• Saturday, July 13, 2024
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What to do when your leader is too critical of you

The Leadership Question: How do I exit my organisation?

Dear Dr Toye Sobande,

I don’t know if I am a leader, but I have a leadership question. I am at a point where I dread going to work. I have always loved my job; even though I work long hours and the workload is too much to bear, despite that, I know I am providing a much-needed service, which makes me feel good.

Earlier this year, I was assigned a new Director for my division. Her voice is bizarrely high-pitched and raucous, and all she does is find fault, but I thought I would give her a chance. Candidly, my previous boss was super nice, and things weren’t very well run, so I thought it would be good to get a fresh perspective from a new leader. So, I have very high professional standards. I am always up on the latest research, always on time, and go the extra mile. I have taken classes that I paid for myself to improve my communication skills. I complete all of my paperwork on time and have never had a complaint.

Maybe she is oblivious to how her petty, nasty, mean-spirited way of going about her day affects people around her. We can only assume she was raised in a family of people for whom it was normal to belittle and criticise others

Contrary to my expectation, my new boss criticises everything I do and tries to make me feel terrible at every opportunity she gets. If I arrive early or work late, she says something like, “you are too uptight and zealous. Get a life.” If I help a client apply for extra services, which they always need, she accuses me of putting additional pressure on the system and monopolising resources.

She comments on my looks, my clothes, and the age of my car. I am always neat and clean and have tried to look professional but not overdo it. I know I am petite and have been told I am pretty. She calls me a “slay queen” if I wear a little bit of a heel” and a “nerd” if I wear a button-down shirt. I second-guess my perfectly suitable work clothes and feel panicky when I get dressed in the morning. It feels personal, except she does the same thing to everyone else.

A while back, I engaged her asking her if she was unsatisfied with my work and how I might improve. This is out of character; I am shy and introverted, and I would rather die than confront anyone. To which she replies that I am too needy and constantly seeking approval. Her response was so disappointing and disheartening for me to bear. I wish I were the kind of cold-hearted person who ignores her completely, but the way she behaves is so erratic and sometimes eccentric that the only thing I can think of is to run away from her and never see her again.Right now, I live in a state of dread, and I hate going to work. This bullying, combined with how toxic she has made the workplace, makes me think it isn’t worth it. I dread losing my job considering the economy. What do I do?

Yours truly,

Mrs. P


Dear Mrs. P,

Sincerely I can feel your pain and how dreadful this is for you.

I have been wondering if your new boss wants you to quit. Maybe she is oblivious to how her petty, nasty, mean-spirited way of going about her day affects people around her. We can only assume she was raised in a family of people for whom it was normal to belittle and criticise others.

It is possible she is tough and thinks she is funny, and what feels like insults to you is her idea of relating. She may think that’s the best way to connect to people at work!

My point is that you can’t know what people think unless you raise the issue. To do that, you would have to think through all of the things she does that are out of bounds and prepare for the next time she pokes you verbally. Of course, when you feel ready for anything she might do, she will probably do something unexpected or pile on the meanness.

You might think about escalating to higher authorities within your organisation. Maybe chat with your human resources and bring a formal complaint to your boss’s boss. In the best-case scenario, she hears the feedback and tries to improve or gets fired. Worst case scenario, she gets reprimanded and then comes back, which is way worse.

If you feel that you can’t take it anymore and don’t feel you have it in you to defend yourself, your next option is to get out. With your professional qualifications, I believe you can get another job. In post covid era, most jobs now work from home, so you wouldn’t have to worry about what to wear or anyone paying attention to your car. This is an opportunity to review your CV and start looking for another job. Your clients may help with good recommendations and referrals for you.

I think dread, like many uncomfortable feelings, is a great gift because it tells you something or someone is more awful than you have admitted to yourself. So, you facing this situation head-on is a good first step. Now you will have to decide just what you will do to take care of yourself.

You wouldn’t be the first to leave a job because of a hideous boss. It happens all the time. You can tell who the worst bosses are because they always complain about how hard it is to find good employees.

Cheering you on,

Dr Toye Sobande