Dear Joan: I work for a national non-profit and I am very
passionate about the organization and about the work that we do. My
problem is that I work in an office with just my boss and myself.
It is only just the two of us here; while we do have support from
our National office the support is limited. I‘ve been an
employee of this organization for about 3 years.
My previous supervisor quit because she had another lucrative
job offer, which left me to run the office by myself for six
months. I have received much praise and commendation for the work
that I do here. Not that I’m gloating, but along comes my new
boss, who was recommended to this organization by a very large
donor, and her immediate supervisor is a personal friend of
My situation is this; she is inadequate for the job. She was
hired to raise the profile of the organization because of her
dynamic personality, but my fear is that the profile will not be
raised in a good way – She is bold, outspoken, and brash and
will not hesitate to say what’s on her mind. She handles
I am having a hard time relating to the duties of my job, as
they intertwine so much with hers. She once told me,
“You’re the assistant – your whole job is
to assist me – your job title is
She is new to working within an office. She has been self
employed for 13 years, thus is her inclination to run things by the
seat of her pants. If she is out of the office on an appointment
she will call me relentlessly. She once called me six times within
15 minutes. For example, she called me to send an e-mail to
someone at 1:29 – and then proceeded to call me at 1:34 to
ask if they’ve responded.
I have gone above her head and spoken with the SVP (her
supervisor’s supervisor). He tells me that protocol must be
followed. I must utilize the chain of command. The steps I must
- Discuss my concerns/issues with her verbally first,
- Recap the conversation in writing, with a copy to her
- I can call HR and speak to a director if I must, but they are
not onsite and can’t really issue influence – But
before I go to HR I must make certain that this is job related and
not personality related.
- If things become absolutely unbearable, and if things simply
cannot resolve themselves, then he will step in, but only if all
parties are present at the table.
He advised me personally that I shouldn’t let things
fester. He said it’s important in any working relationship to
bring issues forward to try and work them out. Also, he stated that
I should pick my battles-- win some and lose some. As far as her
supervisor being a personal friend of hers, the SVP said that there
are people that he is friendly with too, but everyone that reports
to him he holds accountable to the same professional standards. I
shouldn’t let that impact my decision in communicating with
him. At the end of the day, he is still her manager.
I have tried to communicate to her in a calm and professional
manner with regard to my concerns but she will stand up at the
table and point her finger at me. I have tried to walk out of the
room but she will follow me. I have closed my office door and she
will walk right behind me, open the door, and tell me that the
conversation is not over, and that I do not get to decide that.
Aside from quitting, any advice?
Since you have already spoken with her and with the SVP, the
dye has been cast. She undoubtedly knows you are upset, and may
even be a threat to her employment, so she is probably telling her
friend (and supervisor) her version of the story. The more
desperate she is to hold on to her job, the more defensive and
damaging she could become to your own job security.
Step out of your own skin for a moment, to look at this
situation from other viewpoints. The SVP is under political
pressure to keep things running smoothly; he doesn’t want to
upset the big donor. (His advice to you, “Pick your
battles,” probably applies to him, too.) The supervisor is
under pressure to work with a personal friend. The former
entrepreneur apparently hasn’t been successful on her own, so
may be grabbing this job as a lifeline to financial security. You
are complaining to the SVP, so he is under pressure to keep you
satisfied, but he doesn’t want to undermine the supervisor.
Is it any wonder he is telling you to follow protocol? It’s
the only way he will be able to justify a future decision to
confront your boss, or remove her.
As you pointed out, your new boss has worked on her own for
many years and is used to doing things alone. It doesn’t
sound as if she even has experience working with an assistant, let
alone someone like you, who has managed the office single handedly.
When your SVP talked about keeping the focus of your complaints job
related, versus personality based, he is probably telling you that
you run the risk of looking angry and defensive because you were
running things and then were “replaced.”
I recommend that you step back and not confront your new
boss’s actions. It will only drive a dangerous wedge between
you. She is your boss—there is no escaping that. She does
have the right to set the expectations—even if it means you
must step into an “assistant” role.
What I would request, however, is a clarification of job
responsibilities. Calmly and unemotionally ask your boss and her
boss to sit down with you (together) and “clarify your
duties.” This is following the chain of command and protocol.
It’s a reasonable request, in light of the significant change
from doing all the work yourself. You need to hear what your
boss’s duties are (from her boss’s perspective), and
what your duties are. Find out specifically what “raise the
visibility” means, and ask what the division of labor looks
like from their perspective. By asking to meet with both of them,
you will show the SVP and your boss’s boss, that you are
playing by the professional rule book.
If your new boss is really the bull in the china shop you say
she is, she is probably going to do herself in. If she is that
offensive, she will start to irritate donors, ruffle feathers in
the community, and end up damaging her own reputation. It sounds as
if the SVP would be willing to fire her, but only if given
So you can either decide to sit tight and play along, or go
look for something else. If you do decide to leave, watch what you
say in interviews about your “reason for leaving.” Talk
about all the things you did when you were running things on your
own. And then simply say that it made you realize you had the
skills and ability to take on more responsibility.