My boss gives me information that is misleading . . . I am obviously being bullied

Tell Me About It: My boss is actively preparing and favouring another successor

PROBLEM: I have worked in the same industry for almost 30 years. Three years ago, I was head hunted by the leading organisation in the field and, within a short period of time, I was promoted to the second most senior position in the company.

I have worked extraordinarily hard to the detriment of relationships and possibly my health. I am ambitious and my career strategy has been openly described as Machiavellian. The person in charge of the company is well respected by competitors and her innovative approach is known to have revolutionised the sector. She is due to retire in the coming months and whilst I would not take anything for granted it has been hinted by senior members of the board that I could be in a strong position to take over.

Recently, I have noticed that my current boss is actively preparing and favouring another successor. I find this upsetting, but fair competition is fair competition. Except this is nothing but fair. She often gives me information that is misleading, she rarely answers phone calls or emails and, when she does phone, it is usually very late in the evening.

I notice when she talks to me, she grimaces, and I do not see that happening with other people. I try and avoid confrontation and have asked for a performance review which she has ignored.

I am obviously being bullied. I have never had this experience before, and it feels very strange. I know how the industry works. If I complain that I am being bullied by this person who is revered I will be blacklisted, and I will not only fail in my attempts at promotion, but will end up having to leave my job and drop several levels. My partner advises that I pursue a complaint, but my gut instinct is to sit it out and try and be cleverer than my boss and any opponents.

However, it is costing me a lot of sleep and impacting on my ability to do a good job.

ADVICE: This is the classic difficulty and is the reason why so few complaints are made in the workplace. You know that there is an injustice going on, but fear that the consequences of taking action will all be on your head.

It seems from your letter that your own methods of advancement could do with some improvement

Every organisation should have a Dignity and Respect Policy and these policies set out fair and reasonable steps to tackling the issues that inevitably arise in the workplace. However, policies are only as useful if they are used and trusted and, in many instances, they gather dust. If the policy was trusted, both parties would feel that they would be given a fair hearing and that an informal procedure would precede any more formal path – this would ensure that true and real conversations would be had between the two people involved and that gossip and rumour be kept at a minimum. There is no doubt that that having a complaint against the CEO is the most difficult thing to pursue but that is why there is a Board that holds responsibility for the governance for the whole organisation.

It seems from your letter that your own methods of advancement could do with some improvement and that the organisation would benefit from an overhaul from a Human Relations perspective (there is fear of speaking out). If you are to be the new leader, this is what is needed and rather than taking this on from the comfort of a secure CEO position, it is in front of you now.

Fear of not reaching the pinnacle of your desire for success is what is guiding your actions and, like all things guided by fear, your judgement will be clouded, and your actions misguided, if fear dominates. In the first instance, you could book a time to talk to your CEO and rather than ask for a performance review, speak honestly and tell her that you feel you are subject to unfair and unjust behaviour.

Tell her that you want an opportunity to address this but that if you are unsuccessful, you will need to take this to a complaint level, and this will involve the board. At all stages, keep good and cogent notes with dates and times of meetings as the board will want a detailed timeframe of everything that has occurred. It is useful if you can adopt an attitude of collaboration and be open to hearing what she has to say about what she wants for the future of the company, after all she is leaving it behind shortly.

The first step in developing these characteristics is to have the courage to face the crisis that is in front of you

Alternatively, you can go directly to the person you get on well with on the board and have a scoping conversation with them – however, this behind the back tactics might justify the CEO’s mistrust of you.

On another note, it might also be good for you to realise that sacrificing everything for work success comes at a huge cost – you will (like your boss) inevitably have to let it go, through retirement at least, and then you might discover that your life is empty and devoid of meaning. If you are to be a leader, a genuine leader of people, it behoves you to develop your own emotional intelligence so that your employees actually want to follow you and trust your decisions. The first step in developing these characteristics is to have the courage to face the crisis that is in front of you now and to act with integrity and openness.

This might not offer immediate success but it will form the basis for good leadership when the offer comes again, as it surely will because you want it so much.