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My ‘Teflon’ boss blames me for his unpopular decisions


Two years ago, I was promoted to the first rung of management in a government job. My boss is in charge of the workplace, which is in a remote area and subject to oversight from district headquarters. He likes to be like "Teflon" so that nothing sticks to him. When it comes to unpopular decisions or changes, he has directed me to implement the changes and ensure they are followed. When workers have complained, he has deflected the decision that he made (but I implemented) and instead said it was all my idea. Then he tells staff that he will try his best to convince me to change the policy.

Naturally, employees focus their discontent on me, and my boss perpetuates it by portraying me as unreasonable or inflexible. In short, he throws me under the bus. I confronted my boss about these issues but he either refuses to talk about it, backpedals, or lies. I cannot approach his immediate supervisor as he thinks my boss is wonderful. What should I do?

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Doug Nathanson

Senior vice-president and chief human resources officer, Canadian Tire, Toronto

The situation you describe goes far beyond a mediocre manager and a less-than-pleasant workplace – it necessitates you take action.

There is a big difference between helping a boss carry out unpleasant workplace duties and having a boss who routinely acts inappropriately and unprofessionally. It appears your boss disregards proper workplace norms, fails to take accountability for his actions, has a tendency to manipulate the truth and is potentially destructive to your reputation and career.

You were right to start with an open and honest conversation with your boss. Given that did not bring about a solution, and given the degree of your manager's unseemly behaviour, other parties now need to be engaged for any real change to take place.

How you escalate this problem depends upon the structure of your organization, but options include meeting with your manager's boss, engaging your HR department or using a whistleblower or code-of-conduct reporting mechanism. Whichever option you choose, you should arm yourself with all the facts and as much supporting documentation as possible. Despite your feelings of isolation, I suspect you will be surprised to learn how many others are aware of your manager's behaviour once it is more openly discussed.

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There is a degree of risk associated with standing up to your boss, (especially if he has an undeservingly good reputation), but if it is done tactfully it is your best, if not only, option.


Billy Anderson

Founder, Made You Think Coaching, Toronto

Imagine your boss is a festering wound. You have three options: 1) find long-term meds to make it bearable; 2) heal the wound completely; 3) amputate and get a new limb.

If you're in a remote area, I assume your options for finding a new job are limited, so amputation may not be realistic. But there are other ways you can try to heal this wound.

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You could ask your boss' boss if it's possible for everyone to get a review because you think the department would benefit. In so doing you'll hopefully get the chance to air your frustrations (politely, of course).

You could take a bold stance and diplomatically stand up to your boss in front of the group when he's being unfair. See what happens. Sometimes such people are only tough until someone calls them out. There is a risk he'll hold it against you after that, but do you have anything to lose at this point?

Also, start the CYB (covering your bum) process. Establish a paper trail. Keep inappropriate or contradictory e-mails from him. When he asks you to do something, confirm it back to him in an e-mail ("Just so I'm clear, you're asking for….").

Lastly, polish your résumé and start looking, even if you don't really want to leave. Simply starting the search is empowering – you feel like you're driving your own bus instead of being thrown under his.

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