open thread – May 10-11, 2024 — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

How badly should I be punished for one mistake?

I have a … difficult boss. We are a department of two, and I am his first ever full-time report. He thinks he knows more about almost everything than anyone else in the company, and is also very emotionally reactive. This means he thinks everyone should always do things exactly the way he would, is always frustrated because no one around him is working to his standard, and he will random parachute into things after days chock full of meetings and start picking apart everything he can see. This might include things like forcing me to send emails to people with the same substantive content (“like, sorry, we can’t change the time of this meeting”), just so he can use the “right wording.”

We recently organized a trip for an exec, and I was tasked with a lot of the logistics. I’m just ok at this. It takes a specific skill set to do well and I acknowledge that. I wasn’t hired for this – my role a mid-senior strategic and advisory position. But because my manager needs to control everything, he took over this and assigned me with it instead of asking the admin staff who have expertise.

Fine, I did my best. It was a nightmare. I understand protecting exec time, but I got instructions up to 10 times a day to move, cancel, or reschedule meetings with important people (burning bridges) so we could meet with slightly more important people. I got people randomly added to meetings without consultation, got tasks reassigned to or from me without any notification until I crossed wires somewhere, got uninvited from meetings I set up using personal contacts, and was routinely chastised for not getting tasks done quickly enough even if we had discussed how to sequence things previously (because he is reactive, if he turns his attention to something, it has to be *right away* regardless of anything else going on). Keep in mind this is a busy job and I was already working 60+ hours a week before any of this.

I did make one memorable mistake. At one point, I got told to do something – maybe update a tracking spreadsheet – and, stressed, I responded that I was too busy and I needed to send a bunch of logistics emails before the close of business hours. I shouldn’t have said that, and I got the expected response – “I don’t care that you are busy, I told you to do it, just do it now.” (As they literally pulled out their phone and said, that reminds me, I have to make dinner reservations at a really good restaurant for this trip, let me do some Googling about that.”)

The trip went fine; there was some minor hiccups that were not our fault, such as last-minute cancellations (par for the course with VIPs), and the group got lost once finding a room for a meeting I had been uninvited from. But the aftermath was an hour-long tongue-lashing in which not only was I chastised for how badly I had handled the trip, but that continued into second-guessing literally everything I had done at the company, including calling me for not doing things I had never been told to do while also telling me I didn’t have the authority to make decisions on anything important without his permission. And the cherry on top is that he then, deciding apparently in the moment, said “you clearly can’t handle this job, I don’t want to manage you anymore, and so the lateral position we are hiring will now be your manager.” Creating three tiers of management for a three-person organization.

Should I hold out hope a new manager will create a reasonable buffer for me, or just accept I don’t have a future here, quiet quit, and look for a new job?

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