When you land that plum job made in heaven, the last thing you think about is the day when you are shown the door.
public relations with Lenox Mhlanga
You must have heard those motivational experts who say that in everything that you do, start with the end in mind.
We rarely think about a bad ending because naturally, all that begins well should end well. Not when you have a boss from hell. Just like landlords, some of us get the bosses that we don’t deserve.
Liz Ryan of the Human Workplace says that one of the most important things every working person must learn is that not every manager deserves your talents.
“There are great mentors in the business world and there are other managers who are not qualified to shine your shoes. You have to be able to tell the difference,” she advises.
In my long professional career in public relations, I have had my fair share of toxic bosses, and there are plenty of them. I tend to agree with Ryan when she says that sometimes we only discover that a person’s degrees and work experience have little connection to his or her maturity and professionalism when they stab us in the back.
For the little that they are worth, I am tempted to name and shame them. But I am not as nasty. They will be able to tell who I am talking about, unless they are stupendously dull. Which they are for the most part. Sorry to say.
“If you are smart and capable, some managers will be ecstatic and others will become fearful and hostile. These fearful managers don’t want smart and capable people around them. It intimidates them when they are not the Queen Bee or the master and commander of the department,” says Ryan.
Such bosses are not leaders. They boss people around and cut you down with cruel comments to let you know who’s in charge. They will dress you down for trivial things, and take a swift turn to try to knock you off-balance.
And all the while you are trying to fanthom what you did wrong to “bring your manager’s wrath down upon you.”
You didn’t do anything wrong. You just pitched up in the wrong department and did your job a little too well for your fearful manager’s taste.
When things get heated in the kitchen, you have to spot the signs that tell your boss wants you out.
Your reporting relationship changes for no reason. At a certain company I worked at, I was suddenly told I would now fall under the new marketing director after enjoying a long stretch reporting straight to the managing director (MD).
While on the surface it looked logical since the MD was away most of the time managing another unit, it soon emerged that the financial director did not like the autonomy I enjoyed influencing the purchasing decisions.
It was clear that the marketing director’s role was to first put me in a box and second, to frustrate the living daylights out of me. To this day I have nightmares on the marketing strategy that he forced me to compile when I had no idea what was wanted. This was no PR!
It is the first step in my manager’s plan to paint me as a poor performer and ease me out of the door.
Your manager will only communicate with you via email. Why would a manager stop talking to you in person or over the phone, and put all of the communication with you in writing instead? They’ll do it if they want to create a “paper trail.” Accumulating evidence to be used against you in the future perhaps.
You can assume that all your manager’s email messages are being copied to human resources or to your boss’s boss when the face-to-face and telephone conversation disappear and suddenly the only way your manager will communicate with you is in writing.
Your performance review is delayed without explanation. I have had to face this countless times, particularly when I looked forward to an opportunity to express my reservations about the job.
“Performance reviews get delayed for all kinds of reasons, but if you’re feeling the chill in the air and your performance review is also delayed with no explanation, be wary,” warns Ryan.
Be suspicious because it is likely that your written appraisal is a critical part of your boss’s plan to terminate you for upsetting her with your competence.
You are sent to training you don’t need. If you know how to take a hint, observe the times when your boss recommends that you go for training all in the name of “continuous development”.
When you are booked to attend a course called How To Be A Great Team Player, know that it’s all part of the plan to convince others that you do not play to your boss’s rules and you need retraining.
“Now all your manager has to do to get a green light from human resources for your termination is to tell them, ‘Sadly, the extra training didn’t help’,” Ryan says.
They bring human resources into the conversation. The final nail in the coffin that your boss has been preparing for you is when they bring human resources into the conversation about your imaginary defects.
I was summoned to a meeting with the human resources director with that marketing director I told you about earlier. I soon felt like a lamb before slaughter. The trumped-up evidence about my incompetence was so overwhelming.
I was shocking that while I was busy creating a marketing strategy that he was supposed to have done himself, he was spending all his quality time setting me up. Where was my beloved MD when I needed him most?
The kangaroo court was short and swift. It was obvious my boss had no desire to continue working with me because he was afraid of my glowing flame, plain and simple. He just wanted to be the brightest spark in the room. At all times.
There was nothing wrong with me — the company picked the wrong person for me to work under!
I was too shocked to have an exit strategy. Don’t make the same mistake.
Ryan suggests that you negotiate a severance package on your way out. If you have the chance to meet privately with a human resources person, tell them the truth.
Tell them that your boss has invented a story in which you are a problem employee, merely because he or she doesn’t want to work with you.
Human resources can help you get a fair severance deal or even move into another department. I manged to get a golden boot. Though I had to rely a lot on poetic justice to get even. My colleague and friend, human resources guru Davies Ndumiso Sibanda believes I could have got out with more.
The lessons from this is that you will know how to avoid a fearful boss in the future and be more likely to spot a weak manager before you accept a job. Yes, and the fact that not every manager deserves your talents!
Lenox Mhlanga is a communication specialist who is an associate consultant with Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants, the African PR Consultancy of the Year in 2016, according to the Holmes Report. He has worked for the World Bank and is a part-time lecturer at the National University of Science and Technology. Email: email@example.com Mobile: +263 72 400 656.