Bad Boss

Dear Management Doctor:

I have a question: How do you handle working in an office where you are continually dis-empowered by your boss (the Assistant Director) although the director says "take action" and that the division managers (me and two others) should be empowered and part of the team! This applies to personnel issues as well as other work. I have raised the issue without success. It is a particular challenge on personnel issues. My staff has gotten in the habit of refusing to do work some passively, others outright. At the last minute they refuse to attend hearings with our elected, leaving me to cover, without sharing the prep work they did so I can do a decent job. They refuse to do a second draft of a paper or work on assigned tasks identified as priorities at senior staff meetings. The Director says to give them a verbal then a written reprimand. The Assistant Director says he will talk to them, which he does without me. He then comes back to me and makes excuses; one person has stage fright (but we won't send him to Toastmasters for training), another just works slowly (slow and refusal to work are different issues) or his favorite, they just didn't understand the assignment or the deadline (but they can't identify what they didn't understand or why they didn't ask for help). The result is escalated refusal to do work on their part but I am expected to make up the difference. I regularly work 70-hour weeks, while my staff comes and goes as they please. The Assistant Director is habitually late, does not share information with me, and monopolizes all conversations without adding significant value but doubling time spent in meetings! And, according to the chair of our Planning Commission, he has been calling her searching for excuses to fire me.


Dear Dis-Empowered,

WOW! Sounds like you are in one tough situation. Your options may be few. It appears you have a terrible boss. Options appear to be:

  1. Find a new boss which probably means also a new location.
  2. If he or she is anywhere near retirement or getting fired, wait it out.
  3. Try a direct hit on the boss, but remember, this seldom works and if you go for the King you had better hit.
  4. See if you can get the Director on your side, but it sounds like you have already tried this.
  5. Go over both your boss's and director's heads, again, this is dangerous territory and seldom works unless one or both of them are in trouble.
  6. Make your staff assignments water tight and don't cover for them. Let them take some heat.
  7. Do the formal write-ups on your staff yourself; send directly to the employees personnel file with a copy to your boss and the director.

I have one other thought. If the director, your boss, and your employees are all as you describe, it may mean that you also could have some problems. I don't condone their way of operating, but it sounds like they are all out to get you.

Good luck and let me know how this all works out.

The Management Doctor