Would You Throw a Boss You Don’t Like Under the Bus?
My boss and my Executive Director didn’t see eye-to-eye on many things. I noticed that the language my boss used with me gradually became more negative overtime. She would say things like, “Ami, great idea, you know I like it, but that’s not the [Executive Director’s] vision”.
I will admit that I didn't agree with many of my boss’s approaches or decisions. I knew I needed to keep my head down and just do my job. This was a tense time in the office and I needed to observe the situation and manage politics accordingly; rather than let the politics manage me. Exercising your observational skills and sound judgement by noticing the changing landscape can help you to successfully navigate the situation.
Unfortunately, these troubled seas continued and I got caught in the middle of a storm. My boss asked me to complete a task that challenged my ethics. I was told to skip a key stakeholder's process, as well as skip our department's processes for the purpose of essentially helping the client get what they wanted. If I agreed to this task, I would be disregarding company policy and the processes of our department set by the Executive Director. Getting this ethically questionable task completed would put my reputation on the line and not my boss’s since my signature would be all over the paper work. How convenient this would be for my boss right? She can meet the client’s needs without doing all of the dirty work.
I followed the proper company procedures to complete the assigned task and got back-up from the key stakeholder whose process I was told to skip. I decided not to by-pass corporate processes at the risk of not being seen in a favourable light by my boss. Also, I knew the client would likely complain. Regardless, I was prepared to accept and deal with any consequences so as not to neglect my own ethical practices.
The client did complain and I ended up in a meeting with my boss and Executive Director. In the meeting, my Executive Director questioned why our department's process for the client was not followed. My usually vocal boss fell very silent.
This was my opportunity to throw my boss under the bus and get ahead. How would you respond?
A response to throw your boss under the bus (NOT recommended):
“I had strongly recommended [my boss] to follow the internal process, however, she told me not to so that we can expedite the process for the client. She and I had a couple of email and phone exchanges about this. She’s my boss so I followed her direction to skip the process.”
Now, if my boss tried to blame me for the entire situation, I would have defended myself by outlining all the facts. However, I was forced to deal with a very long and awkward silence in the room. Should I make myself look good in front of the Executive Director? Should I wait for my boss to respond first?
A tactful response in efforts to neutralize the situation (My actual response):
“Given the client’s timelines and urgency of the request, there was no time for the department's process. After our recommendation, the client thought it would be too time consuming and preferred to skip it.”
Notice that I didn’t even mention my boss’ name? I didn’t blame my boss for anything. My focus was on meeting the client’s needs. I said “our” to show that my boss and I collaborated on making the decision together. For the rest of the meeting, my Executive Director grilled my boss in front of me. That’s a story for another time.
- Don’t play the game to get ahead, but try to understand it. You need to stay true to your own values, ethics, and principles. If something doesn’t feel right go with your gut. Stop, take a breath, and think about what you’re doing. You need to ask yourself these questions: What’s at risk? How willing are you to accept the risks of your actions?
- If you’re a leader reading this – get aligned with your management team. It's unprofessional to speak poorly about your own boss in front of your team. Making negative comments about your own boss in front of your staff undermines the credibility of the senior leadership team. Your team will experience a huge disconnect between what they see and feel, and what is actually being said in your work environment.
- Play nice in the sandbox. Look at your situation from a different perspective. We’re usually inclined to blame the people involved. It only takes two people for political behaviours to surface. What have you done to contribute to the situation?