“When I first started working for her (she didn’t hire me), she took me aside to tell me she didn’t think I would make it at the company and that I didn’t have what it took to be successful in the industry. I took that as a challenge and set out to prove myself and I did — to other people in the company anyway. Last month I applied for an award that recognizes women in my industry. The application requires endorsement from the company and has room for your boss’s input, so I asked her if she would be interested in supporting the award. She refused, telling me there’s no way I could win. I was dumbfounded but found support from another executive in the company.
I just found out that I won. I’m proud, but it’s created tension at work — co-workers congratulate me in front of my boss and it’s awkward. Also, she is my boss and she seems even frostier now than before. I need to manage this situation in order to manage my career (I don’t want to leave the company; there’s lots of potential here). I feel bullied. How do I handle this boss who clearly isn’t on my side?“
Partner, Dentons Global Client Development
Kate is a Partner with global law firm Dentons with key leadership responsibility for client development initiatives including leading the Firm’s client listening initiatives, key client relationship management, and working closely and collaboratively with clients and the Dentons innovation and Nextlaw teams, to support and advance innovation and transformation in client engagement and service delivery. A pioneer in the legal industry in diversity and inclusion recognized as a leader in the advancement of women and other underrepresented groups in the profession. In recognition of the importance of diverse and inclusive teams as critical to innovation and effective client development, responsibilities also include enhancing, supporting and supplementing business development and marketing skills for women lawyers across Dentons.
First of all, congratulations on your award. Despite a difficult situation, you have clearly accomplished a great deal and done many positive things to advance your career, including focusing on what you can control— doing a good job and distinguishing yourself based on your hard work and talent; and building a strong network of allies in the company.
Sadly, it sounds like your boss has not provided the type of support and mentoring that we all ideally hope for. It seems unrealistic, however, to expect that there will be a miraculous change in her behaviour and that she will become your sponsor and champion. You may want to look to others within your organization who can perform that important function for you.
Regarding your boss, consider what may be motivating her: Might she be one of those people who feels threatened by strong talent, rather than someone who appreciates that a strong team contributes to a leader’s success? Is there something you can you do to help her understand that you are not a threat?
I have found that being a promoter of people like this can be an effective strategy in helping them understand that you are on their side.
Even if it has been painful at times, I suspect that you have learned things from your boss that have contributed to your success. Try to find a way to acknowledge her role in that success to others. For example, how about diffusing the awkwardness around being congratulated on your award in her presence by referring in your response to the opportunities you have been given in your boss’s group that have allowed you to grow and develop?
I don’t want to suggest that you are responsible for the difficult situation in which you find yourself, or to minimize that you probably aren’t too keen on sharing the accolades with your boss. However, if she understands that by undermining you, she comprises her own success, it might make her think about changing her tune.
Finally, given the stakes, you may want to discuss an appropriate strategy with an executive coach. Based on your demonstrated achievements, your organization may be willing and motivated to invest in your continued success. Discuss this with your Human Resources Department or other executive allies. It would be a mistake to not reach out and ask for what you need.