What to Do When Your Manager is Sabotaging Your Career
What kind of manager do you have? Are they supportive? Do they provide you with opportunities to learn and grow? Perhaps they’re too busy to focus on your career, or mostly focused on their own?
There’s a whole range of possibilities, but hopefully you don’t have the worst kind: a manager who is actively sabotaging your career.
It hurts to have this kind of manager because not only are they not helping you progress, which a great manager does, but they’re holding or even pushing you back. They can make your life miserable every day and even make you feel depressed.
Whether you react with anger and frustration or start to withdraw and even doubt your own abilities, it can be hard to figure out what to do about the situation.
If your manager is stifling you and not giving you any opportunities, here are three strategies that can improve your situation.
3 Strategies for Dealing with a Manager Who’s Sabotaging Your Career
1. Do a Reality Check
A useful starting point is to get grounded in reality. When I’m upset about a situation, it’s hard to see things from any perspective other than my own.
So, when you feel like someone is blocking you from what you want and feel you deserve, it’s hard to see the difference between their intention and the impact it’s having on you.
Reality Check #1: Your situation with your manager
Have others had a similar experience or are you the only one who’s having this issue with your manager? People who have worked with your manager in the past may have some useful observations to make.
When you approach others, make sure you do so in a neutral way in case they are close to your manager. For example, “What’s your advice on the ‘care and feeding’ of Manager X?” or “What’s been your experience of working with Manager Y?”
At a minimum, you may discover you are not alone, which can make a big difference in how you feel. Ideally, you may get some actionable advice that works with your manager.
Reality Check #2: The assumptions you may be making
What has your manager said or done, and what are alternative interpretations from the one you have assumed to be true? What is the “world view” that your manager holds and how is that different from yours? What do you see when you put yourself in your manager’s shoes?
How can you pressure test your assumptions?
Reality Check #3: What you really want
Do you want to stay in this role or on this path? Is this your dream company but it’s just your manager that’s making you miserable? Or maybe this is a job you like but don’t love, one that you’re doing just to pay the bills or because it’s “safe”?
Your answer to “what do I really want?” will inform how hard to work at making things work with your manager.
2. Focus on What You Can Do
When you feel you have no control over a situation, it’s easy to feel helpless and fall into a “victim” mindset. You start to things personally, and before long, it affects your feelings of self-worth and your overall well-being.
Few things help you feel better about a situation than taking action. So, to break out of this negative cycle, think about what you can do on your own without anyone else’s permission.
For example, you could talk to your manager. That’s when the clarity on what you want is helpful. Make sure you’re prepared to talk about the situation in a mature and professional way. I like to get input from my mentors and sponsors to help me prepare.
What would you like to have happen in this situation? What are the 1-2 changes that would make the situation manageable for you (e.g., getting constructive feedback, growth projects). This will help you get clear on what you’re really after so you can start negotiating for that change.
You could form alliances with other colleagues, whether internally or outside of your unit or organization. The purpose here is to build a network of people you can talk to and who can support you and give you pointers. So don’t make it about complaining about your manager behind their back.
As you form alliances, think about whose help can you enlist and what you want them to do. Mentors, sponsors, boss’s boss could potentially take action on your behalf. Start by going to them and asking for advice and see where that leads.
And an action that’s always in your interest is to work on building up your network. While the “payoff” may be longer-term, strengthening your network will help you land on your feet no matter what happens around you.
3. “Fire” Your Manager
Once you’ve taken all the actions you can take, it may be time to “fire” your manager if things still don’t improve. And the only way to fire your manager is to leave. This is a big decision and not to be taken lightly.
Early on in my career, I got this advice from my office-mate as she listened to me say (yet again!) that I wanted to quit: “May, you aren’t allowed to quit until you’ve tried to make it work on your terms but found you can’t”.
So before you quit or give up, it may be worthwhile to go through step 2 one more time!
But once you decide to make a move, then make it a priority to find a great manager as you look for your next role.
Managers have tremendous influence over our careers. And for much of your career, you’ll be both a manager and the managed.
When you have a manager who is sabotaging your career, take heart. You are not alone. Take the time you need to step back and assess the realities, advocate for yourself, engage others to help you, and when necessary, be prepared to find a better landing place where your talents can be valued.
When you’re in the manager seat, remember to use your powers for good not evil. Examine your actions for when you may inadvertently be sabotaging your team members. Be open to adapting and growing. Create a safe space for people to share their thoughts and perspectives with you and each other. Be that awesome manager you wish you’d had.
Which of these strategies can you use to improve your situation or help someone else improve theirs?
Leave me a comment and let me know.
It’s a harsh reality that many of us go through and what’s worse is when it happens within a public institution like ASU Tempe where they pride themselves with being great to their students and employees.
Yes, it’s a harsh reality that can happen anywhere.
Whether we’re talking about for-profits, non-profits, government, families or you name it, individuals can do such great things and make a positive difference … which makes it disappointing when instead, they inflict such pain on others.
I’m reminded of the saying, “hurt people hurt people, healed people heal people.”
I wonder, how can we heal more people?
Thank you for your reply…truly the saying listed in your response has now been posted all over my desk and computer as there is so much truth to the saying. Your posts are so motivating.
Wonderful, Cynthia. May you be the source of uplifting messages and a healing presence to everyone around you.