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Opportunity to throw the boss under the bus
Old 11-20-2010, 03:45 PM   #1
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Opportunity to throw the boss under the bus

Normally I would say don't do it; that is, do not sabatoge your boss in any way if you want to keep your job. However the fact pattern here is interesting.

I work for a rude, aggressive boss. I decided early on to quietly take it and just find a new job (the right new job) as quickly as possible.

Well, the executive assistant to my boss' boss heard that I was unhappy and pulled me aside. She said that I am not the only one, that several others are demoralized and actively seeking employment. There has been a lot of turnover since my boss started...and the pattern has been noticed.

So, next week my boss' boss wants to talk to me about it. This big boss heard about dissent in the ranks and is very alarmed.

So folks, here I have an opportunity to throw my boss under the bus if you will...professionally and tactfully of course.

What you do you think? How should I approach this conversation? I am thinking about hammering my boss...saying he is a bully and ruining morale and backing it up with examples...I will need to think about this though...

And there is actually another layer of boss...my immediate boss who has not been in the job long and has been working on other things. This person strikes me as a chameleon trying to survive (can't blame the person). This is the fourth person in that position in 12 months...part of the turnover I mentioned.
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Old 11-20-2010, 03:55 PM   #2
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Instead of throwing the boss under the bus you might be jumping under it yourself. Be very careful and realize telling it like it is may result in some severance pay and the opportunity for you to look for another job on a full time basis.
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Old 11-20-2010, 03:56 PM   #3
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So, next week my boss' boss wants to talk to me about it.
A LOT hinges on exactly how this meeting was set up. If the boss's boss (BB) had called you in without prompting, and had asked for a frank appraisal of the situation, then that's one thing. But if the "helpful" EA decided to take action, told the BB that you wanted to see him about a situation, and then set up a meeting (whatever she told you), that's a whole 'nuther kettle of fish.

I wouldn't overtly throw your boss under the bus. The entire conversation has to be about improving the operation of your office. BB should do all the talking and set the stage as to why he called you in. (If he says "what did you want to see me about?" then you need to immediately explain that there must have been some miscommunication and that you'd been told he wanted to see you. Looking like an idiot is a lot better than how you'll look if you press ahead.) I'd even mention to BB that having a sit-down with him without your boss present makes you uncomfortable, that you don't want there to be an perception of disloyalty, and that problems are best addressed with everyone present. That will give BB a chance to say why he called you in without your boss present. If he seems very intent on getting something on your boss, I'd let him have it, but in the most tactful way possible. ("I'm aware that some may find his style not to their liking, but others may be very comfortable with his management style and they just aren't speaking up" etc)

Your BB will have a lot more respect for you if this doesn't become a bitch session. If you are seen as someone who is trying to make things go as well as possible despite inept management, you are a trouper. If you are seen as someone who would jump the chain to complain about your boss, then you are now a threat to your boss's boss. That's not good for you.
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Old 11-20-2010, 04:17 PM   #4
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A LOT hinges on exactly how this meeting was set up. If the boss's boss (BB) had called you in without prompting, and had asked for a frank appraisal of the situation, then that's one thing. But if the "helpful" EA decided to take action, told the BB that you wanted to see him about a situation, and then set up a meeting (whatever she told you), that's a whole 'nuther kettle of fish.

I wouldn't overtly throw your boss under the bus. The entire conversation has to be about improving the operation of your office. I'd even mention to BB that having a sit-down with him without your boss present makes you uncomfortable, that you don't want there to be an perception of disloyalty, and that problems are best addressed with everyone present. That will give BB a chance to say why he called you in without your boss present. If he seems very intent on getting something on your boss, I'd let him have it, but in the most tactful way possible. ("I'm aware that some may find his style not to their liking, but others may be very comfortable with his management style and they just aren't speaking up" etc)
Your BB will have a lot more respect for you if this doesn't become a bitch session. If you are seen as someone who is trying to make things go as well as possible despite inept management, you are a trouper. If you are seen as someone who would jump the chain to complain about your boss, then you are now a threat to your boss's boss. That's not good for you.
+1 I think Samclem's suggestions and comments are perfect. This is a very dangerous meeting. Not only could you lose your job, you might not and you might find yourself in a h*ll of your own making. Remember that if you do not lose your job, and your boss does not lose his, he may still be in your chain of command with all that implies.
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Old 11-20-2010, 04:36 PM   #5
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I'll second Sam's comments. Your goal is not to throw your boss under the bus. If BB wants to drive the bus over him, let it be his doing.
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Old 11-20-2010, 05:36 PM   #6
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Heck, you're looking for a new job anyway. If you are principled and simply tell the truth the worst case scenario is you get a little severance and unemployment instead of working under a sociopath while you look for the new job. If you're idea of throwing your boss under the bus is simply being honest when asked about his abusive behavior then I say throw him under, put the bus in reverse, and do it again for fun.

If a bridge is rotten anyway why not let it burn?
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Old 11-20-2010, 05:51 PM   #7
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Wow, samclem really nailed it, and really provided a lot of detail. I think he could def work part time as a management consultant or something.

glippy said
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If a bridge is rotten anyway why not let it burn?
Well, if he leaves a bad impression on the bosses boss, that could be a problem down the road. You never know what kind of networking or twist of fate will lead to a missed opportunity because of that bad impression. And you may literally never know, as in you didn't get a job, and you'll never know that the potential employer talked to your old bosses boss. All you hear is "we found another person".

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Old 11-20-2010, 06:04 PM   #8
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You could play coy and say, "What? There's a lot of tension and stress going on here? Could have fooled me. I've been busy working...."

Then let the rocks get casts at others.

Now..if you had a job offer in hand, the throw the boss under the bus would be tempting.

In my situation, when I FIRE'd, in my goodbye letter, I decided to take the high-road and crafted a very nice, "Thank-You/goodbye letter" (success is the best revenge)
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Old 11-20-2010, 06:11 PM   #9
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In my situation, when I FIRE'd my goodbye letter, I decided to take the high-road and crafted a very nice, "Thank-You/goodbye letter" (success is the best revenge)
My farewell letter (traditionally copied to everyone), was very positive. I thanked everyone and praised the organization and the character of my co-workers in general, saying that I felt I was leaving my tasks in good hands. Then I mentioned a few people in management "among others" who had been inspirational and who had made a difference, IMO.

BUT... I strategically omitted one management person from that brief list. Those who matter to me, noticed, I'm sure. Those who don't, didn't.
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Old 11-20-2010, 06:14 PM   #10
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As I see it the real risk here is:

1. You incriminate your boss
2. No action is taken, or your boss gets his hand slapped
3. You are now left serving under an already-problematic boss who now knows you tried to take him down.

If I needed a paycheck in any way, I would never incriminate a boss unless I had a signed offer letter from another company in hand.

Sounds wimpy and sad, doesn't it? Welcome to the realities of economics and corporate America. More reason for you to FIRE asap!
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Old 11-20-2010, 06:15 PM   #11
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Yeah, I would also definitely let the boss' boss drive this conversation. Generally, if there is a problem - and they aren't part of the problem - then they know there is a problem and they know what the problem is. Asking you to confirm is sort of like "passing the buck", imo.

Although his intentions may be good, it is also possible they are misguided. Once he gets the "dirt" from you, he may then decid to use it to "counsel" your boss. But if things are as bad as you say, I doubt you walk away unscathed.

With all that said - I would still be honest with him - because if you aren't, then you should not complain. But I would speak to specific behavior or situation in your department - and not the person.

You can say things like:
  • "Yes, I have noticed morale is pretty low",
  • "I can't speak to why the other 50 people left, but I agree it is rather unusual turnover for our dept",
  • "Yes, there are days I have considered looking elsewhere",
  • "Why? I don't respond well when I am criticized publicly"
  • "I find it stressful to sit at a meeting where a co-worker is yelled at for making a mistake"
  • etc
Good Luck!
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Old 11-20-2010, 06:26 PM   #12
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My farewell letter (traditionally copied to everyone), was very positive. I thanked everyone and praised the organization and the character of my co-workers in general, saying that I felt I was leaving my tasks in good hands. Then I mentioned a few people in management "among others" who had been inspirational and who had made a difference, IMO.

BUT... I strategically omitted one management person from that brief list. Those who matter to me, noticed, I'm sure. Those who don't, didn't.

"...strategically omitted one management person from that brief list..."

I like the your approach
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Old 11-20-2010, 06:30 PM   #13
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Be very careful. You don't know what your Boss' boss' intentions are. You don't know which side he is on. There are things you might complain about that may actually be his directives. You never know.

I would give a couple of generic comments as others suggested, propose a few changes that could improve morale (no public flogging, perhaps?), and leave it at that. If your BB already wanted to fire your boss, your comments could give him some backing. But it should not be interpreted as you want your boss fired. It's a very dangerous place to be.

Even if you are already looking for a job, the new job will want references and may ask around in the industry. You don't want to tarnish your reputation, in my opinion, even if you are in the right. People don't get all the facts and rumors spread around quickly.
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:27 PM   #14
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Everything you say will be repeated to your boss. Then your boss will repeat it to you when he fires you. There is no confidentiality here. Remember that! 10 to 1 they are looking for malcontents who will be disposed of. There is an old management technique of getting rid of unhappy people. You are in the cross-hairs.
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:45 PM   #15
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My god what a paranoid group. If senior management pulls you aside to ask for your opinion of your boss because he is concerned, I think you owe both him and the company and honest appraisal of the situation. Nothing wrong about being circumspect in your appraisal. No need to say he is the most arrogant rude SOB I've ever worked with, but be honest.

Rude, and aggressive are far from uncommon in bosses (after all passiveness is not a good trait for a boss either) and certainly these often impact morale. I'd certainly point out how your bosses conduct has hurt the productivity of your department, if for example you boss shoots down anybody who proposes alternative ideas, be sure to mention the time that you and/or co workers had better method of doing something but kept your mouth shut rather than risk ridicule.


The downside I guess is you could lose your job (but I gather you aren't that happy anyways.) I find it pretty unlikely unless your company is really Dilbert like. The likely case is you boss gets replaced by somebody else who is almost certainly better. The upside is that if you are honest and your boss gets replace the boss's boss probably will view you as straight shooter who is not afraid to take risks.

I remember investigating what went wrong in my department three people said X, a fourth person disagreed cause it would have been his fault. The fifth person feigned ignorance. When review time I dinged the 5th person worse than the guy who made the mistake. My reasoning was either the person was too stupid to understand that something had gone wrong, he was a liar, or he was too timid to speak up. All of those in my opinion were worse traits than simply exercising bad judgment and making a mistake.
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Old 11-20-2010, 08:09 PM   #16
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Great advice everyone THANK YOU!

To samclem's comments, the meeting was set up without my prompting...it actually came as an unwelcome surprise...I would rather not do this.

Specifically, when someone resigned recently, I asked the exec assist if the company actually enforces repayment of sign-on bonuses when people leave early. She is an ally and a great person, but....she took that comment to BB along with recent comments from others about my boss (I have never specifically complained about him, but exec assist knows better). The next day she said "don't be mad, but...I told BB and she wants to talk to you next week when (my boss) won't be here..."

Exec assist does not like my boss...she has seen him drive many people out...and she told me some other things, like my boss does not do any real work, delegates everything, spends lots of money on vendors to do all the work...something may be going on in the background, and I don't have the full picture. But agreed, this is dangerous ground. I doubt I will throw my boss under the bus. I will likely comment on behaviours and observations only.

This is a lot to think about, my head is spinning.
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Old 11-20-2010, 08:35 PM   #17
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My god what a paranoid group.
Pretty judgmental. There are many people here with sr. mgmt. experience.

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If senior management pulls you aside to ask for your opinion of your boss because he is concerned, I think you owe both him and the company and honest appraisal of the situation. Nothing wrong about being circumspect in your appraisal. No need to say he is the most arrogant rude SOB I've ever worked with, but be honest.
And how do you know management doesn't view GW as the problem and they are trying to evaluate GW?

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Rude, and aggressive are far from uncommon in bosses (after all passiveness is not a good trait for a boss either) and certainly these often impact morale. I'd certainly point out how your bosses conduct has hurt the productivity of your department, if for example you boss shoots down anybody who proposes alternative ideas, be sure to mention the time that you and/or co workers had better method of doing something but kept your mouth shut rather than risk ridicule.
How do you know GW perspective is that of senior management?

My original didn't get posted. It agreed with Samclem and added:
- don't be afraid to ask questions before you talk to get an idea of senior management's position
- are others going to be spoken with?
- what you say is an reflection on you
- focus on issues important to senior management
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Old 11-20-2010, 08:47 PM   #18
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....she took that comment to BB along with recent comments from others about my boss (I have never specifically complained about him, but exec assist knows better). The next day she said "don't be mad, but...I told BB and she wants to talk to you next week when (my boss) won't be here..."
You are right to be uncomfortable. Set the tone at the beginning by gently asking what the meeting is about if she doesn't get right to the point (not "thanks for seeing me"!). If BB starts about "indications", "grumblings," "things she's heard" etc about the situation in your office, that is not enough to drop the hammer on him. Counter with a similarly general comment ("every office has challenges, but we always put the job first" . . blah, blah)

Unless your boss is putting people into real physical danger, is breaking the law, or is violating an important company policy, you are on thin ice in having any discussions with his boss about him. I've been approached like this once, and it was when my boss was about to be "removed for cause" and they were conducting a formal investigation. It's pretty unusual. Unless BB has already decided to fire him, she's got very little business talking to his subordinates in this way.

The world is full of arrogant bullies, and sometimes we have to work for them. The normal thing to do is to 1) wait the situation out 2) get another position in the same company 3) move to another company.

Regarding what to discuss, see dex's comments previous to this. Especially: Focus on problems that are likely to concern BB. She may not care that the mean boss makes people cry, or that he's a bully, or that he doesn't clean up the coffee bar when he makes a mess. She probably cares about the tangible output of the office, costs, etc, and she might care about protecting the company's investment in good employees. If you can discern her true interests and address them, that would be best.

At the end of this meeting, you want BB to think "Dang, that GW knows that there are challenges in his office, but he's got great solutions. I wonder why the problems persist?" If she's smart, she'll put all the pieces together, and having done it herself it will mean much more than a having a bunch of people rat out their supervisor. As a plus, if you've not "dimed him out" in front of BB when given the chance and your boss later turns on you, you'll be in a much better position with BB.

Another thing: If you tell BB anything negative about your boss that is not widely known to many others, you'll significantly increase the risk to yourself.
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Old 11-20-2010, 09:34 PM   #19
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Wow, you are in a bad spot . From sim. situations I have been in, it's a no win situation. If I had a "sure thing" next employer set up,and already wanted to move, tell the truth, otherwise I would go on sick leave for a week or so to avoid the meeting (no sarcasim intended). Not a good time to be looking for a new job these days. Just my 2 cents worth.
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Old 11-20-2010, 11:01 PM   #20
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Perhaps my experience will be of some help. I apologize in advance for the length of my post.
My last boss at Megacorp was a real piece of work. He pitted employees against each other, lied about feedback from more senior execs, and generally was a poor excuse for a human being in a lot of ways. He was a closet alcoholic and on top of everything else, he had an affair with a woman who then claimed sexual harassment and filed suit against him. At t he time, I knew nothing about his affair, but had heard rumors.
Given his position in the company, and his visibility in the community, Megacorp hired a very prominent law firm to defend Boss. I was "invited" to a highly confidential meeting not attended by Boss or his superiors, where the retained counsel asked me many questions about the woman. I answered honestly that I had no personal knowledge of the affair. That was the last I heard about the subject, or so I thought.
I found it curious that no one else in my dept was called to a similar meeting...and only learned months later that everyone else had refused to talk, all citing possible lawyer/client privilege (I was the only non-atty on staff.)
After my interview, my Boss really turned on me and essentially made my workday a living hell. One small example: On one day notice,Boss told me to travel to another city to cover a meeting for him. I had to change a very important personal commitment to comply-which Boss was aware of-but the following day I flew cross country for the meeting. Boss called me when I got off plane and told me he changed his mind about the meeting and I was to come back to the office, and if I was not back by end of business that day, he would fire me for being in effect AWOL. (BTW, I wasn't and he didn't.)
This went on for months, until I couldn't take it any longer. In the meantime, I documented EVERYTHING.
I finally had enough and approached Megacorp senior legal counsel, who said "if you want to leave, leave. But Megacorp would have to stand behind Boss because the case against him fell apart." Once I mentioned the harassment that I was enduring, however, and the fact that I had documentation to back up my claims, the tone changed and ultimately I left the company with a very generous settlement that enabled my early retirement.
While both sides agreed to confidentiality, I do have to say that my former Boss tried very hard to destroy my reputation in very subtle ways. Fortunately for me, by this time his alcoholism was common knowledge, and that, combined with his very messy divorce from his wife, really damaged his credibility and my reputation was intact. IF I were still in the workforce at that point, it might have damaged my career prospects, but as I retired, I couldn't have cared less.
Bottom line? Expect that anything that you say about your Boss will get back to him/her, even if, as in my case, you have little to say. Also, unless the Boss's actions are illegal or so egregious in other ways, expect that your employer will likely side with Boss, leaving you most likely the one to be voted off the island. Make sure you have a Plan B in mind.
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