My Boss is Horrible and I’m Losing Hope
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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I’m tired of working for someone who is always angry. Nothing we do is good enough. He “blows off steam,” berating us and pointing out our flaws and embarrassing us in front of colleagues and clients. He will never apologize, but later he always says, “You know how I am!” Yes, we know how he is, but that doesn’t mean we should be asked to take it and not have issues with the treatment.
We recently hired a coach to work with the team. The coach is fine, but he doesn’t push back on this behavior. On the side, he will tell us, “You need to understand he is in charge.”
Bringing in a coach, we hoped things would shift and the coach would point out the negativity of this behavior.
But I’m losing hope.
When I say I am tired, I mean legitimately tired. My spouse is frustrated, because on weekends I have no energy to do anything, I want to stay in bed and sleep. This behavior is affecting my health and my personal relationships.
Why don’t I leave? I have a significant ownership stake and I would have to walk away from this. We had one other person throw up their hands and march out, and our lead advisor was thrilled. “More ownership for me!” was his comment at our weekly meeting discussing the departure.
I know the person in charge determines the culture. But is there any way we can leverage this coach as an outsider to make ourselves heard? I realize threatening, complaining and all those things are likely ineffective. What should we do to get someone’s attention?
You are in a difficult situation – which is stating the obvious and why you wrote to me. There are a few factors here and I will try and outline each one clearly, then give some ideas for next steps:
- Your boss and you have a behavioral disconnect. I often teach teams about the difference in behavioral preferences and style. Some people, like the leader of your firm, are high on the “D” for dominance scale. These people are results-oriented and can be very aggressive. The emotion associated with this scale is anger; you will see people wired like this get very impatient and frustrated easily. If they work with a “lower D” team, meaning people who are the other end of the spectrum and prefer to think about things before they act, want to be thoughtful and patient as they pursue results and are generally more low-key, you will often see the higher D person exploding from time to time. The frustration builds and they have to let the steam off. I am not excusing or validating the behavior. I am merely explaining the dynamic.
- Then you have the “leader syndrome,” where people in charge believe they are entitled to act in whatever way they want. Your leader commented on gathering additional ownership. This is not unusual. They are successful by material standards, so they don’t take criticism or input very well when told they need to shift behavior. If what I am doing is making me gobs of money, why would I shift anything!?
- Your coach has likely been hired by the leader. I’ve seen many cases where a coach is hesitant to take on the person paying their bill. The person might be unwilling to risk their own reputation and might choose to ignore the behavior or think the leader is entitled to behave as they choose. I don’t agree with this necessarily, but I always like to be objective and share potential areas of concern.
What can you do besides quit, lose your ownership stake and look for a new position? One idea is to take your leader aside and confirm his right to behave as he wants, but reflect on the consequences of this. Let him know people have lost trust in him and are afraid to be themselves. He won’t get the best out of his team if he continues to choose this route. Ask about what is so upsetting. Often difficult people act out like this because something is driving their negativity – he could be upset by things not happening fast enough, fear the business is not doing as well as it should, frustration because team members are not engaging, or all of the above. Show interest and understanding to get underneath this behavior. If your leader felt more team members were clear on why he is so frustrated, it’s possible you could see a shift in the behavior.
I’m going to assume your response – having done this now for many, many years – is "Why should I be the one who has to be amenable to the leader and inquire when I am not the one in charge?” Most people think the boss should take responsibility. While this may be true, sometimes it won’t change otherwise.
Is it reasonable to think that when we pay for an offsite, trips for our team and pizza every Friday, that we would get a “thank you”? My partners and I are generous (some would say overly so) and take our team members (nine in total) on outings. We were just at a Yankees game where we had everyone stay overnight. We did an offsite around the holidays, and are doing another one in the warmer weather in Rhode Island near the beaches. We order pizza for 12 people every week.
Never a “thank you” from anyone. If we ask, “Did you enjoy the game/trip/event?” they might say, “Yes!” But we don’t get proper a thank you for what we do. Is common courtesy no longer in vogue?
There is a lot packed into what appears to be a simple question in your note. Let’s look at two components.
It’s best practice not to do things for others with the expectation you are going to get a thank you or be acknowledged for what you’ve done. It is a set-up to do something “for” someone but then expect something in return. If you are taking your team on trips, to games, running offsites and buying pizza because you believe it is the right thing to do or they deserve it, then why is receiving a “thanks” necessary? They may see this as a quid pro quo – they are doing outstanding work for you, and in turn your “thank you” to them is these activities! It might not be they don’t acknowledge or appreciate what you are doing; they might feel it is overkill to also thank you for it.
There also could be a decline in common courtesy. It isn’t fair to blame a younger generation. I often point out to my own father, who is from a much older generation, that he almost never uses “please” and “thank you” when he is ordering my mother around to take care of things for him! While it is appropriate to use common courtesy, I often observe others dropping the need for this. I share the story about my father only to say I don’t want to paint the younger generation as lacking courtesy (my own three children never fail to say “please” and “thank you,” and they are Gen Zers).
Drop your expectations and do what you are doing from the heart. If you do it because you think it is right, you don’t need anything in return.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. The firm has won the Wealthbriefing WealthTech award for Best Training Solution for 2022 and 2023. Beverly is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. She is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.