A reader writes:
I took employment at a nonprofit as an economic researcher about seven months ago. Overall, I love my job and what I get to do and helping people, but there is one major issue: My boss, who is the founder and head of the organization, thinks he is a mayan shaman. I am not joking.
He spends crazy amounts of money (sometimes company money) to fund his “spiritual projects” and recently has been telling me to do ludicrous projects like comparing chakra colors in different cultures and staring at a candle to find a sacred angle. Seriously. I’ve been able to handle it just fine until now. He is getting crazier by the day and I don’t know how to handle it anymore because if I tell him anything, he will say the “darkness has possessed me” and then be uncommunicative when I need information.
What can I do? Is there anything, because I don’t want to quit my job but this is getting out of hand. He sends texts to us at the middle of the night with his “visions” and when one of our employees was pregnant he would call it the “christ child” and say that one quarter of the DNA must be his. I swear this is not a fake situation or question.
Shamans have to have day jobs, I guess.
And he’s welcome to believe he’s a shaman. Who knows, maybe he is. But the problem here is that he’s letting his spiritual beliefs interfere with work and apparently misusing the organization’s resources.
But I doubt there’s a lot you can do here. This is your boss, the head of the organization, and ultimately he’s calling the shots here. If you really wanted to try to get this addressed, you’d have two options: Talk to him directly, or talk to the board of directors.
If you talk to him directly, I’d say something like this: “Percival, I respect your religious beliefs, but I’m not comfortable discussing religion at work or being given religious assignments to work on. I was hired to do economic research and our organization isn’t religious in nature. Is there a way for us to work well together without bringing religion into it?” Ideally, you’d do this with a group of coworkers who feel the same as rather than on your own; it’s harder to ignore a group of employees than one lone one — but either way, it’s a reasonable thing to say.
That said, will it work? I doubt it. This is a guy who’s telling you that darkness has possessed you and claiming some sort of parentage over a quarter of an employee’s baby. In other words, probably not open to reasoned conversation on these topics.
So that leaves you with the second option: Talk to the board. Every nonprofit is required to have a board of directors that serves as its ultimate governing body and which is responsible for ensuring that the organization is well managed and fiscally sound. The board is basically this guy’s boss — even though he’s the founder and even though he’s in charge of day-to-day operations. He might have a seat on the board, but there are presumably other board members, which means that he can be outvoted.
The board would presumably want to know that the head of the organization is using resources to find sacred candle angles and freezing out employees when he thinks the darkness has possessed them.
But that said … unless you care passionately about this organization and want to take an active role in getting this situation straightened out, your better bet might be to leave. This isn’t likely to change overnight, there’s likely to be some tension if you go to the board, and — maybe most importantly — do you really trust this guy’s leadership, even if he cools it with the shamanism talk at work? I mean, let’s say that the board puts a stop to all the behavior you’ve written about, and it even happens quickly — you’re still going to be working at an organization led by a guy who thought all of this was reasonable to begin with. Is that the job you want?
In light of that, it might make sense to skip past all these steps and just start working on leaving.
(Alternately, maybe just embrace the whole thing and have him influence the spirit world in your favor. That could be useful too.)