I am going through a difficult period at my job. I was hired a year ago to launch a National Accounts program and that program is going really well. The company overall earned $72 million in revenue in 2015 and our national accounts were responsible for $19 million of that sum so the CEO is ecstatic. He is a big fan of mine, but my boss, the VP of Sales, is not.
I have tried as hard as I could to please my direct boss but he is a tough person to please. He gives me projects that have nothing to do with my job description and he’s very demanding. I suspect that the success of our National Accounts initiative, although it is good for the company and even for my manager’s bonus, feels like a threat to him.
He doesn’t know anything about managing national accounts but he doesn’t want to learn anything, either. I have closer, better relationships with the decision-makers in our national accounts than my boss does, and while that is appropriate for my role, I feel that my boss “Rick” sees me as someone to be afraid of. That’s ridiculous. I don’t want his job, but he is a fearful person.
I see storm clouds gathering. I could easily imagine Rick trying to get rid of me. The CEO is a fan like I said, but I’ve never seen him intervene in a dispute or mismatch between a manager and an employee. I’m going to start job-hunting this month.
That’s a shame because the company can use what I bring and I like the job in many ways, but I’m not going to sit around and wait to get fired.
My question is, can Rick fire me when my numbers are as good as they are? If he does fire me, can he then give me a bad reference? I need a good reference from this job — not in my next job, because I’ll be a stealth job-seeker at that point and won’t turn over Rick’s contact details or anyone else’s from this company, but in future job searches. What do you advise?
You are learning important lessons about fear and trust. If Rick is so fearful that even a team member’s success — something that is good for him, good for your customers, good for the world and good for your shareholders — makes him anxious, you have to get out.
There is no way to win in that situation, because the more your National Accounts numbers improve, the more fearful Rick will become!
It is shocking that CEOs like yours can’t spot fear-based managers like Rick on their teams, but most of us are blind to the waves of fear and trust swirling throughout our workplaces.
Yes, Rick can fire you for doing your job too well. If you are in the U.S., Rick doesn’t need a reason to fire you. He can say “We’re going in a different direction with our National Accounts program” and that’s that. If that happens, I wouldn’t go quietly if I were you. I’d say “That’s fine, and now let’s talk about my exit package.”
Take your case to your CEO if you need to. Get in his face, because you have made a major contribution to the company and there’s no reason for you to skulk away without a cushion just because Rick is a fearful ninny.
As for your reference, you don’t need to worry about that right now. Like you said, this job search will be conducted under the radar. You won’t give up Rick’s contact details or anybody’s else’s contact information from this company.
Rick can only give you a bad reference if somebody who wants to know about you gets ahold of Rick. There is always a chance of that happening, but if you never give out Rick’s name or contact information it is much less likely.
When you are ready to job-hunt again after your next assignment, you can give a prospective employer your HR Manager’s name and that person can verify your job title and dates of employment.
By the time you are job-hunting again, Rick may be gone, or you may have such a huge name and reputation in your industry that no one will care about your time at this job. Still, collect as many good references as you can:
• Leave LinkedIn recommendations for your co-workers, clients and other business contacts and many of them will do the same for you.
• Ask one or two of your favorite customers whether they’d be willing to serve as reference-givers for you (not right now, but after you’ve moved on to your next role).
• Once you’re out of the company, you may be able to get in touch with your current CEO, be more frank than you can be right now in explaining why you left, and convert him into a reference-giver, too.
Life is long, and fearful bosses like Rick tend to fade away in importance as we move forward. You can already see the source of Rick’s terror: it’s your growing flame! It is important to notice that your success can be aversive to people around you — people like Rick.
So what? Rick is Rick. You are you. There are fearful people everywhere. Now that you know what a fearful person looks like, you’ll do a better job of avoiding a boss like Rick in your next job.
Onward and upward! You did a great job establishing your company’s National Accounts Program. You get to take that success story with you to every job you hold from now on. That’s the real brass ring!
All the best,
Liz Ryan is the CEO and founder of Human Workplace. Follow her on Twitter and read the rest of her Forbes.com columns here.