Because everyone should dig their job

My Boss's Boss is Also Her Personal Friend

By Joan Lloyd

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 hers.
 
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 nothing delicately.
 
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 assistant.”
 
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 follow are:
 
  1. Discuss my concerns/issues with her verbally first,
  2. Recap the conversation in writing, with a copy to her supervisor.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
 
Answer
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 significant ammunition.
 
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.