I lead a team and am frequently bypassed by my boss, who provides negative and unwanted feedback to members of my team. This feedback is sometimes wrong and sometimes offensive.

I would prefer if my boss actually came to me with these comments, as I can defend my team if I feel he is wrong, or otherwise pass on the feedback in a more constructive manner.

My boss mocks people for raising issues with him when they leave the office, saying he only wants to hear positives, and is not interested in the negatives. Furthermore, he is friends with his own manager (my grand-boss).

Recently, a member of another team was offered a severance package after complaining about my boss to my grand-boss.

I want to address the issues raised, however, I lack trust in my managers. What strategies can be used to ensure issues with my boss are resolved without causing further conflict?

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    Could you clean this up a bit please? It's rather confusing to read ... "My line manager is friends with his line manager and a member of another team was offered a severance package after complaining about my line manager to my line manager's line manager." Also, what issue are you trying to have addressed? And when you say "my line manager", are you referring to someone who works for you, or someone you report to? – AndreiROM Jan 5 '17 at 16:40
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    Is the problem you think the feedback is wrong (e.g. your line manager is saying X is a poor developer when actually they're not) or that you would prefer the feedback to go through you rather than directly to your team? Nobody wants negative feedback, but sometimes things have to be said. – Philip Kendall Jan 5 '17 at 16:44
  • The feedback is wrong and it is also sometimes offensive. I would also prefer for my line manager to go through me. – professor of programming 웃 Jan 5 '17 at 16:45
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    FYI, your boss' boss is your grandboss, and their boss is your great grandboss... Just makes it easier to read – JohnHC Jan 5 '17 at 16:45
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    I don't think your problems are going to get resolved. Your boss does not work for you and he clearly does not care about cooperating with you. – paparazzo Jan 5 '17 at 18:50
up vote 20 down vote accepted

You have a toxic manager. You've listed about 2/3rds of the "warning signs" I keep track of, personally.

  1. He bypasses you. He's given you responsibility, but not authority. You have been set up as a "fall guy." He may not have used you for that, yet, but that's what you are. You're a scapegoat sitting on the shelf, ready to be used when he needs.
  2. He "... only wants to hear positives, and is not interested in the negatives." The primary role of a FUNCTIONAL manager/executive is to deal with the negatives. Resource shortages, schedule conflicts, scope creep management, and unhappy customers are all part of a LEADER's role. The job of a leader is to deal with the negatives so that the staff can focus on PRODUCTIVITY.
  3. He mocks people who raise issues. Now, I am not going to pretend that people who raise issues are always right, but if they're raising issues, there are only two possibilities: 1) There is an issue that needs attention, or 2) The person raising the issue lacks the skills/training to understand the context or some other critical component. BOTH of these possibilities are the manager's problem.

As to what you can do about it: Tough one. This person has "insulated" himself from his responsibilities, and is (probably) quite comfortable, now.

One approach is to start "managing" your manager.

  • Ask your team to bring issues to you, and then frame these issues to your manager as "Coming from the team" and not a single person. That should get the mocking under control.
  • Ask your team to alert you of any scheduled meetings with the manager about work, and try to be in on them. If your manager pushes back, say, "Obviously, all project issues should be going through me, but I realize you want to include Steve in this discussion, too, as the Widget Interface is his task." He'll be hard-pressed to explain why he doesn't include the team lead on project issues. If he continues, ask your team to start interrupting the boss when he tries to "corner" them and say, "We really need to have Bonner in this conversation, too." (Or something similar.) That should get the incorrect and offensive feedback under control.

In short: Get your team to be a TEAM. FORCE your manager to deal with you as a team, and not as individuals (as much as possible). If you can bring your team together, a good manager will appreciate it, while a toxic manager will be stymied as he can no longer "pick off" employees one at a time.

Your manager will either have to start behaving as a competent leader or will have to explain to your "grand-boss" (BTW - I'm stealing that term) why he's not able to manage his team.

Of course, there is HUGE political risk in this, and if you have a turncoat on your team, they may end-run you and derail this entire approach. You'll have to evaluate your environment for yourself to determine if you think this will work.

Your job seems to be very unpleasant. You're between a rock and a hard place, with responsibility for your team but no good way to advocate for them. You don't trust your management and morale is undoubtedly suffering.

Sadly, there doesn't seem to be much that you can do to improve the situation. Your boss sounds like a bad manager at best and a bully at worst; his boss enables his behavior and punishes people who report it.

If I were you, I would consider if you really want to devote your time and energy to this company. It's unfortunate, but sometimes the best way to win is not to play the game.

It sounds like your boss is abusing/ignoring the Chain of Command. By bypassing you and speaking directly with your team, he's micro-managing you and also sending a message to the team that you are not important.

This is, of course, a serious problem. Imagine how the boss would feel if you skipped over him to talk directly to the grandboss (I like that term!), or if the grandboss bypassed him to give you instructions directly. Either way, it's rude and it reduces the effectiveness of the manager being bypassed.

Since this is your boss we're talking about, your choices are somewhat limited:

  1. Talk to him privately, remind him that your position is to be responsible for these matters so he doesn't have to waste his time and attention on the specifics and politely ask him to talk to you first and hold you responsible for your team's performance.

  2. If that doesn't work, offer to meet with him and the grandboss together
    (that way you're not bypassing him)

  3. If those don't work, carefully document each and every instance of this behavior, then take it to the grandboss. At this point you're the one skipping a link in the chain of command, so be prepared to show (in writing!) exactly what the problem is, what harm it's causing, the steps you've taken to attempt to fix the problem, and exactly what you'd like the grandboss to do to fix it. (Asking the grandboss to fire the boss probably won't work - don't bother asking).

  4. If all of those don't work, update your resume and look for a more reasonable work environment.

  • While this is good advice on the surface, I would be careful about retaliation. OP implied that a previous complaint was handled by easing the complainer out of the company. Work history is important to prospective employers and it's easier to explain why you're leaving a current job than to explain why you were recently terminated or asked to leave. – Roger Jan 5 '17 at 17:32
  • @Roger Good point - I was thinking in terms of problem escalation, not retaliation. – Dan Pichelman Jan 5 '17 at 18:23
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    i think for OP to avoid retaliation, OP can document the meeting #1 and #2 through an email so that the boss would think twice before retaliating. – AddictedWithOracle Jan 5 '17 at 18:43
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    This is a good method for managing an open conflict. As I read the OP's post, it isn't to this point, yet. Don't agree this is appropriate at this time, but I'm not going to downvote, either, as it may be exactly what's needed later. – Wesley Long Jan 5 '17 at 19:11

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