Monday, February 21, 2022

Can You Really Manage Your Boss?

Over the last 13 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege to meet a variety of amazing marketing, leadership, and customer experience experts. One of these experts is Mary Abbajay from Washington, D.C. We recently discussed managers, leadership, and the overall employee experience, and highlights follow below Mary’s bio.

Mary Abbajay, author of the award-winning, best-selling book, Managing Up: How to Move Up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss, is the president of Careerstone Group, LLC, a full service organizational and leadership development consultancy that delivers leading-edge talent and organizational development solutions to business and government. Mary is a frequent expert contributor for television, radio, and print publications where she provides practical leadership and career advice. In addition to her role as a contributor, her work and advice have appeared in the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and many more. Mary is the cohost of the Cubicle Confidential podcast ( where she provides weekly career and leadership advice. Connect and follow on Twitter and Instagram @maryabbajay, on LinkedIn at,and on her websites at and

Question: You wrote an article for Harvard Business Review about gaslighting. Can you explain what this is and why it is so harmful in the workplace, as well as what employees can do if they experience this type of behavior from their leaders?
MARY ABBAJAY: Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. They lie, manipulate, demean, and withhold information--and then point the finger at you--making you think that you are the problem. In short, they distort reality and truth and insist that you are the one who is out of touch with reality. This toxic behavior undermines one’s self-esteem, confidence, and sense of reality. Gaslighting is particularly nefarious as this behavior is often subtle and flies under the radar. Gaslighters are adept at operating in subtle, sneaky, and hard-to-prove ways. It’s often your word against theirs, which makes going to other leaders or HR difficult.

If you feel you are being gaslit, here are seven strategies to consider:

(1) Create a record. Take time to document your interactions and conversations. Try to make sure others are present when verbally conversing with the gaslighter--and follow up any action items in an email. Copy others on emails when appropriate. Having documentation will make it harder for your boss to question your sanity and will help you make your case should you decide to escalate the situation to other leaders or HR.

(2) Limit direct contact. Do what you can to minimize interacting with this person. The more you engage, the more opportunity they have to manipulate you. Actively build relationships with other leaders and senior colleagues in your organization who can champion your skills.

(3) Surround yourself with support. Protecting your mental and psychological health is critical. Build a strong support network of friends and colleagues who uplift and encourage you. Consider connecting
with a coach, therapist, or other trained professional to help you keep you strong.

(4) Confront with caution. Gaslighters are likely to use any confrontation to further punish you. Being
backed into a corner by having their lies exposed may cause them to lash out. Tread lightly when
confronting their misdeeds.

(5) Seek new opportunities within your organization. Actively explore other positions in your company. Meet with colleagues and managers in other departments where your skills may translate and make a case for your transition.

(6) Escalate with extreme caution. As master manipulators, gaslighters are adept at covering their tracks so be clear about to whom and how you will escalate. Research your organization’s reputation in
addressing similar employee concerns. Organizations with poor records of supporting employee
concerns don’t bode well and in fact may leave you more exposed to further abuse. If you do escalate,
have your facts in order and be clear about what you want to achieve from that conversation and who is
the best person to help you.

(7) Get out. Sometimes quitting is the best option. Find a new job and company. Your gaslighting boss is not going to change. Nobody should have to work for a toxic boss.

TWEET THIS: Actively build relationships with other leaders and senior colleagues in your org who can champion your skills. –@MaryAbbajay #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

Question: On your website, you offer a "Managing Up Survey: Impact of Your Boss in the Workplace." If someone takes the survey, what do you hope is the key take-away?
MARY ABBAJAY: One of the first things one must do to manage up is to take a clear-eyed view of the situation. Take time to really understand who your boss is and who you are. There is a big difference between a difficult boss and a toxic boss. Difficult bosses are stressful, but toxic bosses are dangerous. Learning how to navigate a difficult boss can be a career booster, suffering under the reign of a toxic boss can be a career killer.

Question: Years ago, I had a boss who told me that I needed to lower my expectations regarding the quality of work by employees who reported to me. How would you have handled this situation?
MARY ABBAJAY: This type of feedback is a great opportunity to self-examine one’s leadership style. I would have looked at my management style, my expectations of my team, and their readiness to deliver on those expectations. Was I being too hard on them? Was I asking for a level of quality that was in alignment with organizational priorities? Have I clearly articulated the level of quality needed? And finally, were they ready, willing, and able to meet my expectations? If not, then I would have asked myself, “How could I help develop them?” I would have looked for ways that I could support, teach, and coach my team into higher performance.  

Question: What three leadership books do you recommend all leaders read, and why?

MARY ABBAJAY: Here are my three:

One of my favorite books is The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander. It’s an oldie but goodie and explores the connection between creativity and leadership.

I’m also a big fan of Beverly Kaye’s Love ‘em or Lose ‘em. She gives practical tools and techniques to get the best out of people in any situation.

And finally, I’m going to recommend my book, Managing Up: How to Succeed with Any Type of Boss because leaders need to heighten their awareness about what kind of boss they are and the impact of their leadership style on their teams. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how many leaders and managers have written me to say this book has helped them more accurately articulate their preferences, priorities, and pet peeves with their teams to build more productive and positive relationships.

Question: What leaders inspire you, from business or history, and why?
MARY ABBAJAY: Currently, I really inspired by 31 million small business leaders who have courageously met the challenges of the Covid pandemic. Small business leaders don’t get enough attention in the world even though the majority of Americans work for a small business. It’s time that we start to acknowledge and appreciate their contribution to our economies and communities. Nobody works harder – with fewer resources than a small business owner and leader.

Question: One of my favorite leadership quotes is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer on Twitter): "Leadership doesn't require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to block and tackle for others." What does this quote mean to you?
MARY ABBAJAY: This quote is a great reminder that one of the most important things a leader does is inspire, grow, and serve others. Leaders lead people, not things.

TWEET THIS: The most important things a leader does is inspire, grow, and serve others. –@MaryAbbajay #Leadership #EmployeeExperience #DebbieLaskeysBlog

My thanks to Mary for sharing her inspiring leadership insights and for appearing here on my Blog.

To read more insights by Mary about her excellent book, check out this interview:

Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.

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