How to Stand Up to Your Abusive Boss and Keep Your Job

WTF Management

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When your boss’s unhealthy actions are putting your team’s success in danger, you must address that behavior.

WTF? I walked into my new office. I had taken a job as a Senior Director at a large aerospace company. The staff of eight business unit managers reported directly to me — 320 people in total. I oversaw two facilities.

Before I explain the reaction I had when walking into my office that day, let me backtrack and say why I should have known there would be a problem.

This job found me. I gave a presentation at a conference about how an emotionally intelligent team impacts production. Afterward, an HR person asked for a copy of my resume, which I did not have. When I got home, I updated my resume and sent it to her.

The company brought me in for an interview. The interview ended with the company requesting I stay a second day to meet with the President. That same day, they made me an offer I could not refuse. We set the start date to be one month out, and the deal was done.

When I walked into my office on my first day, the previous Director’s items were still there. The office looked like he just stepped away to get a cup of coffee. The reality was security walked him out while I was completing my paperwork in HR.

I immediately had the secretary clean everything out. She packed his things in a box and sent them to him. The way they treated him was wrong. No one knew he was gone until I showed up. Everyone deserves consideration and dignity. He did not receive such. Right then, I should have known there was a problem.

I called my first meeting with my new staff that day. There were a multitude of problems. Fortunately, I had seen these type of issues before. Over time, slowly but surely, we started making a dent in the problems. we began to meet the objectives. I was pleased with that result.

At the same time, I was annoyed at my boss’s tendency to travel to my facility and take over my staff meetings. He was Italian and short-tempered when things were not going the way he liked; he would not act professionally.

With the prior Director, he felt there was nothing he could do to improve the situation, so he did not attend the staff meetings. Once my team began to meet our objectives, he believed he could add his expertise to make the improvements faster. Unfortunately, he was impatient and did not wait to let the process work. It upset him we were only meeting the objectives; he expected us to beat the objectives.

The first sign that he was upset was that he would take off his jacket. If he continued to hear things he didn’t like, he’d roll one sleeve up to his elbow, then the other. He would place his elbows on the table, put his head in his hands, and stare at each of us. I was the recipient of most of his stares. We knew we were in trouble at that point.

Once he confirmed things weren’t going the way he wanted, he would curse. It would be “fuck this” and “fuck that,” “fuck you” and “fuck them” and “fuck everybody.” After he had lost his temper and cursed everybody out for some time, he’d leave. I’d be left with my demoralized staff to figure out what to do next.

The fourth time he came to my facility to curse everybody out, I decided I was no longer having it.

“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less-than-perfect conditions. So, what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.” — Mark Victor

I asked him to not behave in that fashion. He agreed, and then the very next week, he cursed out my staff AGAIN. I had to find another solution. What could I do? I worked for him — he did not work for me.

I took control of the meeting. The next time he came to my building, sat down, and took off his coat, I took off my jacket. He rolled up his sleeves; I rolled up my sleeves. He put his head in his hands. I put my head in my hands and began to curse like a mother-fucking sailor.

Image by Foundry Co from Pixabay

I’m from Chicago, and I grew up on the rough side of town. I spent time as a teenager with pimps and whores. I knew how to curse. For every curse word he said, I said four. When he really got going, I said five to his one until he finally stopped cursing. He was embarrassed by my potty mouth.

At last, we had a decent conversation about the objectives. I never had that problem with my boss again.

Even though you work for someone, you are not helpless. You can’t tell them what to do, but you can influence their behavior and gain control of the situation. It will take creative thinking, planning, and action.

A month later, he came up to me and said he appreciated that the meetings were going better. “I don’t know what changed, but whatever you are doing, keep it up.”

I responded with a simple, “Thank you, boss.” I didn’t say, “I got you to stop cursing everybody out.”

When your boss is acting in a way that is hurting your team, you must act. If a conversation with your boss does not stop the behavior, then you must think of another way to make your point without antagonizing him or her.

Remember, this is the person who will evaluate you. You still work for them. Be careful not to make your attempt at influencing them into a personal attack.

I took advantage of my boss’s cultural values to make a point. He believed that women should be ladylike. It was worth the risk because his behavior was so disruptive. His actions caused significant motivation problems within my facility.

Solving this problem brought me leadership kudos and creativity points from those who were working for me. It would have taken a while to earn their respect, instead because of my boss’s behavior, I got a trust boost with my team. Dealing with his bad behavior worked out for everyone.


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