Oh, Mike. You don’t know what’s coming.
By now, you’ve probably heard the news that President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. In a memo, Comey wrote that Trump said, “I hope you can let this go.” This is problematic because presidents are not supposed to influence or interfere with FBI investigations. It isn’t clear whether or not Trump broke the law or not, but as many people have said, it’s serious, and it looks bad. Really bad! It’s just another day at the White House.
Anyway, don’t worry, we’re not getting political here, but there seem to be some interesting overlap for you, our accounting-minded audience. First, we have a situation where a boss tells a subordinate to do something that he, the subordinate, thinks is wrong. Do you not do the thing you think is wrong and risk irking the boss? Do you do the thing that you think is wrong because the boss is the boss and you don’t want to rock the boat?
Perhaps it’s even more complicated than that. What if your boss is, shall we say, an inconsistent communicator? That is, what if you shouldn’t take him literally, but you have to take him seriously? Is he or she mercurial or impulsive and does their mood dictate yours?
Are you working for someone who’s constantly undermining your work and your credibility? Do you say or do one thing only to be contradicted 5 minutes later? Is he or she sucking the lifeblood out of you? Are you still working for this person because of a perverse sense of loyalty?
Or is he or she a blowhard, know-nothing with bad hair? Those are tough to deal with, too.
It’s likely that you’ve been in one of these situations in the past or you in one of them right now.
Let’s try to tackle the ethical bit first. When you come across something that you consider to be worrying, questionable or straight-up illegal, how does your boss react? Does he dismiss it? Promise to take care of it himself? And if you keep on it, does she tell you to “let it go”? And if you still think something’s wrong, is it likely that you’ll be put out to pasture? Or if nothing happens, do you quit in protest? Or do you sit tight, document everything, and hope that you survive the fallout?
If you look at the Comey situation, you have a person who apparently thought he was asked to do something unethical. He appears to have known that if Trump was serious when asking him to drop the Flynn investigation, that he would eventually react to Comey’s refusal to end it. That reaction turned out to be Trump firing Comey.
If you’re in a similar ethical conundrum, prepare for the possibility that you could fall out of favor with the boss, be reassigned, or lose your job. This won’t happen in a public showing of might like Trump did to Comey. Oh, no. For the professional accountant, your previous successes will be dismissed as aberrations, and your dismissal will come after orchestrating the documentation of your declining performance.
In other words, your employer is far less likely to screw up firing you and will go to great lengths to undermine your credibility should you become a whistleblower. This can upend your life for years and could have a negative effect on your ability to find work elsewhere. They probably won’t threaten you on Twitter, though.
You talk bad
There’s nothing worse than a boss who repeats himself, talks in circles, and can’t stay focused on a singular topic. It’s worse if he or she makes a habit of saying something that you perceive to be serious, only to hear him or her say later, “I was joking.” Oh, and if they’re a pathological liar and/or don’t know what they’re talking about half the time, that’s also difficult.
Navigating all this idiot speak is not easy. Bad communicators are often bad communicators because they don’t realize or believe that they’re bad communicators (usually because they’re also bad listeners). It’s likely that they don’t see it as something they need to work on to improve. The problem is infinitely worse if he or she can’t or won’t clarify anything they say as if to suggest you’re too stupid to understand. But you’re (probably) not stupid, of course, you’re just forced to deal with someone who can’t communicate. Still, most of us can’t totally ignore what are bosses are saying. That usually doesn’t go unnoticed or is without consequences.
Is a boss who can’t communicate and refuses to acknowledge this weakness a serious enough problem that you should quit your job? That probably depends a lot on the circumstances, but it certainly can’t go on forever. The frustration of working for a poor communicator is maddening but is nothing compared to…
People like to work hard. It’s satisfying and fulfilling for many of us. Even when things are bad, surviving them brings you closer to teammates, builds character, and a drive to persevere. And most of the time, gratitude isn’t necessary. If you’re smart, you won’t expect gratitude from anyone, but rather enjoy the inner satisfaction you feel after a job well done. Then, if someone does recognize your work, it’s a nice bonus.
However! All of these positive outcomes from hard work goes up in shitflames if your boss is undermining you. Whether it’s intentional or not, it does not matter. If he or she is taking credit for your work or questioning the quality of your work, how hard you are working, or simply contradicting you when speaking to other people, that is the worst. THE WORST. It sucks the life out of you. It makes you crazy. It causes you to have fantasies of tying them up, duct-taping a gym sock in their mouth and shrieking your grievances in their stupid face.
If you have the energy to have an honest conversation with a boss who behaves this way, bless your heart. Nothing crushes morale into dust like a boss who simply uses you, abuses you and then tosses you away.
The blowhard, know-nothing with bad hair
If a boss is ethical, can string a decent sentence together, and doesn’t undermine people, a lot of stuff can be forgiven. Certain flaws can even be endearing at times if they aren’t accompanied by all the terrible behavior we’ve already covered.
Is there a Trump in your work life? Discuss in the comments. Even you, Sean Spicer!