I got so much mail about my last post, I Think My Boss is Trying to Get Rid of Me, that I want to address the essence of the comments, which is: What if it’s actually true?
My response to the original letter was based on the question as presented, which contained no evidence that the writer’s boss was doing anything but offering some useful feedback. My rationale was this: It’s sometimes hard for a manager to give feedback. Often when it comes, it’s late and seems like it’s coming out of left field.
For this reason I felt that jumping immediately to “My boss is threatened by me and wants me gone” seemed a little premature. There is a significant body of research that supports the notion that accepting feedback at face value helps with self development, so that’s how I drafted my response. When working with clients who are getting 360-degree feedback and the client automatically discounts something that might be useful, I will often ask, “What if this were true?” You just never quite know where a blind spot might be, and all feedback is data of some kind.
Having said this, it‘s also true that sometimes a boss is trying to get rid of you, for all kinds of possible reasons—many of them not personal. And I have seen it happen—unethical as it is—that a manager needs to let someone go and, to avoid complications and severance, tries to do it by making life at work so unpleasant and demoralizing that the person just quits. This is truly bad behavior; unfortunately, it happens all the time.
So let’s address that now. How can you know if this is happening to you? The warning signs to look for are changes—sudden, unexpected, and unexplained. A discreet piece of feedback is one thing, but a big surprise of a whole landslide of negative feedback—such as a terrible performance review after many balanced ones—is another. Your direct reports suddenly being moved out of your department or key projects being taken away or shut down would be another clue. If you’ve had a good relationship with your boss with regular one on ones and all of a sudden you don’t get a return text, email, or phone call despite repeated efforts, that could be a hint.
If this sounds familiar, what should you do? I’d love to say that you could sit down with your manager and try to get them to come clean, but many organizations are so close-lipped about what’s really going on that this probably wouldn’t get the desired result.
Instead, here are some suggestions I’ve recommended to other clients:
First try to understand what reasons your manager or company might have for wanting you out or your role gone. It could have to do with a shift in strategy or a need to downsize. If you are highly compensated, the organization may have decided to replace you with a more junior person at half the salary. Sure, quality might suffer—but how much?
Once you get a sense of what might be going on, it can inform your search for other spots in the organization where you could add value. Ask department leaders for informational interviews or go talk to HR—pursue every in-house possibility based on the relationships you have. Your boss might be inspired by your initiative and inspired to help you if they can.
Finally, if you have exhausted all options and know the change is imminent, brush up your resume, sharpen your LinkedIn profile, return those calls from recruiters, and start looking for your next gig. I recently had a conversation with a woman who used to work as a reservations supervisor at a major airline. She said, “After the first few mergers, I saw the writing on the wall. So I took out a loan and went back to school to become a radiology technician.” You never know—a change that initially seems very bad can turn into something very good.
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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