Sabotaging Boss

Is Your Boss Sabotaging Your Success? 9 Signs to Watch For 

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Is Your Boss Sabotaging Your Success? 9 Signs to Watch For 

July 1, 2024

Sabotaging Boss

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Have you ever walked into your office with confidence, only to leave feeling a lump of dread in the pit of your stomach? Is your boss sabotaging you, making you feel deflated and questioning your abilities? This unsettling experience is all too familiar for many Black women in the workplace. Imagine that you’ve just delivered a project that you poured your heart into, only to receive contradictory feedback from your boss. You’ve seen them praise your coworkers for significantly less. But here they are, nitpicking every single minor detail of your project apart. This rollercoaster of emotions can leave you feeling undermined and doubting your capabilities. It just exacerbates imposter syndrome.

For Black women navigating the professional world, these challenges can be particularly pronounced. We face unique obstacles, including microaggressions and systemic biases, that can make a supportive and constructive work environment feel like a distant dream. When your boss is actively undermining your efforts, it not only hampers your career progression but also takes a toll on your mental and emotional well-being. 

That’s why recognizing these sabotaging behaviors is crucial. By identifying these red flags, you’re taking the first step toward protecting your career and mental health. It’s about taking back control and thriving in your professional life, despite the challenges you face.  This is why I’m providing you with the following 9 signs to watch out for. They can help you identify an undermining boss and empower you to chart a course forward.

1. Inconsistent Feedback

One of the most common signs that your boss might be sabotaging your success is inconsistent feedback. This isn’t just about receiving negative comments; it’s about the confusing, contradictory nature of the feedback that leaves you feeling off-balance.

Receiving feedback is a normal part of any job, but when it becomes a tool for undermining, it often looks like this:

  • Lack of Constructive Criticism: Your boss might point out mistakes without offering any guidance on how to improve. This leaves you in a constant state of uncertainty, unsure of how to meet their expectations.
  • Frequent Changes in Performance Expectations: One day, your boss praises your initiative, and the next, they criticize you for not following directions. This inconsistency can make it feel like you’re walking on eggshells, never quite sure where you stand.

Inconsistent feedback can severely affect your confidence and job performance. When you’re constantly second-guessing yourself, it’s challenging to feel secure in your role or to showcase your true potential. Over time, this can lead to chronic stress and a decrease in job satisfaction, pushing you further into the grip of imposter syndrome.

Mini Case Study

Consider the story of Angela*, a mid-career professional who frequently received mixed signals from her boss. One week, Angela’s boss commended her for taking initiative on a new project, boosting her confidence and making her feel valued. However, just days later, the same boss reprimanded her for not seeking approval before starting the project. This left Angela confused and hesitant to take any further steps without explicit instructions, stifling her creativity and growth.

Angela’s experience isn’t unique. Many professional women find themselves in similar situations where inconsistent feedback becomes a barrier to their success. Recognizing this behavior is the first step in addressing it and reclaiming your professional confidence.

2. Micromanagement: A Sign Your Boss Is Sabotaging You

Imagine starting your day with a clear plan and high energy, only to have your boss derail your momentum with constant check-ins and detailed instructions. Micromanagement can feel like you’re a puppet on strings, with your boss controlling every move. This excessive scrutiny not only undermines your autonomy but also stifles your ability to demonstrate leadership and initiative.

When a boss engages in micromanagement, they often lack trust in their employees’ abilities, which can lead to incessant oversight and look like 

  • every task you undertake is met with an immediate barrage of emails or messages from your boss
  • asking for additional updates or suggesting minute adjustments 

This not only interrupts your workflow but also sends a clear message that your judgment and capabilities are not trusted.

The impact of micromanagement is far-reaching. It can erode your confidence and make you hesitant to take the initiative. When you’re not allowed to make decisions or contribute creatively, you become less invested in your work. Over time, this can lead to disengagement and a decline in job satisfaction.

Mini Case Study

Consider the story of Jasmine*, a senior analyst at a tech firm. Despite her extensive experience and proven track record, Jasmine’s boss would not let her make any decisions without approval. This constant oversight made Jasmine feel like a novice rather than a seasoned professional. The lack of trust was demoralizing and made her second-guess her every move. Eventually, Jasmine found herself dreading work, her enthusiasm drained by her boss’s micromanagement.

3. Is Your Boss Sabotaging You by Taking Credit for Your Work?

A particularly insidious way a boss can sabotage your career is by taking credit for your achievements. You’ve put in the late nights, the strategic thinking, and the hard work, only to have your boss present your ideas as their own. This not only robs you of the recognition you deserve but also deprives you of opportunities for advancement and reward.

When your boss claims your achievements, they’re 

  • effectively erasing your contributions 
  • diminishing your professional reputation 

This can be especially frustrating and demoralizing, as you watch others receive praise and promotions that rightfully belong to you. It creates a toxic environment where you feel undervalued and invisible.

Mini Case Study

Take, for instance, the case of Karen*, a project manager who developed a successful new workflow system that significantly improved her team’s productivity. Her boss, however, presented the system to upper management as his own idea. Karen was excluded from the accolades and rewards that followed, leaving her feeling unappreciated and disheartened. The blatant theft of her work not only affected her morale but also hindered her career progression.

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4. Public Criticism: A Sabotaging Boss Tactic

Public criticism is a blatant form of sabotage that can severely undermine your authority and confidence. Imagine being in a team meeting, sharing your ideas, only to have your boss cut you down with harsh, public criticism. This not only embarrasses you but also erodes your credibility with your peers.

Receiving negative feedback in a public setting can be incredibly damaging. It’s one thing to have a private conversation about areas for improvement, but when criticism is delivered in front of colleagues 

  • it feels like an attack on your character rather than a constructive critique of your work 
  • lead to feelings of humiliation and isolation
  • diminishes your value in front of leadership 

Mini Case Study

Here’s what happened to Leah*, a marketing director who experienced public criticism from her boss during a major presentation. Instead of offering constructive feedback in private, her boss chose to highlight her mistakes in front of the entire team. Leah was left feeling exposed and belittled, her authority undermined in the eyes of her colleagues. The emotional toll of such an experience can be profound, leading to anxiety and a reluctance to speak up or take risks in the future.

Public criticism doesn’t just affect the individual; it impacts the entire team dynamic. It creates an environment of fear and uncertainty, where employees are hesitant to share ideas or take initiative. Over time, this can stifle innovation and reduce overall team morale.

By recognizing these signs and understanding their impact, you can take steps to protect yourself and your career from a sabotaging boss. It’s crucial to address these behaviors head-on and seek support, whether through HR, a mentor, or a professional career coach, to navigate these challenging situations effectively.


5. Exclusion from Opportunities: A Tactic of a Sabotaging Boss

Have you ever found out about an important meeting only after it happened, or learned that a coveted project was assigned to someone else without you even being considered? This deliberate exclusion from key projects or development opportunities is a subtle yet powerful way a sabotaging boss can stunt your career growth and limit your visibility within the organization.

When you’re not invited to important meetings, you

  • miss out on critical information 
  • lose the chance to voice your ideas 

It’s like being locked out of the room where it happens, relegated to the sidelines while others make decisions and receive recognition. This exclusion not only hinders your ability to contribute effectively but also diminishes your presence in the eyes of upper management.

6. Lack of Support: Another Strategy of an Undermining Boss

Imagine asking for the tools and resources you need to succeed, only to be met with silence or outright denial. A lack of support from your boss can be incredibly demoralizing, creating a hostile work environment where success feels impossible. This passive-aggressive form of sabotage involves ignoring requests for help and failing to advocate for you, leaving you to struggle without the necessary backing.

Without adequate support, achieving success becomes a steep uphill battle. When your boss ignores your requests for assistance, whether it’s for additional resources or guidance on a project, it 

  • sends a clear message that your success is not a priority 
  • creates an environment of neglect that can lead to project failures, not due to your lack of effort or skill, but because of the intentional lack of support.

Mini Case Study

Carla*, a project manager experienced this. She was assigned a complex project that required collaboration across multiple departments. Despite repeatedly asking for additional resources and support, her boss never provided the help she needed. The project ultimately failed, not because of Carla’s lack of effort, but because she was set up to fail without the necessary support. This not only impacted Carla’s confidence but also her reputation within the company.

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Image by Studioroman

7. Unrealistic Expectations: A Classic Move by a Sabotaging Boss

Being given tasks with impossible deadlines or an unmanageable workload can be likened to being handed a ticking time bomb. Unrealistic expectations are a classic tactic used by sabotaging bosses to set you up for failure. This strategy involves overloading you with work and setting goals that are unattainable, fostering stress and feelings of inadequacy.

When a boss assigns you an unachievable task, it’s more than just a challenge it

  • is a deliberate move to undermine your confidence and performance 
  • creates a constant state of stress and anxiety 
  • makes you feel like you’re always one step behind 

Over time, this can lead to burnout and a significant decline in your mental and physical health.

Mini Case Study

Consider the case of Denise*, a marketing director who was constantly given tight deadlines and an overwhelming number of tasks. Her boss seemed to delight in piling on more work just as she was about to complete her current projects. The stress from these unrealistic expectations became unbearable, leading Denise to question her own abilities and ultimately causing her to miss deadlines and make mistakes. This not only affected her performance but also her self-esteem, making her feel inadequate despite her many achievements.

By recognizing these tactics of exclusion, lack of support, and unrealistic expectations, you can start to identify if your boss is sabotaging your success. Understanding these behaviors is the first step in addressing them and reclaiming your power and confidence in the workplace. Whether it’s seeking support from HR, finding a mentor, or working with a career coach, taking action is crucial to overcoming these challenges and achieving your professional goals.

8. Isolation: A Tactic of a Sabotaging Boss

Imagine walking into the office and realizing you’re the last to know about a critical meeting or project change. Isolation is a subtle yet powerful weapon in a sabotaging boss’s arsenal. By withholding crucial information and encouraging others to exclude you, they create an environment where you’re constantly out of the loop, struggling to catch up.

Being left out of essential communications can severely impact your ability to perform effectively. It’s akin to trying to complete a puzzle without all the pieces. When vital information is deliberately kept from you 

  • it not only hampers your productivity 
  • erodes your sense of belonging within the team 

This form of isolation can lead to feelings of inadequacy and frustration, making it hard to maintain confidence in your role.

Mini Case Study

Consider the experience of Michelle*, a senior project coordinator who was consistently left out of critical email chains and meetings. Her boss would often “forget” to include her in key discussions, leaving her scrambling to understand decisions that had already been made. This exclusion wasn’t accidental; it was a calculated move to undermine her authority and effectiveness. Over time, Michelle felt increasingly isolated and undervalued, her contributions overlooked simply because she wasn’t given the chance to participate fully.

Also watch my Youtube video: When Your Boss Is Sabotaging You at Work

9. Personal Attacks: A Clear Sign of a Sabotaging Boss

Personal attacks are one of the most overt and harmful strategies a sabotaging boss can employ. Imagine receiving comments about your appearance, race, or personal life in a professional setting. These remarks go beyond constructive criticism; they are meant to belittle and demean, creating a hostile work environment.

Such attacks can deeply affect your mental health and professional identity. When a boss makes discriminatory remarks it 

  • undermines your confidence 
  • violates your sense of dignity and respect. 

This type of behavior creates a toxic atmosphere where you feel constantly under siege, impacting your ability to perform and thrive at work.

Mini Case Study

Consider the case of Tara*, an accomplished attorney who faced derogatory comments from her boss about her cultural background. These remarks weren’t just casual slips but were targeted and persistent, designed to make her feel inferior and out of place. This hostile environment took a toll on Tara’s mental health, causing her immense stress and anxiety. It also made her question her place in the organization and her value as a professional.

By recognizing these tactics of isolation and personal attacks, you can better understand if your boss is sabotaging your success. It’s essential to address these behaviors directly, whether by documenting incidents and reporting them to HR or seeking support from a mentor or career coach. Taking proactive steps to protect your mental health and professional integrity is crucial in overcoming these challenges and ensuring your career progression.

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Navigating the Storms of a Sabotaging Boss

Picture your career as a majestic ship sailing towards distant horizons of success. Along the journey, you may encounter hidden dangers, much like icebergs beneath the surface, threatening to throw you off course. One of these hidden dangers is a sabotaging boss, whose actions can undermine your efforts and erode your confidence. Recognizing and addressing these behaviors is crucial to steering your career ship towards calmer, more prosperous waters.

Recap: The 9 Signs to Watch For

Let’s revisit the nine signs that your boss may be sabotaging your success:

  1. Inconsistent Feedback: Receiving contradictory or confusing feedback that leaves you unsure of your performance.
  2. Micromanagement: Excessive control and scrutiny that stifles your autonomy and initiative.
  3. Taking Credit for Your Work: Your boss claiming your achievements as their own, depriving you of recognition.
  4. Public Criticism: Being criticized in front of others, which undermines your authority and confidence.
  5. Exclusion from Opportunities: Being denied access to key projects or important meetings, limiting your growth and visibility.
  6. Lack of Support: Not receiving the necessary resources or advocacy from your boss, making success difficult to achieve.
  7. Unrealistic Expectations: Facing impossible deadlines or workloads designed to set you up for failure.
  8. Isolation: Being isolated from colleagues and crucial information, impacting your effectiveness and sense of inclusion.
  9. Personal Attacks: Enduring discriminatory or personal remarks that create a hostile work environment.

As you reflect on these signs, consider your own work environment. Do any of these behaviors sound familiar? It’s essential to recognize that you are not alone, and there are steps you can take to address these issues. Document instances of sabotage.  Seek support from mentors. Invest in a career coach. And don’t hesitate to set boundaries to protect your well-being.

Picture your garden equipped with a team of dedicated gardeners—these supporters are your allies, helping you tend to your plants and keep the weeds at bay. They can provide the guidance and encouragement needed to ensure your garden continues to thrive, free from the detrimental effects of those who may try to undermine your success.

Embrace Resilience and Advocate for Yourself

Empower yourself with resilience. Much like a gardener who remains diligent through harsh weather and pests, you have the strength to overcome these challenges and see your garden flourish. Advocating for yourself is not just about addressing the immediate sabotaging behaviors; it’s about reclaiming your power and ensuring your career garden continues to bloom.

Think of resilience as the sunlight and water that nourish your garden. By recognizing the signs of a sabotaging boss and taking proactive steps, you ensure that your career garden remains vibrant and healthy. You have the power to navigate these challenges, achieve your goals, and find the work-life balance that fosters both personal and professional fulfillment.

In the face of adversity, remember that you are the master gardener of your career. Tend to your plants with care, stay vigilant against the weeds, and cultivate with confidence. Your journey towards success and fulfillment is within reach, and by advocating for yourself, you can nurture a career that is rich with opportunities and achievements.

If you found this blog informative, buy me a cup of coffee.

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Twanna Carter, PhD, PCC, Career Coach. Photo by Renee Wilhite

I’m an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) and career coach for Twanna Carter Professional & Personal Coaching, LLC. I failed my first career transition from the military so badly, it took me the next 10+ years to build my confidence and recover. I know what it feels like to struggle with imposter syndrome and uncertainty about my worth in the workplace. It’s why I am dedicated to empowering Black women. Helping them navigate change and uncertainty by providing them with the tools and strategies they need to be successful. Schedule a free 30-Minute Career Solution Call today.

Watch my Youtube video, 5 Tips to Handle a Boss Who Is Secretly Undermining You.

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Welcome to my blog! As a passionate reader and travel enthusiast, I've spent years soaking up stories from diverse cultures and landscapes. 
I am committed to creating an empowering space where Black women can celebrate their achievements, learn from their challenges, and find inspiration for their journey.
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