Help me confront my bullying boss


My CEO that makes up policies as she goes. Where policies are in place she does not adhere to them, so needless to say she ruffles a lot of feathers.

I have seen her humilate, belittle, bully and use profanity when addressing her staff. She micro manages and discriminately gives performance increases, does systemic hiring - the list goes on. She alienates and eludes minority staff, so she has no diversity in her corporate office.

The turnover rate is astronomical, and usually links back to her. If you are not liked by her, your life is made a living hell.

This is a non-profit company governed by a board, whom she reports too. They are highly aware of what is going on, yet they give her an outstanding performance review and increase. It is as though she is being rewarded for the way she treats her staff.

This is a fantastic company with a valuable mission, but the leadership leaves a lot to be desired. The employee morale is so brow beaten, that no one is happy, smiles, just working under the pretense of intimidation and the need for a paycheck. HR has no real roll in the company's chain of command matrix system. The buck stops at the top, and if you file a grievance, your pink slip is on the way.

I have never seen an Executive staff turnover rate like it is here.

So please, what advise do you have? Everyone here quits to end their misery, but I am a glutton for punishment and refuse to quit.

Anita, USA

Patricia Soldati's Answer:

What you describe is worse than dismal leadership - it's the classic schoolyard bully. And worse yet, a Board that doesn't seem to have the courage or will to do anything about it.

Left unchecked, it's a formula for continued frustration and turnover, and, I sense, a situation that will only be resolved with courageous confrontation by several employees with one or more Board members.

Understand that any action to change this situation involves risk - of revenge, demotion or even firing. If your moral compass is ready to accept this risk, the best approach may be to leverage a "safety in numbers" strategy.

Can you gather several other determined colleagues, and together approach an HR and/or Board member - specifics (such as turnover rates, costs of hiring and training, potential law suits, sabotage of the vision of the organization) in hand? Perhaps even threaten to leave en masse?

Short of strong, massive action, you'll get plenty of opportunity to be a "glutton for punishment". Not surprisingly, others have taken the path of least resistance. Yet until there is a stronger, more forceful presence, the playground bully will continue to swagger and browbeat at will.

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About our Expert

Patricia Soldati
Patricia Soldati

Patricia Soldati is a former President & COO of a national finance organization who re-invented her working life in 1998. As a career fulfillment specialist, she helps corporate professionals enhance their working lives Ė both within the organization Ė and by leaving it behind.

Older Comments

I admire your guts in trying to deal with this. I was in a similar situation when a great boss was replaced by the bitch from hell. Within six months the entire team had left - more than 30 people. She got found out in the end, but too late.

Helena Singapore

Since the governing board may be supporting the CEO, two possibilities could be looked at :

1. The board members might not be aware of the extent of damage she is creating. I've known lots of people who secretly believe a bit of the whip is a good thing to boost productivity. And they might even have a picture of mild force being exerted on a bunch of laggardly employees.

You could mobilise colleagues to make a presentation of the problems to the board. In the presence of the CEO, definitely. The board members (and, who knows ? even the CEO) might get a bit enlightened.

It's amazing how often some bosses are dead sure they are fair but firm, when they actually are bullies.

2. The other possibility is that the board's objectives/mision for the company, and what you think are the company's objectives/mission, are grossly different. Sadly, this does happen with a lot of non-profit companies. In which case, quitting would be a good option.

Shyamal Gupta Mumbai, India

It sounds like you are dealing with a corporate psychopath. Australian author John Clarke has written an excellent book 'Working with Monsters' describing this creature (google for a review - the comment box will not allow me to paste a hyperlink address). Sadly Clarke's conclusion is that one can rarely win against such a person and walking away is often the best and only answer for an individual (although he has a wonderful case study of a company board dealing with such a manager who had the capacity and willpower to set him up for a failure of his own making as a way of getting rid of him). Maybe leave a copy of the book as a farewell present for the Board?

Embi Australia

My guess is there is more going on then what has been written. By now a lawsuit should have been filed by someone, and that would certainly get the Board's attention.

Mark Boston

Patricial is right that one of the keys to influencing this situation is to gather the facts about staff turnover etc and to use these as leverage with those in power. However, in the current climate that you describe, gathering colleagues who are brave enough to support you is going to be especially tough, given that everyone wants to keep their heads down. I would suggest that firstly you have to decide if you care enough and are brave enough to do something about this situation? Rule one; when dealing with the politics decide if the battle is really worth fighting? If yes, then, rather than trying to gain support at your own staff level, (which may well disappear when the going gets tough and leave you politically exposed) look higher up, who do you know and trust that can have influence and who would support you? Chosing powerful allies who you trust and share agreement with is the best place to start, but choose them carefully.

Mike Phipps England, UK

I was in an identical situation as Anita except the HR department enabled the CEO's behaviour. I read all of the books about workplace bullying and dealing with monsters at work. I sought out and received advise from management experts outside of the organization including a labour lawyer. I spoke to a few key employees as discreetly as possible to determine if the climate was right for a confrontation. In the economic climate, people were reluctant to give up a decent paycheck, despite the abuse. People will tolerate a lot - and when the environment is toxic, most folks simply hunker down under their desk for safety.

Ultimately, I decided to leave since it was apparent that the Board did not have the appetite to deal with the situation. Suing the organization would have been a long drawn-out process that would have fueled the insecure CEO's hideous behaviour and she would have lashed out at the friends/colleagues I left behind.

Revenge is not an option I will participate in. I chose to work there - it didn't work out as I would have liked, so it was up to me to remove myself from the situation.

I believe the following:

- organizations deserve our best - our energy and enthusiasm is priceless and if not acknowledged, pack up your bag and take it elsewhere. Good people are hard to find.

- knowing when to quit an organization is NOT allowing 'them to win'. If you have tried to be a positive influence and it is not accepted (or worse yet, has been ridiculed), and you have tried every avenue, you have done your 'due diligence.'

- the business culture of 'tough love' simply doesn't work - particularly in non-profit cultures. Any manager who uses it in that environment is an emotionally-disordered person.

- mental health issues in the workplace environment (and our public culture) continue to be ignored. It is the last cultural taboo. Any individual who thinks they alone can change it is deceiving themselves.

Alicia Canada

you can get a spycam watch and catch her in the act but the trick is to ask the work for permission to use it to show the truth about the harrasser. This is done more and more now I work in the media field and i have seen more employees using these watches and devices more than normal.


I am working in Singapore and in a very local workplace. I was advised that if one does not like what the boss is doing, one should quit. The rationale for this was that the boss had the right to behave in a bullying way and the office is his turf and if any employee does not like this, they should quit and not complain. Also, I was advised to examine myself and my inadequacies before blaming the boss. Needless to say, I was shocked at the advice given and the whole blame the victim attitude. If this is how other employees behave all the time here, there will never be justice for those who have been ill-treated.


Anita should leave the company. It is clear that the board have no idea what is going on in that company (which is predominantly what they have been hired to do), or, they just don't care, in which case, they are not bringing any value to the company. If this were a company that has shareholders, money is being squandered. Fast turnaround of staff is extremely expensive and should set alarm bells ringing with the board. The CEO should be brought to account for the huge cost of large staff turnaround and, under no circumstances, should be promoted - which just confirms that the board is below par and sends out the worng message (i.e., we'd like this company to sink). Bullies are generally very insecure people and need to publicly assert the authority that they never normally would have achieved under normal circumstances. These people got lucky and it takes very savvy boards to weed them out of the garden. Anita - it's time to go and donate your good-nature and 100% to a more deserving organisation. F. Darney

F. Darney