I started my job three years ago. The company was a successful startup, and the culture is still in many ways a small-company culture although the company is much bigger now.
I interact with the VPs and the CEO almost every week. I started at this company reporting to the CTO and a year ago in a reorganization I was moved under the Director of Marketing, “Julie.”
Julie is very smart and capable but she is very insecure. I have never had a problem with any manager I’ve reported to, but Julie is a challenging person to work for.
She is much more concerned with hierarchy and rank than my previous managers were, even though both of them were executives and Julie is more like a senior manager.
I try to stay cool when Julie gets under my skin, for instance by telling me she needs to approve a presentation that I create before I can share it with anyone else.
I understand that Julie micromanages because she doesn’t know how else to manage, but’s it’s still frustrating.
Julie is afraid that she’s under-qualified for her job and unfortunately, it’s true.
Two weeks ago our CEO “Jack” and I were visiting a client and he said straight out “I know it’s not a great situation, you reporting to Julie. I appreciate your patience. Julie is terrific but she’s not in the right job. She needs to run National Accounts.”
Julie was in Sales before she became Director of Marketing, and I guess Jack wants her back in Sales.
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t think it was my place to weigh in one way or the other. However, a few days after that conversation Julie asked me “Have you heard this rumor that I’m supposedly going back into Sales?”
What could I say, Liz? I said “No.”
I couldn’t say “Yes, in fact I heard that rumor from our CEO directly!”
I said “No, but what do you think about that idea?”
Julie got red in the face and said “I won’t even dignify that with an answer,” and she walked away.
This company moves pretty fast. The fact that Jack shared his thoughts with me two weeks ago (and the fact that Julie is now aware of the rumor) make me believe that the move will become official within the next few days.
Thank goodness, I haven’t been included in any further conversations about Julie’s role but what if Julie asks me after the news is announced, “Did you know about this before I did?”
I don’t want to lie to her (again) but what else can I do?
Thanks for your advice, Liz –
I understand that fast-moving, startup-type cultures thrive on informal communication up and down the organizational chart, but if Jack told you about his plans for Julie before telling Julie herself, that was a bad move on his part.
It’s possible that Jack told Julie himself that he thought she’d do better in Sales, and she ignored the message and then treated it like an idle rumor. Stranger things happen in the business world every day!
When Julie asked you “Have you heard the rumor about me moving back into Sales?” you had no choice but to say “No, but what do you think of the idea?”
If Julie asks you later “Did you know about this before I did?” you can say “I don’t know but Julie, what difference does it make? I have a lot of respect for you and I want you to succeed. How can I support you best?”
People in fear see intrigue lurking everywhere. In Julie’s case she may be justified in seeing intrigue around her because in fact, your CEO may have been talking about her behind her back with you and perhaps other people.
Life is long, and people in Julie’s position almost always forget slights like this one and move on — or if they don’t move on, they tend to leave the company fairly quickly.
Your boss is an important person in your life at work, but they do not have the right to know everything you know, everything you hear or everything you believe or suspect. You are your own person.
If you decided to start a stealth job search, you would not tell Julie about it. It’s none of her business — or Jack’s business, either.
Some fearful managers get mad at employees who hand in their notice. They’re angry because they were not aware that the employee was job-hunting
“Right under my nose!”).
That’s too bad for them. Part of being a manager is understanding that relationships with your direct reports are based on a business agreement.
The employee’s job is to do their best work every day. The boss’s job is to give the employee a good reason to come back to work tomorrow.
You were not obligated to tell Julie what Jack told you, especially given the difficult relationship you’ve had with Julie since you and she started working together.
Julie cannot reasonably expect that level of loyalty from you. She did not earn it.
Here are ten more good reasons to lie to your boss:
1. Do not tell your boss if a higher-level boss bashes them and you overhear it. It can only make your boss upset to get that news, and you don’t want to be the messenger who delivers such a negative message.
2. You do not owe your boss any information about your political or religious beliefs, no matter how many times they ask for your opinions. You can say “I’m not that interested in that stuff” or “I like to keep my politics outside of work” if you don’t want to share your thoughts.
3. If your boss asks you whether other employees are goofing off, you do not have to offer an opinion or share your impression of the other employees’ work habits. You can say “I think those guys are doing okay, but you should ask them” whether your co-workers are working hard or playing poker in the back room. Do not allow yourself to get bullied into becoming your manager’s spy and/or snitch.
4. If your manager asks you “Is anybody in the department job-hunting?” your answer must always be “Not that I know of, but I don’t pay attention.” Even if everyone in the department is job-hunting, this is not the right way for your manager to learn about it. Let them step up and ask the team directly “What do you guys think about the work environment here?”
5. Tell a white lie if your boss asks you “Is Megan still angry at me for taking away her two biggest accounts?” You can say “You got me — you should talk with her” even if Megan has been bashing your manager for the past month. It’s not appropriate for your manager to ask you what other people think.
6. If you’re in the middle of a stealth job search and your boss says “If I give you a pay raise now, will that make you happy enough to stay here?” the only possible answer is “I would appreciate that very much.” This is another inappropriate question for your manager to ask you. If they want you to stay on the team for a certain amount of time, they can give you an employment contract guaranteeing your employment for the same period of time.
7. Do not tell your boss the rumors that you hear about company changes and other departments’ issues and dramas, no matter how sincerely your manager asks you “What have you heard?”
8. You do not owe your boss any information about your long-term career plans unless you choose to share it. When they ask you — for instance, at your annual review — “What would you like to do in the company, long-term?” give a generic answer like “I’m still sorting that out” if you cannot safely say “I want to have my own company within two years, actually.”
9. Don’t tell your manager what you think about their leadership skills unless you have such a trusting relationship that they will be able to take your feedback to heart and act on it for their own benefit. This is a rare occurrence, because of the unequal power relationships embedded in the hierarchical structure. That’s why so many working people keep their upward feedback to themselves.
10. Finally, when your boss asks you “Do you have unbreakable plans for this weekend? I need you to work because we have a crisis” you are never obligated to say “I have no plans this weekend.” You can say “I’m sorry, that won’t work — but I can take care of the issue on Monday.”
We are all learning to grow our muscles and set boundaries at work. Even the nicest boss is not your closest confidante and you cannot be theirs. It is unfair of them to ask you to be both a subordinate employee subject to their management decisions, and also their scout or counselor.
You did the right thing in a tricky business/social situation, Greg.
With luck, Julie will soon get the news and the issue will be out in the open at last. Here’s to success in 2018 for both of you!
All the best,
This article was first published on Forbes