonymous—described an incident in which one of Arnell's male personal assistants was forced to sit under a desk as punishment during a meeting. At this point, Arnell is as famous for his horrific behavior as he is for his work.

“He has this remarkable capacity to be both the most intoxicating character – lovable, brilliant, seductively intellectual – and then turn on a dime and be staggeringly cruel,” a former business associate recalled in a 2009 Newsweek feature on him.  Arnell humiliated employees, he said, by making them get down and do push-ups in front of clients. “He is unencumbered by any sense of morality, until you experience it first-hand, it’s just completely and utterly unfathomable.”

So how did Peter Arnell get this way? What drives this crazy behavior?

Arnell’s early life story is a classic tale of struggle, perseverance, and reinvention. Arnell grew up in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. His father, a mechanical engineer who changed the family name from Abramovitz to Arnell, abandoned the family when Peter was young. His mother was unable to cope with caring for him and his sister, and so the two were raised by her father, a Russian Jewish immigrant who worked as a fishmonger, and his wife. Arnell was profoundly influenced by his grandfather’s strong work ethic, and would sometimes rise at dawn to work with him at Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market. In 1976 Arnell graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School, marking the end of his formal education. Soon after, he met postmodernist architect Michael Graves at a lecture and talked his way into an internship with him. It was at Graves’ studio that he met Princeton architecture student Ted Bickford and started collaborating with him on books about artists and architects. In the early 1980s, then fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, Dawn Mello, hired the duo to create ads for the legendary department store.

The budding design team got their big break when fashion designer Donna Karan asked them to create an ad for her; they would later go on to design her iconic DKNY logo. By the mid-1980s, the Arnell-Bickford agency was on a roll, with clients that included Bank of America, Chanel, Condé Nast, and Tommy Hilfiger. Arnell, still in his late 20s, acquired an 8,000 square-foot penthouse in Tribeca and an estate in tony Katonah, NY.

Yet even as Arnell’s star rose, stories began to circulate about his volatile temper and misogynistic attitude toward women. The harsh reality of working for Arnell was exposed in detail by a sexual harassment suit brought against him by four former assistants in the 1990s. The suit accused Arnell of verbally abusing plaintiffs during “fits of rage” simply for being women, letting off strings of expletives and degrading them for the benefit of the male employees present. He would frequently use foul and abusive language to reduce office workers—particularly women—to tears for the way they took a message, phrased a question, or cleaned the top of his desk.

His lawyer gave up even trying to defend her client’s behavior and could only claim that the actions were “not illegal.” She cited in her motion “the right to free speech” in responding to the plaintiffs’ defamation and emotional distress claims. The essence of Arnell’s defense:  “As case law demonstrates, words like ‘stupid,’ ‘useless,’ ‘worthless,’ and ‘incompetent’ constitute non-actionable, protected opinions.” The suit was eventually settled out of court.

Meanwhile, a feature article during the summer of 1996 in American Photo magazine about one of his campaigns captured an exchange in which Arnell berated his staff for their work. The reporter wrote that Arnell said his outburst was ''a good opportunity to spread a little healthy fear among the crew.''

In 2007, when Arnell made Gawker’s list of “New York’s Worst Bosses”, one employee was moved to defend the man: "It's all true. Arnell is a difficult boss as well as a sadist with a lower case, sans serif ‘s.’ He's also a crude bully, a terrible coward and famously insincere. But, in his favor, when he's not pretending to kiss the ass of the insipid rich, famous and powerful, he shows a refreshing contempt for authority and takes an anarchistic delight in creative destruction. His saving grace is that the man is ultimately an aesthete. Of his many fetishes, his love of beauty has compelled him to create some of the most beautiful advertising work in the last twenty years."

This quote perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy that so many mean entrepreneurs embody: they are at once inspiring and unbearable. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the comments on the Gawker piece are a litany of Arnell legends not fit to print.

Arnell’s career hit major turbulence in the 2000s after widely derided design work on the Tropicana and Pepsi brands and later, a fallout with Omnicom, the company that acquired his advertising firm in 2001. Despite his setbacks, we certainly haven’t heard the last of Arnell; he was reported to be back working with GNC in 2013, and last year Frank Gehry curated a splashy retrospective of his work.

So why does someone as successful as Arnell behave so abusively toward his staff? And why, despite widespread stories of his unconscionable behavior, does he have such staying power?