Newly Promoted Supervisor Has Turned into a Diva? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a middle-aged accounting professional; I pride myself on working quickly and accurately. I was hoping this would be my last position and I could enjoy having a solid job that would take me to my retirement.

I am in a CPA firm with three partners who are pretty much hands-off. Recently the young (mid-30s) woman who was essentially the office manager has been promoted to supervisor. It appears that a little bit of power has driven her insane. She is overly controlling, totally OCD, and acts like she owns the place. She even gives direction to the partners—my coworkers and I have witnessed them rolling their eyes. Behind her back we call her Diva. We do have a would-be HR person, and when I went to discuss with her I learned she is clearly aware of what she called Diva’s “odd personality.”

On top of everything else, Diva talks constantly about how women in their 50s and 60s “lose it” and “act weird.” Our whole group is made up of women between the ages of 49 and 59. It is insulting.

The behaviors are escalating, and I am having a hard time biting my tongue. The stress is becoming unbearable and my husband is sick of hearing me complain.


Biting My Tongue

Dear BMT,

I am sorry that your nice, comfortable situation is being upended by a personality. Ultimately, you are going to have to do something to manage your stress and take care of yourself. Your HR person is clearly not going to help, and if Diva is keeping everything running smoothly, the partners aren’t likely to do anything to rock the boat.

Here are some possible choices for you:

Look for another job. I know it is daunting to seek employment in your 50s. However, I know small firms are always looking for solid, reliable professionals, especially ones who aren’t going to be agitating for development, more money, or a career path. When you leave, you can certainly state that your reason for leaving is the cuckoo behavior of the supervisor. If the partners realize she is costing them good employees, they will probably pay attention—because attrition and the need to hire and train new employees is a very real cost.

Draw some boundaries. Identify the behaviors that are beyond the pale, practice what you will say next time she does them, and be ready to say something. You should practice with someone safe so you can keep a reasonably neutral tone. An example might be: “Please don’t say insulting things about middle aged women to me” or “Please wait until I finish this task to give your feedback, it is still a work in progress.”

Suck it up. Use this as a customized spiritual development program to develop more patience, generosity, and kindness. Put yourself in Diva’s shoes and consider what is driving the behavior. Visualize a white bubble around yourself that protects you from Diva’s annoying behavior and let things just roll off your protective bubble. At the very least, this will help you to manage your stress and will contribute to your sense of yourself as a person who strives to take the high road and be the best person you can possibly be.

Fight back. It is essentially illegal for managers to insult employees based on gender, sexuality, race or age, just to state a few (check the laws in your state). Your organization is actually at risk for being sued if it hasn’t trained its managers or if top management ignores complaints (which your HR person is doing). The ageist remarks could potentially constitute a hostile work environment, and you really could sue. Who wants a lawsuit? Well, not me, and not most people. But the threat might be of use to you. Record every instance of your supervisor saying nasty personal things. Documentation is essential and will be your leg to stand on.

I would suggest you check the marketplace and see if you can get another job that pays more and has nice people. Aim high! I’ll bet you can find one. Knowing it is possible for you to move will help you to be bold—to draw boundaries and lodge formal complaints. In the meantime, breathe deep, and remember that Diva’s behavior is about her and not you. Other people’s emotionally unstable behavior isn’t personal. Let it roll off your back.

Show Diva just how “weird” a middle-aged woman can be!

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard Headshot 10-21-17

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!

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