Hello, first of all I really love how much Manager's tools have helped me grow as a manager. A little bit of context I am a middle manager in a clinical counselling call center. I supervise the supervisors who in term supervise the counsellors. I am also the one held responsible for ensuring that the appropriate quality control is occurring and that there are high clinical standards for the company. We deal with a vulnerable population, so we require counsellors with high ethics and professionalism as they may literally be dealing with a life or death emergency. We also have to protect ourselves from professional liability.

Our agency hasn't been the strongest historically at holding people responsible. Our counsellors are unionized and some managers thought for a long time that this meant that we could not hold counsellors to high standards. That trend has been shifting over the past 5 years for the better. Occasionally we have to implement the discipline process when something egregious happens, but most of the time the feedback continuum and supervision (our 1 on1s) suffices for corrective action. My boss involves me in the decision making when discipline has to occur, however recently I have had a few experiences that have left me confused.

For example an employee who missed 2 days of work and didn’t call in was going to receive a warning (we have to be consistent from employee to employee due to the union). My boss called me in a meeting and asked my thoughts. I felt that the 1st stage of discipline would suffice, however I was open to his thoughts. He thought the 1st step was not enough so we agreed on taking the second step. Problem is, my boss is also a step in the grievance process. After delivering the discipline and following his recommendation, I find out that he threw out the discipline during the grievance process-overturning my decision, leaving me as the bad guy in the situation. He didn’t have the courtesy to inform me of this other than to say that the outcome was favorable for all. I unfortunately found out from HR who was questioning why there wasn’t a discipline in this person’s file and was wondering why I dropped the ball.

A few weeks later there was a serious breach of professionalism and a violation of our ethical procedures. This situation was serious enough to require a fact finding meeting with the employee and union. One of my directs was going to report back to me and we were going to decide what the next course of action was. She sent me (and my boss) the results of the fact finding and felt that this could be handled in an undocumented fashion (without it appearing in the employee name file). I happened to be off that day and within a very short time my boss responded to my direct and told them that this was fine. I found this quite deflating as at the end of the day I end up being held accountable for why there isn’t a paper trail around a significant event.

I don’t wish to be seen as the jerk who is having to take a tough stance on important issues. I also don’t like being tossed under the bus so that my boss can take the good guy laurels. I know I can’t provide him feedback; I also don’t want to not do my job as I take it very seriously. Any advice?

TL DR: Boss wants me to take a hard stance, but overturns my decisions after initially supporting them and skip directing.

Andrew J Baer's picture


This is a tricky situation that requires that you read your boss' personality and emotional reactions as much as possible.  So, if possible, I would say do as much as this face to face.  I would also say that your main danger isn't so much coming off as a jerk as it is your boss already feels insecure and then, after you bring up the consequences of his actions, takes this out on you.

So, I believe there are two basic possiblities:

A) He's actively undermining you, in which

B) He's insecure and reacting with ineffective empathy.  I suspect this is more likely.  

Either way, I think your best responses are to first, increase your record keeping and then find times to raise the issue without turning it into a confrontation of HIM.  For example, I would probably avoid a 1v1 with him that you turn into a discussion for that sole issue.  Rather, I would work it into a future investigation or review of a direct that you both know is coming.  You then make sure you prewire the choices with him whenever possible.  


"Sir, these are the latest results into my investigation on Alice's alleged misconduct.  X, Y, Z are shown here, in the testimony.  I believe these are indicators of _____ abuse of power and I will confirm it by checking their email logs.  If I do confirm, _____ is my recommended course of action. 

Now, the danger I see here, sir, is that we see mixed messages and the Union gets upset because I missinterpted your intent.  This actually happened during Franks case.  Remember when you told Jane that her violation was fine?  I hadn't tracked that, and it made our department look poor to HR.

To fix this, I'd like to get your intent or thoughts on this..."

So, I'd definitely rework that based on your personal knowledge of your boss, but the general idea is that you try to eliminate surprise as much as possible and communicate explicitly that his previous actions caused harm while YOU either diffuse or take the blame yourself.  If it continues to happen, then you escalate to telling him directly that his actions caused negative results and then, finally, filing a complaint.  

I hope that helps.  I'd also reference the "Disagreeing with Your Boss" podcast from career tools.

Very Respectfully,

Andrew Baer

um2's picture

I'm very confused right now. While on duty, a violation of policy was reported to me by several subordinates. I was instructed to investigate the allegations and found that they were in fact true. I was responsible for writing and forwarding the disciplinary report which involved falsifying a document by a shift supervisor. My boss placed the write up in her desk drawer and never processed it. A few days after I inquired about the write up, my boss gave me a written counseling to document that she spoke with me about my needing assistance, for my areas of responsibilities which everyone in my position has already. The supervisor that was written up by me has repeated the same infraction again 2 months later but now 3 subordinates could lose their jobs, and my boss is still protecting her. What can be done about this?