When Your Boss Throws You Under the Bus

On Tuesday, I wrote about How Smart Managers Throw Employees Under the Bus. The title surprised many of my friends and colleagues. They thought I was actually recommending that leaders should be heartless. Because throwing someone under the bus leaves an impact. And while sometimes that might feel so right, it never helps in the long run.

Rather than throwing someone under the bus, it’s always best to lay down with them and let it roll over both of you.

I explained that when things go awry at work, it’s best to explain what has gone wrong, document what happened, and identify productive next steps. This article struck a nerve; more than 400,000 people read it and 400 commented.

But here’s the problem: some leaders are happy to push employees down — especially if their subordinate’s mistakes make them look bad to their own boss. And sometimes, fearful managers worry that something will go wrong before it actually does. When they do, they preemptively strike out and seek a victim.

I know, because many people told me so. Here are two representative comments:

Bottom line is that leaders are ultimately responsible. A leader who throws any team member under the bus to save own skin is selfish, weak, unprofessional and should not be a leader.

Self centered, narcissistic managers would do that to make themselves look good at the expense of others…Managers need to take one with the team when this sort of event occurs.

I thought about that going in, but the following comment really jumped out at me. It made think deeply about what should happen when a boss really does throw an employee down:

How to recover from being thrown under the bus is critical

Right.

So, what do you do when your boss has thrown you under the bus — and left you down there alone? Here is how to recover with grace:

Do not squirm
Sometimes, it is too late to defend yourself once you realize that your boss has blamed you. In cases like this, being defensive will worsen the situation. Instead, take a moment to understand what happened and collect your thoughts. This will limit the damage when the boss rolls over you and help you get back up and get moving again.

Document truth
Do a retrospective on what went wrong and why. Factually explain all actions that took place and what happened as a result. Explain how the situaion can be resolved, and how to avoid similiar problems in the future. Make sure to do this in writing — you will want and need a record of what you did to help solve the situation.

Share your story
Once you have written down what happened, share it with your boss, colleagues, and even your boss’ boss. They might have already heard what went down, but this does not mean that they heard the whole truth. Proactively share your experience with them — but whatever you do, do not pass blame. Doing so will help you be heard for the right reasons.

Bosses can be cruel and eager to throw blame. But it never helps to try to outplay them at the blame game.

No matter who you are, you will get steamrolled by a bus or two in your career. It’s an inevitable part of working with groups of people.

It is not unusual, nor is it a career limiting event. When it happens, dust yourself off and get back up. Most importantly, remember how it felt. That way, the next time that bus passes near you, you won’t be tempted to throw others underneath.

How have you survived the bus?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product roadmap software — and the author of Lovability. His two previous startups were acquired by well-known public companies. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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