Can You Keep Working for Someone You No Longer Respect?

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Taboo subject

Yesterday, I posted on social media that you don’t need to love or even like your boss, but you need to respect the person you report to, and if you don’t, it’s time to look for work elsewhere. While people didn’t comment much publicly (for obvious reasons!) I have received more private messages than ever, so I know I hit a nerve and the subject deserves more attention.

If you have lost all respect for your supervisor, should you leave? The answer is “it depends”. It depends on (1) how much this is affecting you and (2) how you perceive change (e.g. exciting new opportunity vs. loss/defeat).

How it affects you

If you have lost respect for your supervisor and somehow you manage to still be happy to go to work in the morning, you find purpose and fulfillment in your position, you are able to express yourself and don’t feel stifled, and you don’t give your boss much mind space at all, then yes, of course it’s fine to stay!

But let’s be honest, how many higher ed. leaders have reached that level of self-mastery to be able to be unaffected by such a disheartening situation? Unless you have the heart and mind of a Buddhist monk and have practiced equanimity, non-attachment, and mindfulness most of your life, reporting to someone you don’t respect won’t be sustainable.

The higher ed. leaders I know have a strong need to serve at a high level and be empowered to do their best work. Reporting to someone they don’t respect is too painful. It makes them feel discouraged, dismissed, underappreciated, and highly frustrated. They feel out of integrity when they have to choose between doing what is asked of them or doing what they believe is right. It’s mentally exhausting to spend time and energy advancing goals that seem futile or misguided.

The longer they stay, the more they think about it, develop more criticism for their boss, and even lose sleep over it. Next, they start thinking they no longer belong, they question themselves, and lose sight of how valuable they are in the workplace. The downward spiral can lead them to discouragement, sadness, disempowerment, and even depression. Are you sure it’s worth it?

How you think about change

If looking for a new position makes you feel empowered because instead of being victimized by someone you don’t respect, you take charge of your life, then do it! It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what you want, where you want to go, and also discover more about yourself. Applying and interviewing for jobs will help you learn more about your leadership style, what you bring to the table, and how valuable you can be when you are no longer limited by your boss. Maybe it’s time to set the bar higher, reach for something more exciting, and get a job far more fulfilling than your current job could ever be.

However, if the idea of leaving what’s familiar to step into the unknown gives you terrible anxiety and a sense of panic, thinking of leaving will seem more terrifying than staying. You might start rationalizing why you shouldn’t have to leave. You might be hyper critical of your boss and say that he/she should be leaving. After all, they are the problem, right? Your mind will not see what you have to gain by leaving but will spend most of your waking hours inventorying what you’ll lose. You’ll think of how hard you’ve worked to get to this point, how much you like your coworkers etc. You will talk yourself into thinking that leaving means failing whereas staying means winning. If that’s you, then stay where you are.

Your values and needs

Your decision should be based on your value system and your needs. My blogs are written for people who want to live with passion and purpose and who aren’t too attached to comfort and predictability. When our actions and decisions are driven by fear and risk-avoidance, we may be able to create a comfortable life but not feel fully alive. On the other hand, when we choose courage over comfort and are willing to act on our deepest desires and most compelling dreams, we no longer have to feel regret or hide behind excuses. It’s not easy but it’s liberating!

What NOT to do

You can choose to stay or you can choose to look for another job, but do not complain and gossip! If you choose to stay and walk around the office talking to other people, seeking validation and bad-mouthing your boss, then you become the toxic person that hurts the workplace. I know that misery loves company but spending time and energy criticizing what you don’t like will hurt everyone. Even if you feel justified, please think of the repercussions and hold yourself to higher standards of professionalism.

If you choose to stay, it’s critical for you to do everything in your power to avoid being critical, defensive, or confrontational. You have to find a way to make the situation work. If you choose to look for another job, you also need to make efforts to improve your relationship with your supervisor because when prospective employers will check your references, you want to be confident that they will like what they hear. Be smart and don’t burn bridges.

And yes… I do understand that in some cases, a supervisor may be shockingly incompetent or have a severe personality disorder and need to be let go. And there is a formal process to make that happen. But let’s be honest, that’s rare. Most of the time, the issue between administrators comes from different leadership styles, different agendas, different priorities, or poor communication. If your boss seems incompetent to you but is viewed as performing well to the rest of the leadership team, the board, and most of the campus community, then they should not get fired just because they don’t meet your expectations.

I know this is a controversial topic but here is the bottom line: I want you to feel empowered, purposeful, and appreciated. Get clear on what it takes for you to feel good, and go do that! Maybe it’s staying, maybe it’s leaving; there is no universal answer. Just don’t let yourself become the bad apple who blames others instead of taking responsibility for your own choices and actions. Alright, I wish you all the best with whatever you decide to do!

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About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.