How to deal with an unfair boss

A supervisor doesn't have to know how to perform the technical work of a subordinate. However, if he or she imposes work procedures on an employee, or accepts all the credit for an employee's work, all the self-motivation will be leeched from the employee and replaced with resentment.

Dear Joan:
I have been employed by a large Midwestern corporation for several years and have recently been told to do something a certain way because "that's the way it's done in the industry." That statement struck a sour note with me, since my supervisor has never been employed in the industry referred to. Since the firm I work for had no other department under which to put my type of work, it chose the one most closely related to it.

Job specialization makes it so that my supervisor can do little but approve bills. I am the only one within the firm who can do the required tasks. Due to the hierarchy of the large corporation, when a job has been completed and accepted by management, the kudos never come to me, they go to my boss (the one who doesn't know how to do the job in the first place).

The times have been few and far between when I have been told by him that a job was well done. It's as though there is an unwritten rule much akin to "The buck stops here," but in his office it says, "The credit stops here."

Is this something that an employee of a large corporation should learn to put up with? Egos are a fragile thing, especially when they belong to those who are paying your salary.

The first thing you must do is put some emotional distance between his actions and your reactions.

Abrupt, defensive action almost always elicits a stronger reaction. You don't want to provoke a blowout that you may have little chance of winning.

Keep your feelings of resentment and disappointment to yourself. Your interests will be easier to protect if you haven't left yourself wide open to others.

In short, don't bad-mouth your boss or the company. If you do, no matter how righteous you may feel, the people listening to your tales of woe will probably view you as being politically ignorant. Once this happens, you may find that you are more isolated than ever. No one will want to be associated with a complainer (no matter how much right you have to complain).

This is not the time to withdraw from people, however. On the contrary, you are isolated enough by virtue of your expertise. In order to get an objective view of the facts, you must keep your eyes and ears open when you're with others, including your boss.

Examine the situation
Take a long, hard look at your situation. Spend some time sifting for facts. Don't allow any assumption to go unchecked.

Some of the facts you need to identify are: Does he treat others the same way he treats you? For example, does he give other subordinates/peers credit for their work? Does he give other subordinates more thorough directions and explanations than "that's the way it's done in the industry?" Is your boss under unrealistic pressure from HIS boss?

Your fact-finding will help you uncover the answer to the question, "Is it me?" If your boss is treating you differently from everyone else, you'd better have a talk with your boss to find out why. If he treats everyone poorly, you will have to find ways to cope -- or leave.

You may discover that your boss feels incompetent or uncomfortable supervising someone whose work he knows nothing about. What's worse, he may perceive you as arrogant or secretive about your knowledge. Whatever the reasons for your boss's behavior, you can't afford to continue operating without a more comprehensive understanding of the facts.

After you have gained a clearer perspective of the problem, you may be ready to take the next step -- cultivating a better relationship with your boss. Even if you think your boss is insecure or incompetent, he is still the key to your future with that organization. Take special care to do everything you can to remove any distrust or fear he has of you.

Listen calmly
Try to find part of his job that he dislikes or doesn't do well and offer to do them.

If he mandates a work procedure that makes you bristle, listen calmly without resentment. Ask questions and be willing to try it. If the procedure could cause problems for you or others, explain the ramifications and offer some alternatives. (Avoid the urge to sabotage him.)

If you hear nothing about a project you've turned in, seek feedback yourself. Ask him if there was any feedback regarding the project because you "hadn't heard anything." If he says it was "fine" or "good," ask for specifics to help you "do a better job in the future."

Ask for advice
Ask his advice whenever possible. This will help you learn how he thinks and help reduce any feelings of insecurity he may have.

Even if your boss feels uncomfortable praising you for your work, perhaps he would not object if you seek recognition through other means.

Is there a newsletter or bulletin board to which you could contribute articles relating to your specialty? Are there committees or task forces that could benefit from your knowledge? Offer to answer any questions upper management may have about your projects. In short, find ways of seeking recognition from sources other than your boss, but be careful not to step on his toes.

Finally, if you are unwilling to work on the relationship, or find that your efforts to change it are to no avail, it may be time to get a new boss.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
About Joan Lloyd
Joan Lloyd & Associates provide
FREE subscription to receive Joan's article by email

Email Joan to submit your question for consideration for publication, request permission to reprint an article for distribution, or for information about carrying Joan Lloyd's weekly column in your publication, or on your Internet or Intranet site. Visit to search an archive of more than 1700 of Joan's articles.
© Joan Lloyd & Associates, Inc.