Ep #139: Working with Assholes Part 2: How to Free Yourself from Your Asshole Boss
Are you dealing with an asshole boss at work?
A lot of women come to me for help because their asshole boss is literally the #1 thing standing between them and their next promotion.
And to be super blunt: this type of situation really sucks.
It’s tough to deal with, it dredges up a lot of emotions, and it can literally traumatize you.
So if you’ve ever found yourself in this situation, I want to remind you of three important things:
💖 1. You did nothing wrong.
💖 2. You don’t deserve this.
💖 3. And there is a way out.
In this episode of Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer, I’ll show you how learning how to swim in your own lane is the best way to take back control of your career and escape your terrible boss.
Plus, I’ll show you how building your influence at your organization will not only allow you to bring more compassionate leadership to the executive suite, but it can also help you bypass and even eliminate asshole bosses once and for all.
(Spoiler alert: In this episode I discuss how this literally happened to one of my clients.)
This is part 2 of a 3-part podcast series called Working With Assholes.
In each episode of this series, I deal with a different group of assholes who may be making things hard for you right now and I’ll give you strategies on how to deal with them.
Because we’re not going to let the assholes win.
You are a corporate badass.
You deserve to have a voice at the table.
And this episode will help you get there, no matter who is standing in your way right now.
Want to receive the recognition you deserve, step into a higher leadership position, get paid for your ideas instead of the hours you put in at work, and enjoy more time, freedom, energy, and joy? Then you need to get your hands on a copy of Promotions Made Easy. Get your copy here.
What You'll Learn:
- Firsthand accounts of how my clients have dealt with their own asshole bosses
- The less obvious ways in which having an asshole boss stops you from getting promoted
- Why the first step to dealing with an asshole boss is to stop
- How to take your power back and find the best path forward
- How to heal from trauma in the workplace so you don’t carry it with you for the rest of your career
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Ep #138: Working with Assholes Part 1: How to Stop Stressing About Jealous Peers
- Ep #140: Working with Assholes Part 3: How to Stop Being an Asshole to Yourself
- Ep #97: How to Make the Workplace Work for Everyone with Minda Harts
- Get a copy of Minda Harts’ book, Right Within: How To Heal From Racial Trauma In The Workplace
- Read Robert I. Sutton’s The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't
- Connect with me on LinkedIn
- Join the Summer of Magic by registering for Executive Ahead of Time
- Get your copy of my book, Promotions Made Easy: A Step-by-Step Guide to the Executive Suite
Hello, corporate badasses. Welcome to another episode of Maximize Your Career. I'm your host, Stacy Mayer, and absolutely excited to be here with you again this week. So I gave a quick listen, not very thorough, to last week's podcast episode, and I must apologize. It's so funny because I know a lot of people say I don't listen to my interviews. I don't like listening to my voice. I don't like listening to how I sound in recordings. And I am not one of those people. I will go back and listen and re-listen to my podcast episodes. I am so used to hearing myself on stage, hearing my voice on camera that I have very little inhibitions and insecurity around hearing my voice in a recording. And I listened to only a couple of minutes of last week's episode with my raspy voice and my coughing fits throughout last week's episode. And I was like, oh my gosh, what have I done? I asked my podcast editor if last week's episode was actually coherent, and she said, absolutely. I think it's an episode that people need to hear. And so I'm really grateful that I recorded it. And it also shows my perfectionism kicking in a little bit when I feel a little bit intimidated by hearing my voice in some different way other than what I'm used to. So I'm happy to say that this week I am in fact feeling better.
I still have COVID, but luckily I have no place to go. So I'm staying home, quarantined, and my voice sounds better, I hope. But I'm still feeling a little bit of that "f"-it attitude that I talked about in last week's episode. That attitude that kind of comes out when you let go of your inhibitions, when you pull back the curtain and you just sort of say, What would I say if I wasn't afraid? What if I just cut through all the crap and just say the thing? And so this week is going to be a continuation of that because I'm still definitely feeling that attitude and I want to speak to that attitude a little bit more before I get into part two of my Working with Assholes series. And today we're going to be talking about what to do if your boss is actually the asshole that you're working with.
But before I get into that, I want to talk about this extra layer that we put on in front of other people. And for me it looks a lot like people pleasing. It's a smile. I notice that even just when I look at my social media posts and how I present myself online with my business, that it's always professional, that I always have a smile on my face. And I want to tell you a quick story about a corporate badass that I've been working with for a couple of years. And she is also like that. She always has a smile on her face and is always very well put together. And when I first met her, I actually interviewed her boss at the time, who was a C-suite Executive. And one of the things that he gave me as feedback was that she was actually too nice to get promoted. And this can feel like a shot in the neck. Oh, God, that's terrible. But anyway, it can feel bad, right? It can feel really terrible. What do you mean I'm too nice to be promoted? And what I'm advocating for is that we have more empathy and compassion, more kindness at The Leadership Table. So we want to bring our whole complete self to The Leadership Table. And so if we're quote unquote, too kind now, that's not something that we're going to dumb down so that we can be like all the other assholes, quite frankly, at The Leadership Table. We want to bring our kindness. But here is the really fun thing that we uncovered through working together. That there was a bit of a mask that she puts on the smile. And she did find out and uncover that she was afraid of confrontation. She was afraid to say the hard things. She wanted to be seen as presentable, put together with a nice smile on her face.
I feel the same way, too. And I can see it when I look at my LinkedIn posts or my Instagram feed. They're pretty. My pictures are pretty. I like to have a smile in my pictures. I remember one time when I was younger, I wasn't smiling and somebody was like, What are you so mad about? And I wasn't even mad. And so I've always had this idea that you project this smile, this kindness, this positivity. But I 100% know now that that is also a mask, that we don't have to smile. We can still be kind, we can be empathetic and compassionate, but we don't have to cover that up with something that feels fake, that feels professional, that honestly it feels just as bad as what the assholes are doing. It's just like the opposite extreme. It's not real. And so through our work together, I really coached her to show up and say the things to her team that she wanted to say. She didn't lose her empathy and compassion. She actually became a more compassionate leader because she was able to sit down with them and say, Hey, you're not what you're doing right now. What you're working on isn't working. This is not okay. I can't present what you just gave me to the CEO. And then on top of that, I coached her to have those conversations with her boss so that she said, you know, I've been really working on challenging my team to show up as their best.
So that's not being mean. The opposite of that smile, of that kindness is not to be a jerk to them. But we can encourage people through our boundaries, through our clarity, through our conviction to be a better person. And that is what her boss was speaking to. He wanted to know that she could have the difficult conversations. About six months later she was thrown into the fire because she had to lay off half of her team and really have difficult conversations with people. And then was given the rest of the team, which is the people who are left. And then now she has to encourage them. She can't be fake through any of this. She has to be real. Look, this sucks. This is not okay what's happening right now. It's not okay that you have to work 80 hour weeks. So we're going to fix that together. And that doesn't always look like having a perfect smile on your face. I just want to share that with you as I'm breaking down my own barriers and really understanding what's behind the veil and what I'm actually wanting to say.
So in today's episode, what I really want to say is that we work with assholes. And the interesting thing is, is that I hear this a lot. I hear it from my colleagues, my peers personally, or other entrepreneurs. And the other entrepreneurs that I tend to be around are women who used to work in the corporate world. So they worked in the corporate world and then they left the corporate world for whatever reason, and they started their own businesses. So those are my peers. Those are my clients. That's not people who listen to this podcast, but those are the people that I see and talk to on a regular basis. And over and over again they tell me, I wish I had somebody like you when I was in corporate. I wish I knew anybody who was helping me get ahead because I hated my life when I was in corporate and I had really crappy bosses. And they'll say things that are kind of benign, right? When you when you really listen to them, they're not so trauma inducing. But yet for the person, it is incredibly impactful. So here's an example. On the surface, you might have a boss that says that he is very supportive of women and he's outspoken. He's like, we have our diversity initiatives and I'm working with the DEI department to make sure that we bring more diversity into these roles and such. And then behind the closed door, he might say something to you on the side like,can you tone it down? Or can you be less emotional? Can you maybe perhaps smile less, like my client was given. But in her particular case, it was actually very, very helpful feedback that we were able to work with because it was covering up something. It was covering up her power.
But when it's not covering up our power, when it's just meant to belittle us and to make us feel stupid for having emotions, for feeling passionate, for caring about something, then that's just a person who wants to have power over us and they may not even be doing it consciously. It's just what they sort of do. And so I think that on a regular basis, I think pretty much every person who is listening to this podcast has had somebody at work put you in your place, somebody, somewhere. Even if you work on an all female team, you've had a woman on your team, put you in your place, remind you that they were more important than you, that they were the boss, right? And that you needed to do your job well or whatever that might be. It's just those little subtle reminders. And sometimes people refer to them as microaggressions. And we might not even know that it's happening, but we just know that we feel uncomfortable or we don't like this job or we wish we didn't work here or work for that person. Or that person for sure is not going to be our best friend; all of those wonderful things. And so I find that to be the low hum norm of what people tend to experience in literally in their day to day. But what I didn't expect when I first got into this role, as in working with so many powerhouse, really amazing women, is the amount of direct violence against them. And I'm not even toning this down. It is insane. Insane, the stories that I hear.
On a previous podcast episode, you heard me interview Minda Harts and she was talking about her book, Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace. And when you read the stories from these women that she interviewed for this book, it is heartbreaking. Truly, truly heartbreaking. And the reason that she put out this book and also the mission that I agree with is she's trying to empower the women who went through those situations to remember their own power, their own corporate badassness, if it were. And I find myself doing that same thing with women all of the time is reminding them that they did nothing wrong to deserve this type of behavior, this type of acting out from their bosses. And PTSD is real. So I'm going to talk a little bit about the PTSD and the aftereffects of dealing with assholes, especially in your direct line of leadership. People who directly put you down on a daily basis. And then I'll give you some ways that you can deal with that and work with that. And then on the flip side, how to recognize if you're still bringing that trauma into your future and current roles.
Let me just give you a few examples. I had one woman who had an asshole boss and he would only say things to her in private at first, and he would make sure that whenever they were on a call or something like that, that he literally told her that she was stupid, that she couldn't handle the job, that she wasn't any good, just like flat out. He didn't even try and hide it. And then we did the work together that we're going to talk about in this episode of What You Can Do. And she started swimming in her own lane and not thinking about him quite so much. He didn't have as much power over her. And then he went public. Now he starts to tell other people about how terrible she is and how outspoken. But the good news is, is that everybody knew at her organization that he was the asshole and eventually he did get let go because my client's influence in the work that she was doing at her organization was way more important than putting up with this jerk anymore. Like leadership just really could see the problem that he was. Thankfully We're not always quite so lucky. Another woman is a god. I think it's been a couple of years since we've been working together and she still has the same boss. Her boss is what we call crazy. She's actually a little bit crazy and just is always spouting off about how terrible my client is. And my client is not terrible at all, of course. And she has a lot of influence at her organization from her peers. And unfortunately, this woman still continues to remain in a leadership position. And when asked about it from other people at the organization, they'll say, well, you know, she's been here for a while or, well, we need her. And so I'm not going to get into the politics of all of that and how, from an integrity perspective, as organizations, we have a responsibility to deal with shitty behavior at our organization and how toxic this is. So that's just a completely other problem.
And actually, my brain just went to this place. I read this book, The No Asshole Rule. This was early on. It was actually before I officially started the business that you see today. And I used to work for actual corporate clients, meaning they were the ones who would hire me and bring me into their organizations. And I worked with a leader who had a person on his team that was a total asshole and he was super, super smart and he was one of the best performers on his team. And I remember buying him this book and showing him. So look at the No Asshole Rule and read about it and think about it. If you have assholes on your team and how you want to get rid of them and deal with that. But I am talking about from your perspective, if you have an asshole boss, you can speak up and you can talk to other people about your boss, but a lot of times there's very little that can be done from your perspective, right? Except for what I'm going to teach you today, which is how you can swim in your own lane and figure out how to get yourself into a position of influence, which is always, always, always my goal. Another woman was one of her leaders and was like actually stealing from the company. And of course, she would say mean things about my client all of the time. Some of the things that the people would say, just so, so nasty. And they're always really emotional, too. They're very emotionally driven. They usually don't have facts behind it, but they'll just be like, she's terrible, or she can't handle this or she can't cut it under the pressure. I even have people who get set up on purpose, they'll push their button in a public meeting, put them on the spot because they know that they'll get upset because we all know that women are quote unquote, too emotional, which is a bunch of crap. And so they'll literally push their buttons so that that person will get too emotional in front of other people.
And so that leads me to my first solution. But before I get into that I want to make sure you really understand how bad it is. I'm thinking of these examples in my head and I can't even believe how such a huge percentage of them are women. Their leader is a woman that is the asshole. And you probably know that. And then there are a really large percentage of these people who are men. And a lot of times what the men will do and I can't even believe the one client I had where the man would actually say to her face and tell her how stupid she was. But a lot of times what the men will do is undercut you behind closed doors. So you won't even hear and see exactly what they're saying. But you'll know. You'll know that that person is being an asshole towards you.
With all of these situations, essentially it is sabotaging your career growth. Hands down for many, many reasons. You're not going to be able to get promoted because this person is always going to be undermining you. You're not going to be able to get promoted because you're going to hate your life. You're going to hate your work. You're going to hate being there. You're not going to want to be the corporate badass that you're meant to be because you're always trying to fight this battle. And speaking of always trying to fight it, you're putting so much energy into how you're being perceived by this person that you can't actually be the leader and build the relationships that you want to be building because you're focused on this person and they're just taking so much. They're literally draining your energy. And I don't have to tell you this, because if you're in it, you're in it and you know what's up. You know how horrible, horrible, horrible it feels.
My first thing that I want you to do is stop. Literally stop engaging with this human being. And there are multiple ways that we can do this. We can stop having meetings with them. If they're our boss and we have to have a meeting with them, we can only talk about work. You've heard me a thousand times on this podcast say, don't go into the weeds. Don't just talk about work. Don't go into the details. You have to keep things high level. But when you have an asshole boss, just do the work. Just talk about work. Just talk about output. Don't talk about your ideas. Don't talk about anything that matters to you. Don't try and change their mind. Don't try and convince them of anything. Don't try and take on more responsibility. Just do your job and get out. Very, very, very little interaction. Now, what I'm suggesting to you is so unbelievably hard for women because we care so deeply about the work that we do. And also we care so deeply about shitty behavior. And so what the mistake is, is that you think that the coaching that I'm giving you right now is letting that other person win. And the truth is, every single time you engage with that other person, you fight that other person, you allow that other person to make you look stupid. Then they are absolutely winning. And this is only temporary. This is a temporary solution until we come up with the actual solution to solve the problem. So temporarily you're going to disengage from this person. And by temporarily, I mean anywhere from two days to six years. I swear to God, stop engaging with this person. It could take that long. Stop engaging with this person. Very simple. Go in, do your job and get out. And if you don't have to meet with them at all, great. Don't meet with them. If you don't have to be with this person one on one, fantastic, even better. Always do it in a group setting.
I could talk about what to do when they throw you under the bus in front of other people. But that's next. Part two. First, you have to disengage. Even if they throw you under the bus in front of an entire room full of people, completely disengage. I'm serious. Do it. Because the other non assholes in the room are going to be on your side. They see what is happening. I hope, I hope, I hope. And if they don't, it's time to get out of there. But for now, we're talking about a single human being that's being an asshole to you, and they're probably being assholes to lots of other people. And even if they're not, they're the one who's going to look like more of an asshole if you disengage with them in a meeting and you stop arguing with them, you stop trying to prove your point. You just stop talking. So that's the first and really, quite frankly, the hardest part is to just to disengage from this person. And you can let it feel hard. It can feel emotional. Maybe some nights you'll still go home and you'll still cry. But I just encourage you to swim in your own lane, find your own peace, and do your own thing.
Then and only then, when you feel like you have adequately disengaged from this other human being, then you can figure out what you want to do about it. And there are lots of things that we can do about it. One is we can go have conversations with other people about this person's behavior. We can quit. We can go find another job. Work for a better person, have a better boss, do better this time so that we don't have to put up with an asshole. We can wait it out. A lot of times these leaders will get fired. They will get pushed out. And we can get promoted into another position. Instead of reporting to them we are reporting to somebody else. So there's lots of different possibilities in terms of how this can play out. But the only way that we're going to figure out what we want is to find our own lane, to swim in our own lane, to figure out what our path is, where our value is, to start building those 15-Minute Ally Meetings so that we have other leaders at the organization who believe in us, who have our back. And then once we start to do this, once we start to pull back and stop engaging and stop being so angry and frustrated and crying and screaming and whatever that is, once we can do that, then we can figure out if this is the organization that we need to be working on.
Is this the place where you want your leadership to grow? And it could be 50/50. You could love the leadership team. You could really love the work that you're doing at your organization and genuinely want to stay, want to find a way to make this work. Or you could be like, Oh my God, I can tell that the entire executive team are assholes and I don't want to work for any of them, so I'm out of here. But the only way you're going to be able to tell that is to start to get your own power back, regain your own power, be less attached to the situation at hand so that you can actually do something about it. We don't want to have regrets here. And the biggest regret for so many women is that there are two things that happen. One is that they get pushed out. This probably happens more times than not is they get pushed out because that person is such a jerk. They have so much support from so many different people and they're just like, I hate it here and I'm not going to work here anymore. And I love the work and I worked really hard to get here, but it's not worth it and I'm out of here. And then the other thing that could happen is that you start to speak up a little too soon and you are so emotional that you get angry and frustrated and yes, maybe you deserve to. But these bullies always win when you get angry, when you start pushing back in front of other people, they're going to be like, what's wrong with her? Oh, my God, she's too emotional, right? We all know that that person's a jerk. And we don't want to be that person. And so then you sort of get pushed out in a different way. And either way, you look back and you're like, neither one of those scenarios were ideal, but I'm so fricking glad I don't work there anymore. And that could be the case. Like, get out of there and start anew, right? Start fresh. Don't worry about these people so much. Because my goal ultimately is to get you into a position where you have actual influence, whether it's at your organization or in society, on boards, whatever that might be. I want you to be making the money to have the title so that you can start making that impact and you create the leadership team that you want to create. You don't perpetuate this terrible, terrible cycle. You don't just give up and say I'm out of here. I'm not going to work here anymore. But that you really lean in. And by first leaning in, what we're doing is we're swimming in our own lane, we're de-personalizing it.
We're like, wow, that person really has a problem and I'm not going to put myself in harm's way anymore. And then you can figure out how to be more solution oriented because we need you at The Leadership Table. Your organization needs you at The Leadership Table. We need more empathy and compassion and leadership. We need less assholes in leadership. My goal is to fricking get you there! We're not going to let these assholes win. But the way that we're going to go about it might look a little different than shouting at the top of our lungs and seeing who can scream the loudest. So I just wanted you to take from this episode that there are assholes at work and to really understand that it's not personal.
Before I go, how to deal with PTSD. So first of all, note that it is PTSD. And so what you'll notice is that in your new role, once you get out, you're going to be acting a little differently. Either it's I want to create a really good relationship with my boss, you're going to overcompensate or maybe you're like, I just want to be distant or I want to get the perfect boss because that last situation was so terrible. I never want to be in that again. And so whatever that is for you really recognize that you've had an incredibly traumatic experience with this previous boss and that when you find yourself in this new role acting weird, quote unquote, and by acting weird I mean genuinely not yourself, like either not raising your hand or smiling a little too much. Trying to be really nice, trying to get along with everybody, not putting yourself out there for opportunities for fear that you're going to have a crappy boss again. Whatever that might be. When you find yourself acting weird and making weirder choices than you would normally just acknowledge it as past trauma. I might be acting weird. I had a really bad situation. Hopefully you have a coach or some mentor or a guide that can help you through these new relationships. Because the truth is at its core, the real truth, regardless of the assholes that we work with, we are corporate badasses. You deserve to be there. You deserve to have that voice at the table and the impact that I know that you are capable of making in this world is so much greater than you're doing right now. And that is why we need to get past these assholes, get ourselves in positions of influence, and start making the change. For lack of a better metaphor, making the change that we want to see in the world. All right. Thank you all so much for listening. And I'll see you next week. Bye.
About Your Host
Hi! I'm Stacy Mayer, a Certified Executive Coach and Promotion Strategist on a mission to bring more diversity to the leadership table by getting 1000 underrepresented corporate managers promoted into senior executive positions each year worldwide.
I help undervalued executives scale to the C-Suite using repositioning strategies that build your confidence and visibility, so you can earn the recognition and support you need from key stakeholders while embodying your unique leadership style.
My podcast “Women Changing Leadership with Stacy Mayer” tackles topics like executive communication, getting more respect in the workplace from challenging bosses and team members, and avoiding the common mistakes that sabotage career advancement.