Don't confuse me with her. Please!
February 6, 2008 11:14 AM   Subscribe

How do you set yourself apart from a boss/mentor who is not well respected?

Let's say you thought you landed your dream job replete with mentor, only to discover shortly thereafter that your new mentor was recently demoted twice and is widely sneered at for the following reasons:

(1) Spends 95% of her time trying to be teflon (i.e. tries to get people in other departments to sign off instead of her so she doesn't risk any blame even though it's not the other person's job to sign off and it takes weeks of email exchanges);

(2) Isn't focused on "making it work" and instead focuses on shooting down anything that involves any risk whatsoever no matter what the business cost.

(3) Wants to be the go-to person for something she knows absolutely nothing about so she tries to get a download of information from you and pass it off as her own knowledge;

(4) Is horribly disorganized and scattered so things are always falling through the cracks so she spends a lot of time trying to prove that it's not her fault something fell through the cracks.

The best solution is to get out from under this person by moving into another department, but how do you distinguish yourself from this person without further exposing their shortcomings (something which would no doubt get you fired)?

Keep in mind, if you make her look too good she'll never approve a transfer.
posted by GIRLesq to Human Relations (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Find someone else in the organization and butter 'em up so they want you on their team.
posted by delmoi at 11:21 AM on February 6, 2008

- Hope they get promoted.

- Leave groups/departments/teams.
(Talk to HR, explain the situation about her not approving a transfer - after all, they know she was demoted twice...)

- Leave the organization.
posted by jkaczor at 11:21 AM on February 6, 2008

Give it time to shake out. Assuming this is a big firm, you certainly don't know the half of what is going on.

You need to be doing your best for your clients, regardless of whether or not it makes you look good. You have a duty of zealous and informed representation to them, regardless of its cost to you at your individual firm.

Having said that, get involved in a project where you will be working with another person as well.

Your job is to do the best job possible, period. If that means making her look good, so be it.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on February 6, 2008

Holy Cow, GIRLesq, did you take over my old job?

Yes, the best solution is to get the hell out of Dodge. In the interim, do the following to protect yourself:
1) Be as professional as you can, in every way that you can. Keep your mouth shut about her behaviour, no matter how much you might be tempted to talk to others about it.
2) Be polite with her, but don't cave to any attempt on her part to be your "buddy".
3) Document everything in writing to protect yourself - she's likely to consider you a dumping ground for any and all blame she might have to deflect.
4) Learn all you can about your job, and do it to the best of your ability. Regardless of your boss' incompetence, other managers elsewhere in your organization will notice.
5) As a collory to #4, take responsibility to "making it work", even if it means you're the one to catch things from falling through the cracks when it's not your job.
5) Be proactive in looking for opportunities to do expand your work horizons, and network with others in the organization. These contacts will be invaluable when you start looking for elsewhere to go.

And believe me, I feel for you - I have been there. Mefimail me if you want a shoulder to lean on. :) Best of luck.
posted by LN at 11:23 AM on February 6, 2008

er, that should be: take responsibility for "making it work".
posted by LN at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2008

Best answer: Don't worry too much: if everyone knows how terrible your supervisor is, they will also find out about your own (superior) performance. If you can figure out how to remain professional is this situation, working under this person may work out in your favour - you'll get sympathy.

You should also network within your company so you can plan your escape. Unless you work in the military (or are very junior), I don't see why your incompetent supervisor should have to "sign" for your transfer.

If another manager wants you bad enough, they will make it happen. Should be pretty easy, given the relative (political) weakness of your current supervisor.

But *you* have to make it happen.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2008

GIRLesq, could you provide some more insight into your working relationship with this woman? Is this a traditional mentoring relationship or more of a mentor/boss hybrid?

I would formulate a very different strategy for a traditional boss relationship versus a traditional mentor relationship…
posted by meifool at 11:43 AM on February 6, 2008

meifool, the way I read it, GIRLesq is saying that her boss is also supposed to be her "mentor". This is the absolute worst mentoring situation to be in, since few bosses have the objectivity to be both your boss and your mentor.

GIRLesq, have I read you right?
posted by LN at 11:48 AM on February 6, 2008

You are describing a classic case of a person promoted beyond their level of competence (see Peter Principle).

It's really quite tragic in general, and seems especially pitiable here, where she so clearly knows it and is desperately struggling to ward off inevitable doom. You are right to worry about being crushed when she finally falls if you haven't achieved sufficient distance, but there may be another option open to you.

Could you do her job? If so, do you like her well enough to be the power behind the throne who raises her performance to a level that would prevent her from being fired? This is very often what mentors are looking for in their proteges, and I wouldn't be surprised if she chose you with this in mind, though it is yet another love that dare not speak its name, for the most part.

If you were to be able to do that, you would be a hero in the organization (not necessarily unsung, either) and you could do it with with the understanding, spoken or unspoken, that she would step aside in your favor as soon as things were stabilized and she could retire gracefully or find another position in the company she was competent to fill, or even move to some other organization and try her luck there without the scarlet 'F' that would be on her forehead if things follow the course they are already well along on to the bitter end.
posted by jamjam at 12:18 PM on February 6, 2008

Best answer: Bide your time. I waited two years from the higher-ups to finally discover how incompetent my boss was and eventually fire him. That's what I did, but I don't know if I would recommend it. Whatever you do, try to find projects that have nothing to do with him / her and shine!
posted by kaizen at 12:25 PM on February 6, 2008

Nthing LN and jamjam. They both said it better than I could have and they are so right. Much sympathy for you in this situation. After several years of being in a couple of bad employment situations I feel your pain.

But hope springs eternal - I just got a Dream Job with wonderful management and great benefits (including working from home when I want to) so hang in there.

And yes, I am truly astounded that someone who has been demoted twice is still not get it, never have but it happens all the time in Corp World.
posted by shaarog at 12:39 PM on February 6, 2008

I think you have got to get out of there. I have been screwed by bad bosses more times than you can count. It's very easy for said bad bosses to blame you for what's going on, rather than anyone blaming the boss, even if everyone knows how bad they are, etc. The management sees what it wants to see, and it's very hard to protect yourself if you're the underling.
posted by sweetkid at 2:32 PM on February 6, 2008

Are you me and do you have my old job too? I listened to the old "make your boss look good" advice and ended up doing his job for him as well as doing my own. Be careful not to get sucked into that trap. Be professional, do your own job plus some but do not make the same mistake I did at first. When one of my co-workers pointed out that by taking up his slack, it made me look like I was covering up for him, I woke up. But first the stress nearly put me in the hospital. So my advice is CYA, CYA, CYA. Don't return phone calls for her, finish projects for her, absolutely don't sign off on anything that isn't your responsibility, etc. It takes time (sometimes a long time) but eventually the weaknesses show to the higher-ups as customers, accounts, vendors, etc. begin to complain. DO NOT TAKE UP HER SLACK.

I was actually advised by my boss's boss that it might be in my best interest to try to find a better position and he even helped me get a job with higher pay and more prestige so things do work out in the end. I started my new job this week.

p.s. I think my former boss is probably pretty close to getting fired and he doesn't even know it. Maybe yours is too.
posted by tamitang at 5:53 PM on February 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all. To answer some questions above, yes, she is both my boss and my so called mentor. Yes, she has to approve any intercompany transfer or the new department will not interview me. No, I haven't been here long enough to move out of her reach and I do really like the company a lot so I don't want to leave the company.

I actually took the advice here and signed on for a project that she has nothing to do with. When I told her about the other project she tried to insert herself by firing off an email to project leader with a bunch of inane questions. The response came one minute later, and I quote:

"First let me say GIRLesq is a tremendous resource! We've implemented her ideas and are considering making it a company policy."

To diffuse the situation with my-so-called-mentor, I kept making fun of the email with her by saying things like: "Oh yes, haven't you heard? I'm a tremendous resource! Wait... do you think he means I'm fat?" She laughed it off and seemed to let it go.

So that's my new plan: just keep signing up for projects that are in different departments. I can't transfer yet but after another 6 months, I might be able to get out.
posted by GIRLesq at 11:54 AM on February 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

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