What Do You Do When Your Boss Throws You Under the Bus?

Bus of Shin-shinotsu village bus service

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She had been a life preserver of wisdom when my career as a senior exec hit the intersection of homophobia and high corporate politics (“I think,” she had offered, “that someone in your situation should get good legal counsel quickly.”) and now over a decade later we had the chance to reconnect over hot chocolate and conversation.

This time – unfortunately – she was the one who was on her way out, and it was my chance to offer advice and guidance. Turned out that the same new boss that had told her six months before that she was “doing great” now said without warning or other indication that she would “need to replace her.” Caught in a crossfire between two warring departments, she would be sacrificed to keep the other side happy, and her boss in her job.

It happens, and unfortunately it happens too often; you’re told your doing great work, really valued, and then something changes and you’re on your way out. And this was the second time this week that I’d heard some version of the same story. What do you do when your boss throws you under the bus?

  • The first thing, as my former colleague Joanne Medero might suggest, is don’t take it personally. People make all sorts of decisions, many of which have much to do with them as decision makers, and may have little or nothing to do with you as a person. So once you go through some very human emotions such as anger, hurt, revenge, etc., calm down and think of what you need to do as a business decision. Your business decision.
  • People who throw folks under buses are not nice people; recognize it and be prepared to move on. They are not the type of folks you want to work for or with. I had a chance to talk with Lani Guiier, who President Bill Clinton nominated in the 90’s as the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. When her nomination hit trouble, Clinton hailed a bus and threw her under it without so much as a phone call to let her know what was going on. And while the Clintons were social friends with Guinier from their time together at Yale Law School, Guinier couldn’t get her calls to the White House returned.
  • The issue when you’re being dumped is not if you’re moving on, but when and under what terms. Most bosses hate messes; this is the time to cut the best deal you can and the most graceful way to exit. Dealing directly with your boss is likely a smarter strategy than someone in HR or legal; it keeps it front and center – and likely increases the impetus for the dumping boss to get resolution quickly.
  • Grieve – a little – and then move on. Avoid working with people or places where you’re not valued and wanted. It’s tough, and in the need to support yourself or your family that phrase is often easier said then done. But if you have the choice – and sometimes you do – work with people that treat you well: candid, authentic, challenging, and fair.

It’s not just business. When you get thrown under the bus it becomes personal. As John Kennedy said, “Forgive your enemies but never forget their names.”

The same is true of people who throw folks under the bus.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

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