The Boss Who Stole My Job 

Picture this.

Your new manager sends out a company-wide email introducing you, including some background verbiage and positive accolades. Your new colleagues seem nice and ready to help you get up and running.

You attend your first team meeting, say something about yourself, and for the next couple of weeks you meet with different people to help you “get ramped up.” You’re totally excited to dig your heels in…to begin proving yourself as the star you know you are, to contribute to your team and build a wonderful and collaborative relationship with your new manager. But, mostly, you’re excited about your new tribe… your new work family.

What happens next?

Well, there are numerous possibilities, including the following:

  1. The company’s leadership is aligned with their values; it’s simply an extraordinarily engaged, empowering and fulfilling culture where you have passion and purpose, your coworkers are happy, and your boss (as it turns out) is a fantastic mentor and coach!
  2. To a greater or lesser extent, the opposite of #1

Many of us have had the good fortune to experience possibility #1. Some, maybe more, of us have had the misfortune of experiencing possibility #2.

Several years ago, I accepted an offer and quickly regretted my decision, certainly not a unique situation.  Sure, the comments on Glassdoor and the smiling Facebook photos of my soon to be manager along with our meetings and team interviews didn’t seem to produce any red flags…Then,  one day that all changed.

It was maybe a month into the new job when I felt it… a slowly simmering uneasiness in my gut toward my manager. While pleasant at first, she almost never came around to our cubes to say,  “Good morning.”  I would see her walk in, head down, and then immediately go to her office without eye contact. I also began to notice that she never used common courtesies in emails, shooting all communications without a “Hope you had a great weekend,” or even “Good morning. That the curve of her smile could simply disappear into a scowl just as quickly as the corners could turn-up didn’t help matters… nor did the fact that she spoke negatively about others within the organization, as long as they were not in earshot.

I had only been in my new role for about six weeks, and we were three weeks away from moving into a new office, the seating chart had been distributed to the team. There were seven of us, with a double-sided row of three cubicles for six. The most senior colleague was slated for a cube in a separate area in order to have the most autonomy to focus on his sales goals. Still ramping up, I was happy to know I’d be close to the team so I could hear conversations that would help me continue to learn. I also looked forward to engaging from a relationship standpoint.

In that specific moment, my new manager lost all credibility with me.

One morning, I received a meeting invitation from my manager. I had no idea what the meeting was about and didn’t really give it much thought. Well… perhaps I should have. She scheduled the meeting to share a change to the seating arrangements at our new office. As of immediately, I would now be the one seated separately from the team. The new information hit my 13-year-old-didn’t-get-invite–to-the-party insecurities like a full-on dagger. I asked why and immediately sensed—at the core of my being—that her stammering, circuitous response was completely fabricated. In that specific moment, my new manager lost all credibility with me. That day, coupled with a series of similar events, showed me who she really was. I was shattered; all hope for this job was gone. I later learned my instincts were right!  She had not told me the truth.  One of the team members said something about me to her, and she was too afraid to speak with me directly or call a meeting to get clarification.

The more her behavior revealed who she really was, the more anxiety I felt.

From that day on, I became increasingly disengaged, feeling anxiety at work on a daily basis. I just couldn’t shake it. Every time I met with her, I felt fear in the pit of my stomach, my mouth would dry up, and I frequently stammered. I couldn’t believe it. I had been someone who fearlessly traveled around the country to meet with big-time executives, and yet I couldn’t talk myself out of the fear I felt at work. Every morning, I’d give myself a pep talk or listen to a Ted Talk, but I just couldn’t shake the internal buzz of stress. It would stick with me all day, Monday through Friday. The more her behavior revealed who she really was, the more anxiety I felt. I just wanted to run. My ability to perform was greatly affected, along with my entire life!

Suffice it to say, I didn’t stay long. Today, I recall this manager as “The Boss Who Stole My Job.” Like many leaders, she was out of alignment with who she claimed to be during the interview process, and—because of this unalignment—she created a negative, disparate, ambiguous work environment where people operated under duress and fear. The irony is, it’s likely she felt the exact same way but didn’t know how to be any different. Unfortunately, I later came to realize the entire organization turned a blind eye due to valuing revenue over people. They churned and burned through the people, but it didn’t matter as long as the numbers were hit.

So there’s the deal. This manager had no clue about her own behavior, nor the effect it had on her direct reports. I don’t think she acted that way on purpose. Her behavior was a result of her background and her environment…maybe even her childhood! It all somehow resulted in the practice of fear and avoidance, an inability to face potential conflict, and certainly a lack of self-awareness.

We all bring our humanness to work with us. But, without self-awareness, we are basically clueless.

The good news? Self-awareness is trainable, and more and more companies are investing in programs like mindfulness—a practical approach to self-awareness—to help their people learn and cultivate these skills so they can become better leaders.

Why does it matter?

From a personal standpoint, as my friend, Jeff Ikler shared on a recent podcast, “When there is a disconnect between how we are being and our values: our authentic self…we are standing against our true self.  We suffer.

I will add, from first-hand experience, the people we lead suffer too.

Are you stealing your employee’s employment?

As much as 37 percent of employee engagement can be attributed to the boss’s leadership behavior. Disengaged employees are less productive and more likely to leave. Think about the financial impact of an unproductive employee and employee turnover, not to mention the impact on morale.

Isn’t it worth it to model and cultivate a culture of mindfully self-aware leaders who exemplify those great leadership qualities? This is more than talk. More than the core values you put on posters and in recruiting pitches! Leaders that inspire, teach, challenge, build trust to increase engagement and wellbeing lead to greater workplace fulfillment and better business outcomes!

No matter your title or role in an organization, we are ALL are responsible for what we bring to the party! When you are in a position of leadership. NEVER overlook the impact you have!

While leadership skills can be learned from books, changing behavior requires the willingness to get uncomfortable, to be honest, and vulnerable, and to practice mindfulness. You know, mindfulness! A practical and accessible approach to self-awareness that allows us to see the intricacies of our habituated patterns and witness our own selves in the moment. Purposeful change can only happen when we know what needs to be changed and with mindfulness, we can see precisely how we can change a specific pattern.

As crazy as it may sound, I’m thankful for that awful manager. Without her, I wouldn’t be what I am doing today!

Through the practice of mindfulness, I now have compassion for her, as well as a commitment to invite leaders to the practice of mindfulness.


Shelley Brown
Shelley Brown
I’m Shelley Brown, A "Type A" Meditator. I spent 25 years in corporate sales, climbing the ladder and making great money, all while stress slowly consumed me. Then, after a particularly difficult time, I decided it was enough. So I learned how to address my stress. Then, I became better at my job AND my life. Today I teach sales leaders and their teams how to mitigate stress so they can be human beings at work and win more deals. And, BONUS! I help teams cultivate a sales culture that drives continual success. I’m not your typical corporate mindfulness trainer. In fact, I’m probably a lot like you.

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  1. It’s funny what money does to relationships, Shelley. Under other circumstances, we’d be less likely to give people like that boss the power. But we compromise ourselves and our power in exchange for the money … until the pain of staying exceeds our fear of leaving and/or our need for the money.

    There’s also a valuable lesson in balance in your story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • Mark, thanks so much for your comment. Unfortunately, some of us come from a lifetime of compromise in all of our circumstances, work and otherwise, especially when we believe our own fears to be the truth. Thankfully, I was a super slow learner because now I have loads of stories to tell 🙂 and I truly appreciate that this one resonated with you.

  2. I’m with Ken Vincent on this one. I, too, had the good fortune to work with the “bad manager” you describe. It was hell in the moment, but perhaps one of the most valuable experiences in the whole of my professional career. I often joke that I should send him a “thank you” note. These experiences teach us valuable lessons about ourselves. My “bad boss’s” lessons are none of my business.

    As Jeff Ikler says so eloquently, “…I wonder. Could she be living in a self-protected bubble where all in her world seems right to her? Or could she be living in a world of self-inflicted pain, unable to move and lead past her own insecurities? We, of course, don’t know for sure.”

    Like you, Shelley, I moved on and took that valuable lesson with me. Thank you for sharing this one!

    • OMG! Melissa, I love the idea of sending thank you notes! I truly agree these experiences do teach the most valuable lessons. Funny enough, I received an email from this “Bad Boss” shortly after writing this article. Someone from my former company read it and must have been talking about it. In her email to me she continued to deflect and blame and even wrote something to the effect that if I am going to write something, I should probably check with the other person to hear their side. I wanted to say, “Why don’t you write your own story”. It was so weird because I’ve had zero contact with her for a couple of years. Must have touched a nerve. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment!

    • Too bad, that person didn’t take a little personal lesson from the experience. I feel sorry for her new “underlings.”

  3. Excellent article and story, Shelley. No doubt, also a good learning experience. Isn’t it funny how even a stressful situation can have a silver lining? Maybe we don’t realize it at the time, but eventually, the dots connect. Now look at you leading the charge on the importance of mindfulness; not only at work but also in life. It is evident how passionate you are about this topic and that you have used your varied experiences to help pave the way — rising strong indeed!

    Your story reminds me of some of my experiences. There were times that the toxicity could have kept me down, and perhaps it did. But it made me stronger and better able to navigate my way out. It also taught me how NOT to be or act, and even though there were hard lessons, they are ones that I carry with me.

    Thank you for sharing this, Shelley. Wishing you all the best today and every day!

  4. This is great timing, Shelley, it’s a perfectly complementary post to Heather Younger’s video post on LinkedIn and Facebook about managers starting with self-awareness, understanding how their behavior is impacting the people around then, and then making a choice to seek help and find resources to change.

    Like Ken Vincent and you, I consider those bad bosses an integral part of what makes me good at what I do now. I’m honestly grateful for those experiences, and like you, can look back with compassion for that person who caused so much damage. None of us is “self-made”, even the worst of our experiences with other humans can contribute beautifully to our growth and success.

  5. Congratulations Shelley for being able to rise above, and feel thankfulness for the experience and compassion for that boss. I went through something like that myself that I call “the longest 18 months of my life.” So painful. My supervisor said about the project manager who was making my life miserable that “It’ll be a learning experience.” Well, I did learn something, and left that organization.

    You nailed it when you wrote: “When you are in a position of leadership. NEVER overlook the impact you have!” There is a lot an individual manager can do, and organizations much be vigilant to the behavior they are tolerating and promoting.

    Well done!

    • Hello from Baltimore Mary. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. I bet after those 18 long months you felt a huge sense of relief. So many people are too afraid to leave and sometimes the thing we may want to ask ourselves is “If I leave, what’s the best thing that could happen”? Grateful for your voice and what you are doing to help individuals and organizations bring more humanity to work!

  6. I find myself looking at the situation from a place of wholeness, Shelley. What I mean by that is in different situations I’ve been all those ways-the ways your manager was with you, how you responded, how your body reacted, the fear/discomfort you felt. As human beings we can exhibit all these ways of being/interacting with others. What becomes really powerful, as you’ve also described, is that awareness of who we want to be, to take 100 percent responsibility for those ineffective ways of relating to others, and using mindfulness/self-awareness aligned with our values, to respond to others from a centered place that communicates honestly, vulnerably, and courageously what content will actually make a positive difference. To do the deep inner healing inside of ourselves takes a commitment some simply may avoid for a longtime as it often involves great discomfort-looking at oneself in the mirror can be both painful and liberating. How great you created the shifts in your life that lead you on a new life trajectory!

    • Laura, thank you so much. I love your perspective from a place of wholeness and acknowledging you’ve been all those ways, “As human beings we all exhibit these ways of being/interacting with others. Being able to see it in ourselves does take the willingness and commitment to face our fears and discomfort. Introducing ourselves to ourselves is liberating, it allows us to change patterns and opens up a deep reservoir of self-compassion and love that we are then able to pour out to others.

  7. What I are from your story Shelly, is how this manager allowed you to step in your perfect alignment with your gifts and talents. What a teacher she was in your journey! I can imagine the work that you do to help others in similar situations that need a champion such as yourself. I am grateful for your consciousness and your alignment. Thank you for this powerful article.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment Maureen. Life is the best teacher and this particular person was instrumental in my finding my passion for what I am doing now. It’s such a privilege to invite others to explore their own consciousness. Many thanks.

  8. Shelley: I had the good fortune to work for two of these “really bad” managers. I say good fortune with no hesitation. Yes, the experiences were frustrating and stressful. However, I learned more from those two about how to not manage people than from all the good managers put together. As you noted, the experience is a character builder and you, nor I, would be what we became without those lessons.

    • Thanks so much for your meaningful comment. Yes, everything in life teaches us. We have a choice and we learned how not to show up better for others and in alignment with our values.

  9. This is what I’m always curious about in these type of stories: “This manager had no clue about her own behavior.” I wonder. Could she be living in a self-protected bubble where all in her world seems right to her? Or could she be living in a world of self-inflicted pain, unable to move and lead past her own insecurities? We, of course, don’t know for sure.

    I’m beginning to wonder whether “self-awareness” is always the blissfully aligned space within Daniel Goleman’s E.Q. construct that we believe it to be. Maybe it is a prison for some who act one way in the interview and then another way some time after; and who “…walk in, head down, and then immediately go to their office without eye contact,” or who isolate us from others based on hearsay. Maybe they actually know who they are in those moments. Maybe they know their behavior toward others is destructive, and their “stammering” informs us that they can’t get out from behind the bars of their mental cell.

    We, of course, don’t know for sure. And you, Shelley, did what so many others did – you left. And prospered elsewhere.

    Thanks for the shout out! Your story really made me think.

    • Wow Jeff, such a thought-provoking comment. Maybe they actually know who they are in those moments. “Maybe they know their behavior toward others is destructive, and their “stammering” informs us that they can’t get out from behind the bars of their mental cell”. This makes me think of the possibility that people validate their own “cell placement” and behave in a way that affirms they belong there. I agree, we never know. I tend to think that even if this person is aware of that behavior, she may be stuck in that pattern until she realizes there’s a choice. Jeff, you always bring such interesting perspectives to the conversation. Thank you! (Oops, It’s Shelley. Made myself anonymous by accident)