When you first started your job, everything was going well. Your boss was encouraging, supportive, and even complimenting you for a job well done.
But then suddenly, everything changes. Now, your relationship seems constrained, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to please your boss.
If this sounds awfully familiar, it might be because your boss sees you as a threat.
Here are a few signs that should raise a red flag:
HarperCollins Leadership Author | Founder & Executive Director, Professionals In Transition
These are the possible signs that your boss feels threatened by you:
- All of a sudden cross-divisional meetings (or other important meetings that you regularly attended) are ended by your boss. (Your attendance at them)
- He/she forces you to move into a smaller office (or even worse) a cube or to a different floor.
- Choice assignments are no longer given to you.
- In meetings, your boss no longer asks you for your opinion.
- Your boss calls you your direct reports into the office and tells them that they will now be working directly for him.
- Others that you used to turn to within the organization no longer respond to your calls or requests. You suspect that they have been told not to help you anymore by your boss.
- Key memos are circulated to your peers, and you are not on the list to receive them anymore. You always seem to find out by accident.
- Critical meetings are held without you, or you only find out about them at the last minute. When you confront your boss they say “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought I included you too,” and smirk.
- You are forcefully disconnected from the gossip line. When asked about the reason, people just look at you and say nothing.
- Impossible deadlines are given to you that force you to work late into the night and on weekends.
How to fix
If you were put there by upper management to truly threaten your boss then carry-on. Truly an uncomfortable, especially if he/she are well like because the staff will rise to protect their boss. You are viewed as a mercenary and not to be trusted by anyone. A pariah to avoid helping at all costs.
It is a very difficult situation for you to be in because your boss can feel your heat on his/her back and knows that upper management is behind it. He/She will throw every blockade, roadblock, create any distraction, try to set you up, and play any psychological trick they can to buy time for them to either save or find a new job.
If you’re not an upper management mercenary, I would suggest “Damianism” as I have used this several times. If your bosses’ concerns are unfounded, set up a meeting and look them straight in the eye and take the pledge of allegiance to the boss.
Promise that you:
- Will never provide new information to others in his peer group at meetings or other functions.
- Will never embarrass them in front of other’s especially at staff meetings or in front of co-workers
- Understand that your only job is to make their job easier, and you are willing to do what-ever-it-takes to get your job done and make that happen.
- If you hear information about them or other strategic information that you think they may not know, you will tell them ASAP.
- Will handle squabbling among the children and not whine and complain.
- Will never come to them with a problem until you have worked out three options and already tried two of them.
- Will always keep your conversations confidential and that you will provide “safe space” to talk about any issue personal or private and understand that this is a privilege that you will have to earn.
- If ever asked by upper management to do a “hatchet job,” you will tell them immediately, so that you can strategize around it. (This can be very risky because you are tieing your future to this relationship, but it has always worked in my favor.)
Your boss feeling threatened can include many different reactions depending on the type of boss. When most people feel threatened it comes from deep insecurity in which they usually feel a need to overcompensate in that area. Boss types and the signs they may feel threatened are as follows:
They want to know exactly what, why, and how you are doing things
The micromanager boss may get extremely agitated about you taking on projects and completing them without consulting him/her during every step.
They need to give their input on each aspect of your work, and if not they tend to get passive-aggressive or use guilt to try and make you feel inferior. For example:
- Boss: “Oh Karen, you decided to move forward with those slides?”
- Karen: “Yes I researched the data and wanted to submit to the team so everyone had more time to provide feedback”
- Boss: “Oh, well. Slide 5 seems to be formatted differently than others. The data also appears to be not as accurate as predicted. I wish you would’ve sent over for me to review before sending because then it would be much more precise”
Some bosses just can’t control their outbursts
Both good and bad reactions involve really emotional responses. These bosses tend to go 0 to60 in a flash, and are somewhat unpredictable. They can one minute be screaming at you but then the next minute be telling you all about their child’s soccer game.
Signs they feel inferior can vary between yelling sessions in the office to tear you down or crying to you about their insecurities so you feel so bad for them you don’t take the promotion. For example:
- Boss: “Karen, can you come in here RIGHT NOW!”
- Karen: “Sure boss what’s the problem?”
- Boss: “I TOLD YOU NOT TO USE COMIC SANS IN THE POLICY REVISION! ONLY TIMES NEW ROMAN IS ALLOWED!!! This kind of work is going to have you looking for a new job if you don’t improve!”
This boss needs to feel like they came up with every single idea that gets praise
This one is special and very predictable. They also delegate better than anyone in history. They have a perfect way of delegating everything to you so they have a pretty package to show to his/her superiors as if they did all the work.
This boss needs to have the ego fanned and if it’s not they will use guilt, shame, and passive-aggressiveness to make you feel like your ideas are the worst ever created. For example:
- Karen: “I have an idea to help productivity by measuring the number of calls the reps are completing with new software we can license for free”
- Boss: “That sounds good, but I don’t know how the reps would feel about that and who is going to do all the work in collecting the data?”
- Karen “Well I would work with the data analysts to help us at first and then go from there.”
- Boss “Yeah, I don’t think that’s a good idea at this time.”
A week later in a meeting with the Vice President…
- VP: “It sure would be helpful to have data back up our need for this number of reps in the call center. If there was a way to measure what they’re doing we could make changes.”
- Boss: “Well, we could use this new software to measure the number of calls they’re taking and it’s free.”
- VP: “Yes that’s a great idea!! Get on it.”
- Boss: “Karen, I need you to get the name of that software and start measuring the number of calls.”
Certified Life Coach | Business Consultant, Maple Holistics
Your boss no longer asks for advice
If you’re sensing a vibe that your boss is more distant, it may not be coming from dissatisfaction, but rather from intimidation. If you’re used to having a weekly check-in with your boss, where you discuss innovative ideas, potential systems, and relevant research, once you start to detect a pattern of them canceling, rescheduling, or avoiding the meeting it is likely stemming from a place of feeling threatened.
Another way to test this feeling is by suggesting your advice through a less-confrontational way, such as email, and if they still have a minimal response, it furthers the idea that they are feeling vulnerable.
Less in the public eye
Although a cluster of signs is needed before determining if your boss feels threatened by you, a key factor is your involvement in public affairs.
If you were the go-to person that represented the company, spoke in public settings, and presented at large events, but now this role has been removed, it can be a sign that your boss is trying to simmer you down.
When you start to sense a pattern of your boss wanting to keep you having a low profile, it can be a telltale sign that they are feeling intimidated by your progress.
Healthcare Analyst, The Corporate Con
They undermine your education
In this day and age, post-secondary educations have often become required for many people to get their foot in the door of the majority of industries.
With that being said, a lot of entry-level folks are coming into the workforce with higher-level degrees than their superiors. This has caused a bit of tension in the workplace.
I have met many millennials who have complained to me of bosses negating and simply dismissing their subordinates’ credentials and telling them that “their education is not everything.” This is a huge sign that your boss is definitely feeling threatened.
They dismiss, critique, or correct you in front of others
A smart leader knows to uphold the dignity of his or her team in front of others.
A leader that is threatened by his or her subordinate goes out of their way to correct them in front of others, dismiss their ideas, or critique their way of thought. Honorable leaders and mentors uplift their employees in front of others and advise behind closed doors.
They withhold new assignments for themselves
Bosses have to assure that all of the work gets done. This is executed by delegation. A smart boss knows who to assign what to get the criteria done in the most efficient way possible.
However, when a boss feels threatened they will often withhold new assignments from the said person they feel threatened by. They often do this to ensure that the employee doesn’t complete a task better than them and receive the praise that they should have received.