Can’t Stand to See Your Boss Bullied?  Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I work in a very large company and have managed a small team for a couple of years.  About a year ago, my department got a new leader, who is my manager’s boss.  This new leader came from another part of the company and apparently is being groomed for the senior leadership team.  Here’s the problem: he’s a first class jerk.  He withholds information, dresses people down in front of their own team, and takes credit for anything good that we all do.  He is just awful.   

I have nothing but respect for my immediate manager, who reports to the jerky boss.  But ever since the new leader arrived, my manager has changed into someone I don’t even know.  He seems paralyzed by indecision and is in a constant state of alarm.   He does not stand up for himself when he is bullied by his boss—which I know because I am often in meetings where this happens. 

This is driving me nuts.  I want to stand up for my boss but have been advised against it for several reasons.  I have also thought about submitting an anonymous report to HR about what I have seen.

I am losing respect for my boss and I am thinking of looking for a new place.  What do you think?

Want to Fight Back

Dear Want to Fight Back,

Well, that was probably good advice—you simply can’t fight other people’s battles for them.  And you probably can’t say anything to your boss about it, either, unless you have become really good friends and you are certain the breach of etiquette would be OK.

You can keep a copy of a great book about boundaries sitting on your desk—Boundaries for Leaders by Henry Cloud—and if your boss sees it and asks about it, you can loan it to him.

You can, and should, report inappropriate behavior to HR; perhaps even keep a journal with dates and times of egregious incidents.  I don’t mean any disrespect to HR, but I doubt they will be much help unless you witness your boss’s boss doing something illegal, like sexual harassment or some other kind of blatant discriminatory behavior.  Since the person in question has made his way up through the ranks without challenge so far, the values of your organization probably don’t address the situation you are witnessing.  Or the values exist, but nobody really cares about them.

Ultimately though, this just isn’t a situation you can fix—so looking for a new place to work probably isn’t a bad idea.  Best case would be that your boss gets a backbone, things change, and you don’t need to go.  In the worst case, your boss continues to let himself be bullied, your whole team is miserable, and you are out of there.

Your boss is lucky to have you because you really seem to have his back.  Maybe he will realize it and seek advice and support.  Most people who have gotten themselves into the kind of negative spiral you describe tend to isolate themselves—which is, of course, the worst response.

Good luck to you. I can only hope this whole situation will help you to stand up for yourself the next time you need to, and to be a better leader as your career progresses.

Love, Madeleine

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.

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

3 thoughts on “Can’t Stand to See Your Boss Bullied?  Ask Madeleine

  1. Do we really believe in self-leadership or are we just paying it lip service to sell more Coaching? WTFB is a prime candidate for such. Etiquette? That went out the window when this jerk began his assault on her group. How about we try some humanity?

    She needs to schedule an appointment with her boss and lay it out for him – including how she is considering leaving. If I’m her boss’s, boss’s boss…I’d want to know about this situation asap before this jerk gets promoted again and continues to ruin every beach he storms.

    • I and we do strongly believe in self leadership. But it is a great forum and I really appreciate your input. I am certain that the letter writer has seen your response and is taking it under advisement. I appreciate your take that action needs to be taken, and I have also seen this kind of thing backfire hideously, so I tend to err on the side of caution. I also believe strongly that butting in save someone who has not asked to be saved is over reaching, and potentially hubris, and that you cannot fight other people’s battles for them.

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