No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Ask Madeleine

confused woman holding question mark on white backgroundDear Madeleine,

I am a director (eighteen years with the organization) in an old, well established, multinational firm. I have actually worked with a coach who helped me become a better manager and expand my network. My boss—let’s call him Tom—has always been a fan of mine and has helped me to grow and develop. Up until now, that is. A while back, it became apparent that Tom was having an affair with his secretary. It was painfully obvious to everyone, and people were talking about it. He was married, with kids and a golden retriever, and his secretary would literally giggle when she was around him.

At a certain point he was really becoming quite the talk of the town. So, at the end of a one on one with Tom, I told him that he should pay attention to how he and his secretary were behaving because they were headline news on the gossip channel. I thought we were friends and that I was watching his back.

Well, big mistake. First of all, he categorically denied it. That should have been my clue that we were not, in fact, friends. He then proceeded to remove me from all of the strategic meetings he had been sending me to, to take away a couple of direct reports, and finally to give me a crappy performance review that was totally fiction and uncalled for. I know this because I have never received a poor performance review in my entire working life. Worst of all, I wasn’t even considered for a promotion that he had been openly grooming me for.

This all happened over a long period of time. He was so good at masking the truth of what was going on that it actually took me awhile to put two and two together. My attempts to discuss this with him and work it out have met with total stonewalling. But the bottom line—and this is where I am now—is that I have been punished. Severely punished. I am heartsick over the loss of someone I thought was a friend and the unfairness of it all. I will never find a job like this one in my geographical area, I have kids and don’t want to have to move them. Help.     —Trapped

Dear Trapped,

Is there anything worse than doing something with the best of intentions only to have it blow up in your face? Talk about the adage “No good deed goes unpunished.” So let me first say I am so sorry about this situation. It absolutely stinks. You might want to call up that old coach just to have someone to talk to about this and get some support in deciding how you are going to proceed. In the meantime, here are some ideas of ways you could go.

  1. You could go to HR and be a whistle blower. It depends a lot on your company’s policies, but an old established company probably has a rule about relationships in the workplace—especially between manager and direct report. At the very least there almost certainly are implicit rules regarding common decency and decorum. Although it is true that nobody likes a rat (refer to last week’s post), in this case you really might have a leg to stand on.
  2. Get legal advice. Get some advice from an employment attorney—and getting the scoop on your state laws can’t hurt. You may very well have a case for harassment in the form of retaliation, especially if you had impeccable performance reviews before this happened. Of course, this would initiate a long journey through the legal system that might just end your career—so be very honest with yourself about just how angry you are and to what extent you are willing to go to remedy the unfairness and hurt feelings.
  3. Put yourself on the market. Brush up that resume and create a LinkedIn profile. Return those calls you have been getting from headhunters. If nothing else, you will put the intention out there and get a reminder of just how experienced and skilled you are. You say there is no way you will get another job—but you don’t really know that for sure.
  4. Keep your head down and wait it out. I have heard this story before, and I can guarantee this is not going to end well for Tom. So, you could focus on getting your work done, developing your people, and creating relationships with as many people in the organization as possible, and just ride out the soap opera. Take some classes to brush up your skills. Don’t forget about your career aspirations; just put them on the back burner for now.

Finally—and you probably really don’t need to hear this—I feel obligated to underline something here, if only for my readers. When you like someone and have an easy, amicable relationship, it is easy to overestimate their level of self awareness and ability to tell the truth about themselves—especially when they are behaving badly. Almost always—and certainly when the person has the ability to make your life a living hell— it is the wiser move to keep your mouth shut even when you have the best of intentions.

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

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.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

4 thoughts on “No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Ask Madeleine

  1. I agree – a very tough predicament and the advice so far is certainly robust. That said, I agree to connect with a coach and work on difficult conversations – (there’s a lot of content in this space) – because I wouls advise that you need to have another conversation with Tom. A fact-based conversation around what your are experiencing (not assuming – not what others are saying or experiencing , not what he may be doing, feeling, experiencing- Just you!). It won’t be easy – but before you can move into any of the other advice given choices – it might be worth considering the benefit (and risk) that you have a chance to gather facts and let him know why your are feeling trapped and what you. options you are considering.
    Good luck to you and I too am sorry you find yourself in this position. Yuck!!!

  2. As a longtime manager and a male, I am appalled by “Tom’s” behavior. All of the advice is sound but this is a difficult situation to deal with. I agree with Eileen, another conversation with “Tom” is in order but only if the HR Director is involved. The lack of ethical behavior by “Tom” is astounding but I, too, have seen it before. Here’s just another example of a manager driving away good talent, a growing issue for many companies.

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