I have been working for the internet arm of a retail company for almost twenty years. When I started, we were truly innovating with the speed and fierceness of a startup. I was given carte blanche because the internet business was growing more quickly than that of the actual stores. The website has really always been my baby—with my vision, my art direction, and my ideas about functionality. About a year ago, the person who had been my boss during my time here left, and a new head of retail marketing was hired. I’ll call her IG.
IG is making my life hell. She paid a branding company a ton of money to do a re-brand for us and the work is just terrible. She did not involve me in any of the decisions and is now presenting me with a whole new branding direction that I know will not work for our online buyers. She pays no attention to my opinions or even my data. She calls me at all hours and sends me nasty texts when I don’t pick up. When we do talk, all she does is berate me for anything new we are doing on the website. She questions every little thing, even though I am executing the plan she signed off on prior to the big re-brand, which definitely isn’t ready for prime time.
For a while I thought she was merely mean, but now I am beginning to think she is just plain nuts. She is all over the place with her ideas and she changes every plan we make. I say black, she says white, and then when I agree that white is the way, she says purple. She criticizes me for something and then when I do it the way she wants, she doesn’t like that either. It almost feels like she is trying to keep everyone off balance so that nobody notices she has no idea what she is doing.
I love this company and I have a big stake in making sure it continues to be successful. At this point, though, I am so beaten down that I have lost my confidence and my motivation. I am thinking about bailing.
What do you think?
My New Boss is Nuts
Dear My New Boss is Nuts,
Don’t bail. Yet. Fight first. Then bail, if you have to.
This sounds so stressful. I am sorry this person has upset what sounds like a great job. You are going to have to stand up for yourself and do something about this. Normally, I would recommend a difficult conversation with your boss that included a request for change—but it doesn’t sound like your boss is someone who can be reasoned with. It’s possible she actually may be nuts—or she could be trying to make you quit so she can hire the person she wants in your job. Or, as you point out, maybe she is in over her head and is using the crazy behavior to cover it up. It is astonishing how long some people get away with that kind of thing. I have seen people use the strategy of sowing chaos many times, and you would be surprised how often it works.
Don’t let yourself get beaten down or become a victim of this situation. If you really care about the company, which you seem to, you owe it to yourself and others to at least try to fight back. Go over your new boss’s head to her boss, or go to HR. You have twenty years of stellar work behind you—if all of a sudden you’re unable to perform, I just can’t believe you wouldn’t be taken seriously.
To the best of your ability, document the instances in which your boss has behaved irrationally in the past and in which she behaves oddly in the future. Note all of the times you felt or feel bullied. Keep every single text, as they show the date and time of events. Write up the facts about any interaction that seems suspect to you, and time and date all notes that record the facts. You can get more information about how to document appropriately here. Remember that the more rational you sound and appear, the more unreasonable she will seem.
Keep your wits about you and document, document, document. You may even be able to sue for a hostile work environment—although lawsuits are the last resort because they drag on forever, they are expensive, and you could lose. But, if your boss’s boss and your HR representative are on notice that you could make a case, that gives you a little more power.
You can allow yourself to just fold. You really can. And I’m sure that option seems quite appealing right now. That’s the long-term effect that lack of safety and constant turmoil can have. But what will happen the next time someone tries to intimidate you? If you fight now, you will be ready for the next time, and maybe the next bully will know you are not an opponent to be messed with.
I know you didn’t ask for this. We rarely ask for the trials that test us and make us grow. But I think you will continue to feel beaten down and unmotivated if you let IG win. Fighting back will restore your sense of self and your confidence. And even if you lose, you will know you tried and you didn’t make things easy for her.
Can you tell I really hate bullies? I just hate them. I am not very objective about it, and I can’t claim to be, because I feel so strongly that we can’t let them win. So feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt.
Good luck to you.
About the author
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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