I posted a long time ago about a boss that interrupted me a lot. I was kind of able to get to stop, but he is such a show off. He is not a technical guy. I've been with my company for 3 years. We are in the process of getting bought. My issue is that I can't manage my project because I'm managing his anxiety - and now I look incompetent that problems haven't solved, when I couldn't solve them because I am so busy managing his anxiety.

In late March, we had technical issue with my R&D work. His reaction was to tell every other boss. I ran lots of experiments, some designed by me, but others I disagreed with to appease my boss (who was acting like a 5 year old kid who didn't get the exact flavor of ice cream he wanted) or other bosses he told. Meanwhile, my boss kept asking me for things on other related projects too, so it was a lot to juggle.

All my experiments should have been analyzed by someone else at the end of April when I was at a training. Only 1/2 the data got analyzed; the half related to material we would present, not the 1/2 related to solving this problem, because my boss decided something else was more important. When I asked my boss about getting them analyzed, he kept acting like a 5 year old kid. When I had good data on other issues, he would share with everyone ASAP; when I had bad data, he'd share it with everyone too, making me look foolish. The other bosses were all telling me different things to do. End of May comes and I needed this data to make samples for an outsourced project I had coordinated, but for which my boss showed little interest in. We sent the samples anyway, without an analysis, and without the ones I needed from before. Meanwhile, I read lots and lots of papers, often sharing them with my boss who would share with others with a "see what I know."

I was frustrated. I called meetings of the bosses getting them to debate their mixed priorities. I had been doing monthly one on ones with my boss, but he would just tell me I was doing a good job. I figured if I did what he said, I'd get credibility. I kept notes. I got advice from a former mentor-consultant. I listened to the bad boss podcast and got the  premium content. I looked at "Dealing with People You Can't Stand" by Brinkman, realizing my boss was a "Think they know it all" who exaggerates, can learn a little, and is hideously insecure. I called the two former bosses who had hired me; one, retired and a conultant, the other a stay at home mom. Both said they were not surprised to hear complaints about my boss. The stay at home mom pressured me to talk to a different big boss, out of my chain of command, who she had known for years and who had known my boss even longer.

Mid June comes and my boss pressured me (acted like a 5 year old kid) to present the 1/2 data for presenting - but in a different way than normal. It was a disaster as people saw problems with the data, tied back to the problems I still didn't have analyzed. I asked the other bosses who said maybe I didn't do a good job of telling my boss I needed these samples analyzed.

I was very nervous, but I met with the other big boss that my former boss (now stay at home) had recommended. He laughed when I told him the issues, saying I could join the long list of people who have had these issues in the 20 years he had known or supervised my boss at various companies. He told me about my boss's family background, his ability to drive (D on DISC), his low leadership experience, added his suspicion of ADHD I had due to his scatter brained-ness, some of his past leadership problems, and that others in the company were well aware of these issues. He also suggested my boss may be nervous our company is getting bought given his nontechnical background, so he may be trying to show off more. This big boss and I role played scenarios and how to respond, offered to go to my big boss or the VP (I resisted) and he said I could and he said I could talk to him anytime.

Those tips were working for managing my boss - though everyday, I come to work not knowing what my boss will change as the most urgent thing this week. We got results from the outsourced study, and my boss who was indifferent before, was ecstatic, sending the results to everyone. I FINALLY got the analysis I had waited 2 months - it was clear all these technical problems were NOT in my sample preparation, but rather, in our analysis method (outside me). Those other people my boss had gone to with all the problems we were having told me to different things, but I got my boss to agree we'd hold everything off.

But what really, really, really bothered me was in our meeting yesterday. I am nervous about mid year performance ratings, and my former boss (retired) had given me suggestions on how to approach him. He said other bosses think I don't listen to them (no - everyone is telling me different things and I had to choose). He felt the project was beyond my knowledge since it took so long and he wants to get other people involved. It made me SO INCREDIBLY mad because I couldn't solve the problem because he delayed that testing for so long -- not because I didn't have knowledge. He also mentioned that people say I don't show much emotion at work (no, I don't, for good reason).

I am angry at him he has prevented me from demonstrating my knowledge by holding off the rest results. I'm so so so angry at myself for believing that following his scatter brained widely different directions, and putting up with his 5 year old behavior, and not pointing out to him when he was wrong, would gain more credibility with him.

Any advice would be appreciated. I've been told this happens pretty often, especially in science / engineering based organizations.


jhack's picture


Lots going on here, and great danger for you.  (as you have surmised)

First, acquisitions are particularly tough; the podcasts on that topic are very helpful.

Your boss is probably concerned about his job; middle and upper management roles are the most likely to be redundant when technology mergers take place.  There's going to be a fair bit of blocking and elbowing during the multiple rounds of musical chairs.  

So what to do?  

Stop thinking of your boss as a five year old.  That characterization won't help you be effective, and in your above post provides no insight as what he's doing.  What does he say?  How does he say it?  Those are behaviors to which you can formulate an effective response.  

He's your boss, and it seems he's been in positions of authority for many years.  He must be doing something right.  Don't let your anger blind you to the things he's doing that have made him successful up to now.  You can learn from this (not that you should imitate him...)

You're in science, doing bench work it sounds like, and so you document everything, right?  If not, you should.  Use the "briefing book" model (in the podcast above) as a way of identifying clearly what your priorities and tests are.  It's very helpful to organize your tests into "programs" of related tests, identifying both those that you are performing, and those that are being delayed, so that the overall program is evident.  

Strange as it may sound, share as much information with as many people as possible.  Cultures where people hoard information as a form of power are tough and ultimately less effective;  you can be better by sharing more info more widely.  

Your priorities are set by your boss.  Document them, share them with your stakeholders.  Let them be part of the process.  

Make sure you keep the larger goals in mind.  Agree on those larger goals with your boss.  Then relate back to them in conversation.  "We agreed that project X was the most important.  Has that changed?  Why?"    Again, document, and share that thinking with all your stakeholders. 

Over communicating is hard work, and it will take time.  The time will be well spent.  

One last point, and it may be hard to hear.  Your project did not go well.  You have to accept your responsibility for that.  Yes, your boss may have contributed to the setback.  You can't change him, so you have to look hard at what you did poorly, and change your behavior.   Other bosses think you don't listen to them.  You need to improve communications with them.  You need to listen.  "Pre-wire" these meetings.   

John Hack

TNoxtort's picture

I had posted this back in July and I wanted to update some of the things, mostly positive, that have happened since.

When I posted this, I was frustrated my boss's anxiety was preventing me from doing good science. He had told other boss's, and claimed another coworker in a different group could do my job better, had me present bad data at meetings, and ruined my reputation. I had talked to a big boss who knew my boss had these tendencies. The big problem for my boss is that he aims for the whole pie, without realizing that in science, problems happen, so you have to do things step by step, because that way, you haven't wasted so many resources if the knew findings suggest you were in the wrong direction.

I went on vacation for most of August. Prior to my leaving, my boss had asked for a plan going forward. My dad recommended putting in MS Project, so I could show when delays happened. I did that the coworker who analyzes my data. Then I went on vacation, very nervous about everything.

When I got back, it appeared boss had tried involve another coworker, on the grounds he didn't think I knew enough and she had nothing to do. I had been very nervous. She actually didn't know enough for our situation. She assured me she wasn't out to get my job, just talking about her ideas since my boss insisted, that she herself was busy, and that HER boss told her to stay away from my boss. After listening to her at meetings, my coworker and I were convinced her ideas didn't apply to our work, though my boss kept saying, "but she's so enthusiastic about this material." Eventually, our boss's boss (we have the same one) assigned her to a different project, and rumor is that my boss was told not to go to her for my project anymore. I somewhat felt vindicated.

I had also spoked with my boss's boss generally - and he gave feedback that my boss didn't. I spoke more specifically with another boss's boss who is considered the senior one who has known me a long time and funds our projects. He knew also of my boss's deviant leadership strategies. And I had spoken with HR who gave me some good strategies on handling my boss. The HR person acted like she didn't know my boss, but slipped about some thing weird things he had done in the past.

I also had my review in early Sep and the real shocker was that he WROTE that he knew I felt he had interefered with doing good science, but he looked forward to working wih me. Performance rating was still average. .

As for the experimental problems, it all came back to the analysis methods which were outside what I had any power to do. So I was vindicated on that. My boss is giving me more support when I insist on running smaller experiments - to pick up any potential problems early on rather than aiming for the finishing line (his idea, since he's a "D" who likes to show off).

Meanwhile, we have an internal forum and I was chosen to present a lot. My presentations rocked, and I had some great exposure.

So since I came back from vacation in August, my boss has for the most part, stayed away from me. He's letting me do my work and move things forward at the pace I pick. He still takes my data and share it with people right away, but he hasn't been creating any negative publicity. None of the other bosses are bothering me. I can tell he still has some anxiety, but he seems to control it, and regardless, I don't let it bother me. There has also been some major organizational restructuring, so who knows what is to come.

Here are the titles of some books I read that did help: When To Speak Up, and When To Shut Up, by Michael Sedler, and Bullies to Buddies by Izzy Kalman. Another thing was reminding myself of his D tendencies, and thinking about it from that perspective.

jhack's picture

Sounds like you've made some real progress.  Good going.  

Since you seem to like books, another you might try is "Crucial Conversations" by Patterson et al.  

And, as you're going through major reorg changes,  you should also listen to the M&A podcasts (  They're filled with great advice for any organizational earthquakes....

John Hack

bflynn's picture

 I'm just catching up on podcasts - and by chance I listened to one on my drive today that seems to have some good ideas for you.  I'm not suggesting that your boss fits this category, but be sure to listen to (and parts 2,3,4 and 5).  There are things in there that are applicable to your situation.

First and foremost, which I think you may have already figured out - you must perform.  One of my big takeaways from the Angry Boss cast was that no matter what kind of boss you have, you must meet your objectives first and foremost.  Then you must meet your boss's objectives.

When your boss is pulling your strings and distracting you from your objectives, it is up to you to maintain the focus.  Having a bad boss does not create an excuse.  In fact, this rule is true even when you have the best boss ever.


TNoxtort's picture

I just wanted to give another update on this thread with my boss.

So shortly after I gave the last update, they announced an organizational change related our merger. My boss was going to his old department, under that senior person who had given me some good advice on how to handle him. And my boss's boss was being promoted somewhere else. This was a HUGE relief for me. The change isn't effective yet, but he wields much less authority. I also realized that one of my coworkers in the group feels the same way.

However, we just did performance reviews and again, I got the mediocre rating. I was not too happy about that. However, I can't say my performance was stellar. The project did not move forward much this year, because he kept changing directions on me, and blocking resources. I do feel I did the best job of making chicken soup our of chicken s---t though - and did produce a lot in terms of writeups, presentations, and some discoveries (as the podcast suggests on performing). At our review, he had only positive feedback for me, saying like he did last year, that competition was fierce.

While I considered, for the first time, letting him have it about he has interefered with my ability to perform, I stayed quiet and really said nothing other than thanking him. I kept in mind Exit Interviews, which I am having my wife listen to. I called that senior person at his house (he had given me his home number because he knew dealing with my boss is tough). He told me that competition was fierce for performance ratings, but said things would be very different for me with the change in organization. He added my boss should never have been in charge of a group like mine, and that had to do with an executive that was now retired. He told me to be encouraged and told me that the new head of my dept is not a fan of my boss either.

The bad boss podcast says wait 18 months. I think things started to get bad in Oct 2008. So it's been about 14. I am mad about the performance rating, mediocre two years in a row with no feedback, but lots of being treated badly. I feel like leaving. But clearly the organization saw a problem and moved my boss out (where he is going is not really a promotion). For now, I'm not saying anything to anyone about my being mad, except my spouse.