My Boss…Throws People Under the Bus

When something goes very wrong in the workplace, everyone is tempted to play the blame game. And unfortunately, as the new associate, your position in the corporate food chain is very low. This makes you the easiest target and some bosses do not hesitate to take advantage of your helplessness in order to save his/her own hide.

Background

The characteristics of such a boss isn’t too complicated to identify, but it may be well hidden before a crisis hits and your boss already claimed you as their prey. Here are some of the forewarning signs you can identify beforehand:

  • Easily faults other for mistakes
  • Overly eager to please their boss
  • Lacks the courage to defend their staff to their superiors
  • Very defensive when mistakes are pointed out

Reasons for Bosses Who Throw People Under the Bus

It’s cowardice. They’re afraid that if they make a mistake, they’ll lose their promotion, bonus, job, etc. And since staff present the perfect scapegoat, they take advantage of their position to shift the blame.

Best Approach

Step 1. If possible, avoid your boss altogether.

If you’re fortunately in a work environment where you report to different bosses, try to deflect receiving assignments from the boss who is known to throw his staff under the bus. The less work you complete for that boss, the less risk you assume of having a project fall out and getting blamed for it.

Step 2. Run every decision/progress by your manager and document the communication.

If Step 1. isn’t an option, you must first build your safe house in preparation of a disaster. Create a possible case to proclaim your innocence in case your manager decides to claim that something was your fault. In order to do so, make sure that your boss knows everything detail that is going on with the project and document the communication (preferably by email). Although being in the bottom of the food chain has its disadvantages, there is one advantage: you’re not responsible for the overall decision making and quality of a project. Therefore, if you can prove that your boss knew that something was going wrong and they didn’t take the appropriate action, you can claim naivety.

Step 3. Know when disaster will strike.

Depending on your boss, they may blame you directly (e.g. in your face) or behind your back. Given that the “behind your back” approach disallows you to defend yourself, it’s unfortunately the more popular method. This means that you have to have informants that will let you know when you’re being accused without your knowledge. Best bets are other managers on the same level as your manager or, if you can manage it, your boss’s boss. Be on friendly terms with them and they’ll be sure to warn you if your reputation is being dragged in the mud.

Step 4. Best offense is a good defense.

Once you’ve identified what you were accused of and you’ve gathered evidence to prove your innocence from Step 2., take your case to someone who can impact the overall evaluation of your performance. This would typically be your HR manager or your boss’s boss.

However, it is impertinent that you do not initiate this phase until you have been wronged in a measurable way. For example, if you’ve been given a poor performance review, been asked to step off of the project or other managers refuse to utilize your help. This is because while self-defense is a justifiable reason to attack your boss, you don’t want to be the first one to fire the shot if you can’t prove that your boss hasn’t attacked first. And you won’t be able to prove it without revealing your sources (and your informants won’t appreciate being dragged into the battle).

—-

Unfortunately, there is no silver lining about working for a boss who’s willing to throw you under the bus and ruin your reputation. But with the right moves, you might be able to turn the tables on your boss and protect yourself.

-J

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