A reader writes:
I have a great boss who really likes me and wants to see me promoted. I have only worked with her for about 5 months. Some restructuring happened within the company recently, and she was moved to a different department. When she heard they were bringing in a new manager, she met with him and lied about some of the things I’ve done. I guess she wanted me to sound more impressive so that he would consider me for a position that had opened up.
I appreciate that she wants me to move up in the world, but I’m really uncomfortable with the way she’s going about it! I want this promotion, but now I feel like I either have to go along with what she’s fabricated or I need to mention that I did not do those things and expose her as someone who lied about my credentials. I really enjoy my former boss and don’t want to ruin my relationship with her, especially since I still do some things for her department. What can I do?
What. The. Hell.
Who does this?!
She might think she’s helping you, but she’s actually hurting you. First, she’s put you in an incredibly awkward position. Second, she should want you to end up in a position that you got on your own merits, without deception. Third, by lying about what you’ve done, she’s risking pushing you into a position that you might not be the right fit for — and could end up struggling (or worse) in.
Tell her to cut it out. You can thank her for advocating for you, but tell her that you need to ensure that she’s not cheerleading you to the point of misrepresenting things. If you’re uncomfortable saying this point-blank, you could ease into it by saying, “Bob sounds like he thinks I did X, Y, and Z while I was working for you. I’m trying to figure out why he thinks that — do you have any insight?” If she then tells you that she said those things, you can look concerned and tell her that you appreciate her support but that she’s putting you in a tough situation and that you absolutely don’t want to misrepresent yourself (or to have her do it on your behalf).
If this doesn’t work, or if realistically you’re not going to be able to bring yourself to have this conversation, then we have to turn to how you handle it with the new manager. You have two options there:
1. You can proactively tell him what’s going on. Say something like, “I want to mention something I feel a little awkward about. It sounds like Jane has told you that I did X, Y, and Z in the past — and that’s actually not quite the case. I think she really wants to champion my work, which I appreciate, but I want to make sure that you have the right information.”
2. Or, if you decide not to deal with it proactively like that, you can simply not play along. In other words, if the new manager asks you about one of these things that you supposedly did, you can handle it exactly like you normally would if you didn’t know the back-story with your old boss: by just letting him know that it’s not right and correcting his information. For example:
New boss: “I heard you did a fantastic job leading the Smith account last quarter.”
You: “I’d love to take the credit, but I actually didn’t work on the Smith account — Jane handled that. I led the Beneke account and assisted on the Pinkman and Schrader accounts.”
That’s presumably what you’d say in that conversation if you didn’t know any of the back-story, and that’s how you could handle it now.
Whether you choose #1 or #2 depends on how significant and widespread her lies were. If it was just a couple and they were pretty small, you might go with #2. But otherwise, you risk looking in some way complicit if you don’t do #1 and the truth ends up coming out.
And by the way … your old boss is not a “great boss.” Great bosses don’t do this to you.