Clarity From a Horrible Boss

My mind and body rejected the idea of working with this micromanager. I couldn’t wait for Friday afternoons to come around. The practical voice in my head kept saying ‘don't wish your life away’. 

This was not the first time I’ve worked with a difficult manager. However, this time the manager was not only difficult, she was a bully and met the descriptions of key phrases on the company’s Workplace and Harassment Policy.

Traits of a manager that will make me run towards other possibilities:

  • A micromanager who lacks empathy, kindness and respect

  • Exploits staff to promote herself

  • Does not take responsibility for her own actions

  • Untrustworthy and retaliates against her staff after they disagree with her

I’ve guided many people on how to deal with difficult bosses and tough situations similar to the one that I faced. So handling my own challenge should be easy right? Not so much. When it came to my situation - my strengths of objectivity, calmness, having a balanced view of the situation and toleration for people was beneficial. And what I realized was how much harder it was to coach myself than it was to coach others since I was so emotionally invested.

After a period of deep self-reflection, I realized that I ignored:

  • My observations of the people and team dynamics. I kept telling myself that things will get better.

  • The sleepless nights I was having. I figured this will pass after the project.

  • Waking-up anxious and worrying about how to tiptoe around my boss. I was hoping that maybe, just maybe she’s stressed about something in her personal life.

Deep down, I knew this was not the environment for me. I was blinded by how much I identified with the company’s mission not to mention how emotionally invested I was with the company.

Even with multiple complaints against this manager, I had the insight to observe that the politics were stacked against me. Senior management was out to protect their own interests and liability against the organization. In the mind of senior management, the cases made against my manager were not compelling enough to make significant changes on behalf of the employees. Too many changes to the manager’s role would be a risk to the organization.

In my opinion, the strategy they seemed to be applying was to wait and see if employees would continue to tolerate her behaviour as many had likely developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. They were looking at the case from the cost point of view and was hesitant to let go a long service manager. Senior management was reluctant to invest the resources to truly address employee concerns.

I should have left this toxic situation earlier. I exhausted all my options which included directly speaking to the manager, extensive meetings with senior leadership and HR. My body reached its breaking point. I started to sob uncontrollably one night in bed and I could barely breathe.

My ‘no-BS tells-it-like-it-is’ partner gave me the kick in the butt that I needed. He simply said “go meditate”. Bottom line, even with support, I’m the only one who can control my actions. It was so clear to me the next morning what I needed to do. I wrote my letter of resignation and it was the most free I had felt in weeks.

You may have gathered advice or even received unsolicited advice from friends, family and co-workers about your workplace dilemma, but ultimately it is YOU who needs to take action – no one else can do it for you. You know yourself and your situation better than anyone else.

Tips and questions on how to work through your workplace dilemma:

  • Get crystal clear on your difficult work situation. What is the problem? Write it down. You’ll likely need to ask yourself this question at least 5 times to drill down to your true problem.

  • What is your limit? What are you willing to tolerate?

  • There’s always a choice - whether or not you are willing to take it. Remember that there will always be a risk. What information do you need to gather to make an informed decision? How would the consequences of your decision affect you?

Here’s my secret. I always have an exit strategy. You may think this is jaded. I always ask myself at every career opportunity ‘if I need to walk away from this work today what is my exit strategy?’:

  • What will it cost me? And I don’t mean only financially. What about the relationships that you may be able to develop or relationships that you may need to let go of?

  • How much of a financial buffer do you have?

  • Where can you save to make your transition feasible?  

  • How update-to-date is your resume?

Remember: There are no guarantees in life. Even if you love your current work situation anything can happen that may change your career trajectory. And that’s OK! There are many things that are under your control. Embrace them and take action!