Q:

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?


 

OUR EXPERT: 

Linda Descano
Executive Vice President, Red Havas US

In many organizations, it’s the youngsters who school the older workers on all things digital and social. But in Red Havas North America PR’s case, Linda Descano performs as the agency’s head online experimenter—carrying clients and twentysomething team members into the future. Recruited as Red Havas PR’s EVP in October 2015 to lead digital/social strategies for clients like WEX Inc., MilliporeSigma, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Descano provides cutting-edge counsel and tactical implementation, infusing PR, media relations, thought leadership, advertising, social media, content partnerships and influencer marketing into her campaigns. And as a CFA charter holder, she brings a financial savvy to the table that helps deliver more results for less. Prior to Descano’s pivot into PR, she spent 20-plus years in financial services, designing and delivering industry-leading integrated campaigns underpinned by social media and content marketing.

 

A:

If you are serious about staying with the company, then you must commit to being part of the solution and not exacerbating the tension. That begins with having a clear understanding of what your boss expects from you.

First, schedule a face-to-face to discuss her vision of the key attributes for success at the company, and why she doesn’t think you have what it takes to be successful. Listen more than you talk, and ask for concrete examples. Strike a constructive, rather than accusatory, tone.

The objective would be to align on the top three things that are expected of you, as well as a schedule for regular check-ins.

One idea to explore with your manager is a 360° review, so both of you have more data points to inform your action plan. Document these discussions in an email so you have appropriate records in the event that you aren’t able to reconcile and escalation to HR is necessary.

With respect to the award, always check with your organization’s policy to determine whether any approvals are required before submitting an award application. Even if none were required, I would be transparent and notify my manager in advance of submitting the application. If her endorsement was required and she declined, I would not ask another executive for an endorsement without telling my boss first—and, on the flip side, I would let the other executive know that my manager had declined. Going behind your boss’s back to get what you need may hurt you in the long run, since your behaviour will generate mistrust and does not demonstrate respect for her position.

Regardless of the specifics of your individual situation, it’s important to pinpoint the source of your conflict, whether it’s with your boss, a colleague or a direct report. If your issues stem from mismatched ethics, value, or integrity — rather than your abilities — then seek advice and guidance from your ethics office or a reliable internal HR resource to help you navigate the best way to proceed.


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