my manager is urging me to drop truth bombs on the CEO

A reader writes:

The management team in my office met last week to decide between their top choices for promotion into a management position. Bob, one of their top candidates, recommended my name in answer to the question “who at this company do you believe would do a great job at what you do now, if you were to be promoted?” The suggestion was well-received, apparently, and my supervisors vouched for me, saying that I would be amazing at taking over this new role but they’d hate to lose me. The CEO got excited that this key position could be refilled without any lag time, and began negotiating with my supervisors as to how much time I would need to train someone to fill MY job.

Well, here’s the problem — I don’t want the job. The department is overseen by one of the most toxic people I have ever met — let’s call him Dick. He has three direct reports, and all four of them share a large cubicle. He micromanages everything, sends long emails badmouthing coworkers, does a consistently poor job that he blames on everyone and everything but himself, and is the beloved nephew of the company president. Dick has never admitted to a mistake in living human memory. I have worked for him before — he “stepped down” from upper management two years ago. He was given his own little department to rule over, thanks to his uncle. Dick doesn’t like me either, but I’m a high performer and he knows he’d benefit from my work. Bob is making his escape after less than a year.

I have tried twice to graciously turn down “requests” that I apply for Bob’s old role. The first time, the CEO came and collected me from my desk for “a walk” and pushed me to apply. I thanked him but said I enjoyed my work, and clearly stated that while willing to take on whatever role the company needed me in, I was not interested in Bob’s job. (Side note: This department that I mentioned was formed two years ago was formed out of work that I previously did. The reason I’d be so great in the role is that I used to juggle the duties of both jobs until long after there was enough work to create a role to handle it.) CEO tells me that he’s got me “slotted in” for this job so I’d better put in for it. The next day he did the exact same thing. I was feeling pressured and went to the supervisor I’m closest with for advice, who also used to work for Dick and wouldn’t do it again on purpose. And here’s where it gets really worrisome.

Said supervisor decides that this is the perfect opportunity to “show the CEO” how bad Dick really is. His brilliant idea is for me to go to the CEO’s office this week and straight-up explain that I wouldn’t work with Dick again for a million dollars. He roped in my other two supervisors on this, and they think it’s a game changing idea. I said that I might do dumb things on occasion, but I hoped I wasn’t dumb enough to walk into the CEO’s office and get all high-and-mighty about not wanting to work with ANYONE, let alone the company president’s nephew! But they have all assured me that he’ll only respect me for doing so. Please give me some of your great advice!

Well, it’s true that when you’re a high performer being urged to take a promotion, you generally have the standing and credibility to deliver a message like “I’m not interested in working for person X because of what I’ve seen of their management style.”

But in this case, Dick is the president’s beloved nephew, and the CEO appears to have a track record of already ignoring problems with Dick (I’m assuming, based on the fact that the problems continue and Dick is still there). So unless you have reason to believe that the CEO would be receptive to hearing this — for example, that he’s spoken openly about his understanding of the problems with Dick, or is looking for ammunition to use in getting rid of him, or that you have particular rapport with the CEO that makes him more receptive to you than to others, or that you’ve seen evidence in the past that he handles dissent extremely well — I’d be pretty wary.

I’d especially be wary of the fact that your supervisors seem so enthusiastic about this plan if none of them have been willing to deliver this message themselves. If they’re so convinced that the CEO will respect you for speaking truth, shouldn’t they have spoken it themselves? If in fact they have had this conversation with the CEO already, then that does change things a bit; in that case, there’s usually safety in numbers, and this could be a more plausible plan. But I’d really want to make sure that they’ve been as blunt as they’re asking you to be.

(Frankly, your manager should be acting as your advocate here — delivering some of this message to the CEO himself, explaining that you don’t want to make an issue out of it to him but you have the same concerns as everyone else about working with Dick. Your manager shouldn’t be hiding behind you; if anything, it should be the other way around.)

As for what to do to get out of this unwanted promotion: All you can really do is be extremely clear and direct that you’re not interested in the job and don’t want to be considered for it. Depending on how your company works, it’s possible that flatly refusing this job will make it hard to be considered for promotions in the future, so you’d want to be aware of that — but it would be better to have to go somewhere else when you’re ready for something new than to knowingly sign on to work with someone you know to be toxic.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 136 comments… read them below }

  1. NutellaNutterson*

    I’m reading this as president and CEO are two different people. Would that change your answer in any way?

  2. Bookworm*

    This might be an ignorant question, but are the CEO and the company president the same person? From the letter it doesn’t sound like Dick is the CEO’s nephew.

    Nonetheless I share Alison’s concern that your manager is urging you to ‘be honest’ when they haven’t displayed that same honesty themselves. That’s big red flag.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      Nonetheless I share Alison’s concern that your manager is urging you to ‘be honest’ when they haven’t displayed that same honesty themselves.

      I shook my head at that part too. A very cowardly move if ever there was one. If they all said they’d go with her as a group and voice their concerns about Dick to the CEO, that would be one thing. But sending her on a potential kamikaze mission with no backup? Nah. If the conversation goes left, they can always claim ignorance and then OP would be the one out the door.

      1. c-powereerered*

        I agree with this advice. Walking into the top boss’ office and providing unsolicited rants against one of his subordinates has no immediate benefit to you, especially if you don’t want the job. The CEO will remember you for this event, which is not something you want. Keep it clean! Let the manager above Dick figure it out. This one isn’t your job to take down.

      2. J*

        Is it cowardly, or leveraging a person who is obviously very well-respected in the organization? The LW clearly has some currency and they may be asking him/her to be the bearer of bad news because his/her voice might actually be listened to?

        1. NW Mossy*

          It’s a pretty rare situation for a lower-level person to have more clout than a coalition of managers at a higher level. It could happen, but not often enough that I’d consider it to be a serious possibility here. And even if it’s true that the OP punches at that weight, why wouldn’t the managers want to be on board with the OP and get some reflected glow off the OP’s excellent judgment?

          1. J*

            *shrug* If the CEO is personally engaging with the LW for the position, that suggests that the LW is held in high esteem. Other managers at a similar level to Dick might be perceived as having an axe to grind, whereas a well-respected lower level person may be able to be the one to speak up. “Look, it’s not just us. Even Fergus thinks Dick is a dick.”

        2. MashaKasha*

          It is throwing a person under the bus, while the person might indeed have some currency. (Otherwise they wouldn’t have suggested that.) In the 10% chance that OP’s suggested talk with the CEO goes over well and produces the results they want, awesome! In the 90% chance that it gets OP in trouble and/or fired, they will say they didn’t know anything and don’t know whatever had given OP an idea to have that talk.

          1. Anonamoose*

            And here is the reason that I also tend to lean this side too. The ring of managers that have already complained about Nephew (the other name gives me the giggles) have told CEO and I’m sure Nephew was able to write it off as ‘they’re jealous, petty, blah’ and the CEO was like ‘awesome, gladly moving on’. If CEO has more proof that Nephew is just a NEPHEW, then it *may* begin to open CEO’s eyes. That said, the proof would need to be something HR worthy, as OP is still a peon. Yes, well qualified peon but still a peon. In order for OP’s word to have maximum merit, CEO would have to have courted OP for quite a while, have issues with recruiting into the position, etc, and then OP gives the truth bomb. Otherwise, yes, it may just appear that OP has been manipulated by her (already ‘proven’ to be petty jealous) manager.

            So OP, hold way back until after they recruit outside for the position, that blows up in Nephews face and then CEO comes back to you. Or just go to another firm and open up your own bangin’ department of awesome. ;)

            1. MashaKasha*

              “the other name gives me the giggles”

              That was indeed an excellent choice of name! “Let’s call him Dick” – okay, sounds good to me. Let’s!

          2. Turtle Candle*

            Yeah, that’s the thing that concerns me here. It’s a way that they can try to get a change they want made while making a subordinate take all the risk for it (and “I absolutely will not work with X person” is a mildly risky move even if X person doesn’t have special protection–and even more risky if they do). If they have also put their names/reputations on the line and with the same degree of bluntness and intensity that they’re requiring, then I might see it; as Alison says, sometimes there is safety in numbers, and at least they’re not asking you to take a risk that they’re unwilling to take. But otherwise this sounds like a lot of risk for LW with very little advantage to her, and a lot of advantage to her supervisors with very little risk to them. And that’s not cool to ask of a subordinate.

    2. mazzy*

      Well it’s a sign they are afraid to speak up but not really a red flag. A red flag of what, even?

      You’re allowed to say no thanks for a job and I’m not getting the vibe of the comments here that it is a big nono to not want to work for a different manager or transfer. I get that you shouldn’t run your mouth and insult people, but to say “I’m really not able to work in the dynamics of that team” seems like a normal thing to say

    3. HH*

      I agree with Alison’s advice. Always be wary of someone else trying to convince you to deliver their message. It never works out the way you (or they) think it will. They have convinced themselves they know the CEO/president like the back of their hands. I’m sure there were long conversations where they offered you concrete examples of how the CEO responded in other “truth bomb” situations and they are convinced that if you say the right words, you’ll fix everything and be the heroine. I’ve seen this happen in my agency and it doesn’t ever work the way you (or they) think it will. You’re being asked to put your integrity and reputation on the line – once that is gone, it’s difficult to get it back. If the nephew is really this much of a problem, then the people affected should say something. Besides, the CEO probably knows some of what is happening with the nephew but he may not have a solid complaint, only rumors, so he may not think the nephew’s behavior is really a problem.

  3. Anon21*

    Actually, I don’t think Dick is the CEO’s nephew–he’s described as the nephew of the president of the company, often a separate role. So there’s perhaps a little less personal sensitivity to be expected from the CEO, although depending on the CEO’s relationship to the president and Dick, it still may not be a great idea.

  4. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

    (Frankly, your manager should be acting as your advocate here — delivering some of this message to the CEO himself, explaining that you don’t want to make an issue out of it to him but you have the same concerns as everyone else about working with Dick. Your manager shouldn’t be hiding behind you; if anything, it should be the other way around.)

    This. I had a team member who another group kept trying to poach. He had no desire to move but was getting significant pressure from the other department head and their division VP. I stayed out of it at first (if he had wanted to move, I would have done everything to make it happen) but when it became clear that he did not want the job and they were not letting up, I stepped in. And then I asked my boss to step in (he was the one who finally said, “your team is a mess, no wants to work there”).

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      And then I asked my boss to step in (he was the one who finally said, “your team is a mess, no wants to work there”).

      Why oh why can’t more people be this honest? LOL

      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

        Yeah, it was definitely a VP to VP comment and my boss has a reputation for being ridiculously blunt.

        He often gets away with saying what everyone else is thinking…and would likely get fired for voicing :)

    2. Engineer Woman*

      Droid, your boss is awesome. I’m glad to know he gets away with this honesty (only when actual fact, not gossip) but unfortunately, it doesn’t often work in most situations.

  5. Caroline*

    Oooh, this is tricky. I definitely agree that you shouldn’t go in there all guns blazing about never wanting to work with Dick. As Alison said, if it was such a good idea, then your supervisors should have done it. And if they have, and it hasn’t worked, then why should you take the risk of annoying your CEO by saying the same thing.

    But I think if you completely avoid mentioning Dick when you turn down the promotion and focus solely on being happy in your current role, then you run the risk of them thinking that you don’t want to be promoted at all and not offering you any similar opportunities in the future.

    So, if there’s any way that you can mention it at all, as tactfully as possible, then I would. Obviously you know your CEO and know better than any of us how s/he will react to that. If you feel it’s a definite no-go, then I’d agree with Alison that you’re probably going to need to move to another company for career advancement.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do!

    1. Jesmlet*

      Exactly, you can be very vague and just mention that there are certain aspects of this particular role that wouldn’t be the best fit and see how the CEO reacts. If he seems willing to hear what you don’t like, then it’s a judgment call in the moment as to whether or not to bring up Dick. You just don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot and make it seem like you’re closing the door on any promotions.

      1. Gaara*

        One option might be to mention how much you like working for your current supervisor, and how you’re not interested in a move at this time. That’s a very soft way of contrasting your manager to Dick that gives you a lot of cover.

        There’s no way I’d start dropping bombs here. If the CEO really wants to know, he can figure it out and follow up.

    2. ginger ale for all*

      Would there be any merit in being vague and saying that your work style and Dick’s work style do not mesh together well?

      1. designbot*

        I think this could be a good way to go. Use specific examples, whether it’s “Dick prefers a put-out-the-fires approach while I thrive with careful planning” or just “the dynamic of Dick’s team is very load and boisterous and I find that sort of atmosphere draining.” These are probably super tame examples compared to what’s really going on that would make you call him toxic, but the notion stands that if you can provide a clear example of a way in which your approaches do not align particularly well that’s a good starting point for a conversation like this.

        1. Troutwaxer*

          I like this too. The OP gets a chance to bring Dick up and see how the CEO reacts, then can turn the conversation away from Dick if necessary. Worst case scenario, the OP decides that discussing Dick isn’t a good idea and retreats to “Really, it’s a personal thing. I just don’t like Dick and I’d prefer not to work under him.”

          “Can you be professional with Dick?”

          “He really rubs me the wrong way.”

          On the other hand, fans of RoboCop will remember a very famous line from the movie…

        2. INTP*

          I like these examples. They should avoid offending since they are pretty neutral comparisons, just pointing out different styles with no “better” or “worse.” At the same time, it makes it clear that the OPs issue is just with Dick and not with the promotion or work.

    3. INTP*

      I agree with this. I think the CEO is showing enough persistence that you need to give some explanation.

      I would try to tactfully express concern that our working styles would not be compatible (I’m already known to work independently so it would be no surprise that I wouldn’t mesh with a micromanager, maybe OP has a trait like that she can mention). I would certainly not go in with guns blazing as a redshirt for superiors with their own agenda.

      1. MillersSpring*

        Agree. I think the OP could aim to have a very friendly, conversational tone, but still lay it all out. “I’m very interested in this role and flattered too. I know the tough questions I’ll be asking, and I already have ideas about changes to explore. But here’s the deal: I just can’t report to Dick. I understand that he’s leaving in about a year, so I’m not sure what might be possible. I’ve worked for Dick in the past, and I’m familiar with how he’s running his current team. I could elaborate, but you’ve probably heard the same reports from others. I really want to move up with the organization and take on new responsibilities, but working for Dick would have me burned out very quickly. Does it make sense to discuss some other reporting structure for this role?”

    4. TempestuousTeapot*

      But is this even a promotion. It seems more like a lateral move. It does come as ‘up the chain’, but it’s work already accomplished by LW. For it to be a true promotion it needs increasingly difficult tasks as well as title and pay. Maybe this would be a valid reason to turn it down? Wanting to develop new skills requires being able to move into roles not yet performed and LW has already performed this one. What about offering to train the new hire instead while focusing on current duties and true future development into new areas? Perhaps our LW could offer that in compromise; turn it down but in a team player way?

  6. Persephone Mulberry*

    If you are close enough to the one supervisor to be frank about your reasons for not wanting to move, you might try pressing that supervisor about why they think you approaching the CEO is a “game changer.” I can’t tell from the letter whether none of the management team have been willing to speak out against Dick, or if they think having someone actively turn down a promotion because of him is perhaps the final nail in the coffin to enact some change.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes — this is an excellent point. If the issues with Dick are out in the open with the CEO and he understands the situation and is contemplating action on it, it’s far more safe for the OP to cite Dick in turning down the role.

    2. J.B.*

      Yes, and the CEO has asked you twice. At some point you probably need to say directly “I can’t take that position” – but how you frame it is up to you. Is your supervisor normally supportive or spineless? If your supervisor is normally supportive get him or her to back you up. If not, be as vague as possible and start looking outside the company.

    3. sunny-dee*

      At OldJob, my director / boss was absolutely immune to feedback from anyone within his own department. Like, I could tell him that we were getting a lot of complaints about X (a process, an employee, whatever), tell him who exactly was complaining and show him the issue, and he would still refuse to act — as long as any of the feedback was coming from someone on his team. If an external person made the same observation, then suddenly it was gospel. I finally got to the point with my project teams where I told them if they needed something fixed, they needed to take it directly to my director, because I couldn’t do anything about it (despite it being my job and my director blaming me for not fixing problems related to my project teams).

      It could be that the CEO had been hearing from his directs that Dick is a problem, but isn’t willing or ready to act only on their word. It could be like those silly places that want to “build a file” before letting a toxic employee go.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        We had the second voice rule at one place I worked.

        The first person to say something was always a flying idiot.
        The second person to say the same thing was intelligent and a thinking person.

        So we would take turns being the first voice. That way no one person was always the flying idiot. This post here reminds me of what we did.

        The guy has been demoted once. The big wigs know something is amiss. The supervisor’s comment about showing the boss “how bad Dick is” sounds like it’s part of an on-going conversation about this guy.

        The advice here, OP, is said with the intent of keeping you in the best place possible and with the intent of keeping you employed. So if you don’t feel comfortable doing anything further than Alison’s advice, then don’t.

        For me, I think I might tell the Boss that I can’t work with Dick. And I would tell him why. The reason I would do this is because of how many times they have asked you and they do not seem to take no for an answer. I would feel like I was painted into a corner on this one, OP. If the boss pushes me hard on a point I tend to match him and push back. I would start by saying, “I was not going to say anything but since you have asked me several times now, I feel that I must give you a complete answer.”

        But there’s a lot of factors I would consider before doing this. Factors such as: Do I like my job/workplace/people? Do I plan on staying here a while? How does this new job fit my career goals?
        If all the answers were good then I would try to talk to the big boss. If I were planning on leaving in six months or if I felt I needed to change paths entirely then I would be less apt to say anything.

  7. Dee*

    I’d especially be wary of the fact that your supervisors seem so enthusiastic about this plan if none of them have been willing to deliver this message themselves.

    Ding ding ding. That immediately raised a red flag for me.

    1. neverjaunty*

      That’s not just a red flag, that’s an entire audience full of people yelling “NO! DON’T GO IN THE BASEMENT!” at the horror-movie protagonist.

      1. M-C*

        Uh oh. Almond shards up the nose. Thanks a lot neverjaunty :-)!

        But OP it’s not because it’s so funny that it isn’t totally true. Watch your back. Tell the CEO bluntly that it won’t happen, but leave any mention of Dick for when/if he asks you equally bluntly about it.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I wish the term “game change” could be eliminated from the English language altogether.

    Whenever I hear it, rarely am I hearing an actual “game changing” idea. It’s more of a sentence-filler word that doesn’t mean anything.

    And no, OP, that would not be a “game changer” because if this guy doesn’t know his nephew is a bad idea by now, then he never will.

    My money says none of the people who want you to do this have made a peep about these problems. Don’t be their sacrificial lamb. If things go south, there’s zero incentive to have your back.

    1. designbot*

      When I hear it, what I wonder is “what/whose game are we playing right now?”

      It might change the game for your supervisors, in which you are just a pawn. Make sure you’re playing your own game.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        It might change the game for your supervisors, in which you are just a pawn. Make sure you’re playing your own game.

        Well said.

  9. MC*

    It sounds like everyone is all for a solution in which they get the benefit but put in no risk. At a minimum, I’d want my supervisor and their supervisor in that meeting with the CEO and for EACH of you to voice the concerns with concrete, specific examples of mismanagement and toxic behavior. I would expect each person to outline concerns and not just saying “yeah, what OP” said. I’d be wary of sticking my neck out solo or allow my supervisors the opportunity to meet without me and backtrack and blame my “perceptions” and throw me under the bus instead of laying out picture clear enough for the CEO to understand. The CEO may be relatively unaware of how bad Dick really is, especially if everyone is quietly covering up his issues to please the President.

  10. Alienor*

    NoooOOOooOOOOooo. I’ve previously been that “respected person” who was encouraged to be honest–in my case, directly by the terrible manager, who said they wanted my feedback even if it hurt. So I was honest, while still trying to be kind, and five years later I’m still dealing with the fallout. If I were you, I would turn down the promotion without saying a word about Dick–maybe frame it as not wanting to go back to doing work you used to do, even at a higher level, because you’re more interested in learning new things?

    1. SJ*

      When I was getting ready to fill out my exit interview for my last job (it was an online survey thing), my manager kept encouraging me to be “brutally honest,” even if I knew he might not like what I said. But this manager can also quote exit interviews from former employees by memory because he’s taken some of them so personally and is clearly bitter about it, so I knew “brutally honest” feedback was not the way to go.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I hate it when managers use info in exit interviews in that manner. They are really valuable tools for me, and I’ve gotten some amazing feedback from people over the years that’s allowed for what I think are pretty positive adjustments to our program. When they are treated like a personal insult, it discourages people from filling them out honestly, probably at that job and at future ones.

        That said, there IS a wrong way to do an exit interview. I got one that was a light-the-bridge-on-fire sort where the criticism wasn’t specific or helpful. Just “this job sucked and all my coworkers were morons”. Okay, then.

      2. Jennifer*

        You should assume requests for brutal honesty may not actually be meant, at any time. It’s not worth the pain.

        1. Kyrielle*

          The word ‘brutal’ actually is a strong clue it’s not wanted, I think.

          If the possible criticism is viewed as potentially constructive – then it is not going to be taken as ‘brutal’. That’s the word you use for an attack, for something that hurts, for something you must defend against.

          Is it possible that some people who genuinely want the feedback will use that word at times?

          Sure, but its presence is still a flag for me – to keep my mouth shut.

    2. Bwmn*

      I’m also here to say that the whole “truth to power” move is so often heavily stacked against you that it’s just hard to advise someone to go for it. I was in a situation at work where a couple members of senior leadership saw themselves as having the right stature and credibility to report problems they felt with the CEO. And a combination around how they did it, who they tried to join them, and circumstances that had nothing to do with them ended up making them look petty and disgruntled. No changes happened and all of those members left quickly.

      Let’s say in a perfect world, the CEO genuinely would listen to your concerns and other management would be total cheerleaders for your complaints. No matter how perfectly that might go, there’s always the chance of something entirely beyond your sphere of control happening to put Dick in an even more untouchable place. One of his frat bothers/best friends becomes a super duper CEO elsewhere and the company is hoping to foster that relationship through Dick. Dick has family plans such as a wedding/new baby/helping out elderly relative – and so for those familial concerns, his uncle feels even more committed to Dick. The list goes on of all sorts of boosts Dick can get to couple with the already challenging “nephew” dynamic.

      Ultimately, something like that happened where I worked. So no matter how virtuous and professional all of the complaints were – that external dynamic made the untouchables even more untouchable.

  11. Rusty Shackelford*

    I agree with @Caroline that what you’re saying sounds like “I don’t want to be promoted.” And the CEO may decide to do it “for your own good.”

    Since both Bob and the supervisors are well aware of Dick’s issues, what if you asked them to meet with you and the CEO to discuss the problem?

    (Also, am I the only one who thinks it was kind of a dick move on Bob’s part to recommend the LW for this position, given the givens?)

    1. Tiny_Tiger*

      I think the recommendation was genuine, because in that situation anyone recommended would have to work with Dick, so it really sounds like Bob thought the LW was actually the best person for the job. I think the dick move is more in Bob and other supervisors encouraging the LW to put her/himself out there as a voice of dissent without any of them offering backup.

    2. JMegan*

      I don’t know about Bob – my guess is he didn’t do it intentionally. Sounds to me like he was put on the spot in the interview, and tossed out OP’s name without thinking too much about it. I think he assumed it was a recommendation, rather than a done deal – I don’t imagine he anticipated that his recommendation would lead directly to the CEO pressuring the OP, without any further discussion.

      The whole place sounds a bit nutty, tbh. And OP, I’m sorry your supervisors don’t have your back on this one. Sounds to me like you’re absolutely right to push back on this, both on the promotion and the truth bombs. Good luck.

      1. JMegan*

        Also, OP, this sentence has made my entire day:

        The department is overseen by one of the most toxic people I have ever met — let’s call him Dick.

  12. Manic Pixie HR Girl*


    I think the CEO already knows exactly how problematic Dick is. I also think the CEO thinks that a known entity (that does not need to be trained, to boot) will be less likely to move out of the position as fast as their legs can carry them. You’re “invested” in the company now (at least, in his eyes). He doesn’t want to go outside to hire for this team.

    I think your supervisors think of this opportunity as a “game changer,” because people internally are unwilling to take promotions (it is a promotion, correct OP?) in order to avoid this person as a manager, evidence of which may (in theory) give the CEO standing to do something about it.

    Having said that, I do think that puts YOU in a very awkward situation. Your manager should minimally be willing to go speak with the CEO WITH you about your misgivings taking this position. However, ideally, your manager would say “CEO, I know I, as well as many of my colleagues, have expressed concern about Dick’s management style and what it is doing to the company. This is now having a tangible effect in that one of our star performers, OP, is completely unwilling to even consider a promotion because it would mean working on his team. If [s]he feels this way, undoubtably other internal employees feel the same way. Something really needs to be done about this, as otherwise it is going to be impossible for us to keep this team staffed appropriately.”

  13. Tiny_Tiger*

    It is really sounding like your supervisor wants you to take all the heat for being the “voice of dissent” in this situation. If this were a plan to add backup to any issues they’ve already brought up with the CEO, I think that’s something they should have told you about and offered to give you support. But this does not sound like what’s happening. I would give them the chance to actually offer the backup if you want to broach the subject of Dick’s behavior with the CEO. “I’ll bring this up as a part of the reason why I don’t want this promotion only if you agree to back me on the complaints about him.” This should be more than understandable if you supervisor(s) can’t stand him any more than you can.

  14. hbc*

    This sounds like a no-win scenario. It sounds like the CEO is *not* going to make declining easy, so some non-Dick excuse isn’t going to cut it. But as everyone is pointing out, “The president’s nephew is a jerk” is likely to cause some backlash too. I don’t envy you, OP.

    I guess the thing to do is take everything you know about the situation (how well does CEO handle hard truths, has someone paved the way speaking about Dick’s awfulness, will a generic pass hurt you long term, how long could you work with Dick if you needed to, etc?) and play the odds. Given the high pressure tactics from the CEO, I’d be updating my resume regardless–any choice has the possibility of major work discomfort coming your way.

  15. Helen*

    My first reaction is YIKES DO NOT DO THAT!

    What would you actually get out of it? A job you don’t want with a brand new supervisor–an unknown entity. And that is best case scenario.

    I don’t think your bringing this up with the CEO will make them more likely to respect your wishes in regards to “giving” you this job. You’ve said that you don’t want it, and that will either be enough for them to back down, or it won’t. Laying out the fact that you don’t want to work for Dick probably won’t influence their decision. If they want to force you into the job, they are going to do so. And in addition, your objections to Dick will surely make their way back to his ears, and make any future interactions with him even worse. Imagine how awful he would make your life if you declared your dislike of him to the higher ups, but were still forced to work for him.

    I’d say to those who want you to do this that you do not feel that giving your unsolicited opinions on employees who outrank you and may be your boss one day is your job and you are not comfortable doing so. They are trying to use you to do something they themselves are too scared to do. Once it is clear that no one internally will take this job, they can point to that as evidence of Dick’s reputation and harm to the company.

    1. Nico m*

      I think the OP has been flushed out of hiding and has to come out gun blazing bayonet fixed.


    2. Alienor*

      I’m actually a bit surprised that they’re even *asking* OP to take this job. At the company I work for, people are often just called into someone’s office and told “we’re moving you to Dick’s team and you’ll be doing XX effective immediately.” This has happened to me 4-5 times in the last 10 years–sometimes it’s been a promotion and sometimes not, but it’s always been presented as a fait accompli.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        It sounds like it never occurred to them that the OP would say no, so “asking” the OP to apply was a formality.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s not uncommon to just move people when leaving things as they are really isn’t an acceptable option for the business, but there are lots of situations where people are given a choice (and it’s a real choice, not a fake one), particularly when a promotion is involved.

      3. Helen*

        I don’t think that’s very nice. I mean, I know that they are within their rights to do that, but I think it shows a great lack of respect for the employee. I don’t think that is the norm.

        Three times in my career I’ve been invited to apply for a different job within the company. Twice I turned down the offer, and my choice was accepted. Once neutrally, and once with some grumbling but still not a forced thing.

        And it goes both ways–the employee can’t say “actually, I’m doing this job now.” As demonstrated by the fact that the time I did accept the offer to apply, I didn’t get the job.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          And it goes both ways–the employee can’t say “actually, I’m doing this job now.”

          Man, I wish this was possible – I’d be a technical director in my division right now, lol.

          But yeah, it sucks to be moved without your consent. When I worked at Evil Law Firm, that happened regularly to lots of my colleagues (never me though – they always asked me if I wanted to move because they knew I’d raise hell if I was sent somewhere I didn’t want to be), and many of those people ended up quitting because they were put in positions that they weren’t suited for or put under managers that were awful.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Ha. Yeah, there’s a job I’d have right now if it worked that way. Like on the office when Nelly took Andy’s job simply by sitting at his desk and refusing to vacate his office.

          2. Jennifer*

            Well, I had the option to take the transfer or lose my job. So I suppose I had an option….

      4. KarenD*

        This is what I was thinking … and this is the one situation in which, yes, I would be brutally honest.

        OP has worked with Dick before and knows firsthand how miserable it can be. If this is going to be a forced “promotion,” then it needs to be clear upfront that OP does not see this as a tenable situation and they need to talk about ways to insulate against the worst aspects of working with him. We had a Dick-like person at one point in management (another nepotism situation, not surprisingly) and his “direct reports” were not only allowed but encouraged to work around him. OP could start by asking for a separate office with a door, not the big cubicle that Dick’s other victims occupy.

  16. Kyrielle*

    I’d be updating my resume, but I’d also try declining on the basis that you have done it before. Yes, you know the work, but that would be returning to old duties, not learning and growing, for you. (Even if that’s only partly true or you’d otherwise be happy to do it, that is probably much safer than explaining that you don’t want to work for Dick.)

  17. AdAgencyChick*

    Yeah, the manager should be going to CEO and saying, “The reason you can’t get people interested in taking this role is Dick!”

    If the manager can’t do this because of fear that the CEO will react unfavorably, OP sure shouldn’t have to take the bullet.

  18. Parenthetically*

    “You go ask Mr. Bumble for more, Oliver Twist! He needs to hear some ‘truth bombs’ about how small our serving sizes are and about conditions in the workhouse generally! We’re sitting right here! We totally support you!”

  19. Anon 2*

    I agree with Alison, but I am wondering if perhaps you could tell the CEO that you don’t believe that you and Dick would work well together, and that while you are interested in moving up eventually, you enjoy your current role and you feel like that you still have room to grow in your current role.

    But, you are between a rock and a hard place. And really as Alison indicated this is something that you supervisor should be rising with the CEO. It’s deeply unfair for them to expect you to put your neck out. However, I’m afraid if you don’t say anything then they’ll just move you into that position.

  20. Mephyle*

    LONG ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a supervisor mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood.”
    This proposal met with general applause, until another supervisor mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and several supervisor mice said, “OP Mouse can do it; she’s been studying cats, and is very competent at the job.” So they gave the bell to OP Mouse who went up to the cat, and the cat ate her. The supervisors looked at each other and said, “Glad it wasn’t us.”

  21. persimmon*

    How about mentioning Dick, but phrasing it as if not wanting to work with him is just a personal preference specific to you? Since you mention he is a micro-manager: “Unfortunately, I don’t think I would be a good fit to work on Dick’s team. I know Dick works very closely with his subordinates, and I prefer to work a little more independently day-to-day. I’m satisfied in my current role, so while I’m interested in potential opportunities to do more, I want to be confident it’s the right fit.” This way you don’t take on Announcing the Dick Problem, but you still give the CEO the important information that some people may not work well with his management style.

    1. Formica Dinette*

      This is great advice.

      Also, “Announcing the Dick Problem” is giving me the giggles.

      1. Kyrielle*

        …put a pretty skirt around the Dick Problem….

        Why yes, I am a 12-year-old at heart, and yes, I am giggling madly. This is awesome.

  22. Lora*

    The CEO already knows his nephew is terrible. I can just about guarantee it. He is putting pressure on YOU to take this role, not because it makes sooooo much sense for you to take it, but because other people have already turned it down, and he figures if you can be strong-armed into taking it, you’ve probably accepted, however unhappily, that the job is what it is. He already did try to have other people working with Dick, and it didn’t work out repeatedly, and he doesn’t want more rapid turnover in the department because probably it is supposed to perform some function, and the Board of Directors or someone is giving him a hard time on the department’s non-functionality.

    Seen many many companies do this. I tell them to put Dick Jr. or whomever in the Department of Porn Downloading in the back office and not let him get in the way of the smart people. Sometimes they do it, sometimes they just accept the high turnover.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      I once years ago worked for a family business, and this is what they did, more or less. (As Alison has I think said before, sometimes family businesses are run with ‘provide jobs to family’ as a major goal, as much as ‘make money’ or ‘run the business well;’ this was definitely–explicitly–the case there.) It did rub people the wrong way sometimes that Layabout Son or Incompetent Nephew was pulling salary for doing basically nothing–their positions were very clearly sinecures–but I consoled myself that, given that I knew that Grandpa CEO wasn’t going to fire either of them unless they actually burned down the building or something, at least with their sinecure positions they weren’t getting in anyone else’s way.

    2. Jennifer*

      Or alternately OP Is the sacrificial lamb because she’s already been targeted for the job, so she’ll end up in big trouble no matter what at this point.

  23. NW Mossy*

    I’ll add that while there is definitely risk in turning down a promotion because of its potential impact on future advancement opportunities, it’s worth bearing in mind that this impact may wane over time as you get distance from turning it down and (potentially) the management above you changes and doesn’t have the history. Also, if your org is of a decent size, there’s likely that reorganizing churn happens with some regularity and the roles available (as well as those making decisions about them) will be different in the future.

    Basically, a lot can change in the interim and it’s not a for-sure that you’d be forever locked out of moving up. And as Alison so perfectly put it, going to another organization because you hit your ceiling with this one is likely a better long-term plan than accepting working for a known terror.

  24. neverjaunty*

    OP, do not, under any circumstances, agree to this. Your supervisors will not be the ones stuck in the toxic department. They will not be the ones who suffer from dropping truth on the CEO.

    One thing I always teach junior attorneys is never to sign or argue anything that a senior attorney won’t put her name on (and the one time one of them rejected this advice, she was nearly held in contempt of court). The advice holds true in other fields. If your supervisor is using you as a shield, there’s a damn good reason why.

  25. LBK*

    I agree that it’s crappy for your supervisors to throw something like this on you that they haven’t had the guts to do themselves, but I also kind of see where they’re coming from. I think there’s more chance at the CEO being forced to finally deal with Dick if there’s an immediate consequence of him not doing so (ie the OP not taking this job) versus the supervisors just providing bad feedback about Dick in a vacuum, when it would be relatively easy for the CEO to just ignore it in favor of continuing to play nice with the president.

    I think this all depends on the opportunity cost the CEO will pay if he doesn’t get you in the role, since that will correlate to how much political capital you have to spend. If he could fill the spot relatively easily and moving you into it is more just a convenience, I wouldn’t risk it. If this is a high up/specialized role that could take him months to find a qualifier candidate for otherwise, I’d seriously consider it.

  26. Workfromhome*

    I’m voting for some version of “I am very interested in X,Y,Z type roles as a promotion but do not feel that this role is a good fit. Dick and I have not meshed well in the past and our contrasting styles seem a poor fit for success”

    Yes there is some risk there that peo9ple read between the lines that the OP cant stand Dick but I think its more than outweighed by what this interaction will tell you about if you should stay at this company AT ALL.
    If the OP is truly a star and they want to promote them because they are a star then they will appreciate the “Star” doesn’t want to work with Dick and find another promotion down the road to keep the star happy and with the company.

    If the answer is “well we don’t care if you feel that way or we realize Dick is PITA but your are do great you are the only one that can deal with him” then you start looking for another job.
    its one thing to tolerate a Dick…its even worse to force people to work with him when they clearly don’t want to.

  27. Bob*

    This reminds me of the instructions you sometimes get from co-workers when you resign. “Make sure you mention X and Y during your exit interview”. It usually boils down to problems that everyone quietly acknowledges exist but nobody dares speak aloud. If the problems have been ignored for months/years, having it mentioned by a departing employee won’t change anything either.

  28. Jady*

    Speaking from experience with ‘bomb dropping’ and bad higher-ups – be honest and direct. Say you don’t want to work for the guy. Please!

    The reason everyone seems excited is because this situation is concrete proof that it affects the company in a negative way. I’ve been in situations like this – just because management may have ‘delivered the message’ to the higher ups doesn’t mean they received that message. They can and will ignore squeaky wheels and write off people with various excuses. I’ve seen it happen many times and I’ll see it happen many more.

    The people high up need to be personally effected by the negatives before they even acknowledge the problem exists. Sometimes that means losing people, sometimes losing money, sometimes losing reputation. ‘Until it’s a *problem*, it won’t get fixed’ is a pretty common saying in my woods.

    As a recent example, a team working at my job were sounding alarm bells for months during a big project. As expected, everything went south. We made their local newspaper for how big a failure it was. Next day, 5 VIPs are flying in to fix it and save the company, ’cause that customer is threatening to drop us.

    Next time the CEO or whomever walks up to you and pushes about this, simply say ‘I’ve thought it over, and having worked with Dick in the past, I know I would not be happy in that position.’ Plus blah blah I’m grateful for the offer etc.

  29. Trout 'Waver*

    You might be able to get the CEO to look into it himself if you challenge him on it. Then again, you might just get BS.

    “I appreciate the consideration and the opportunity, but I am concerned to be stepping into a role with such high turnover. Why do you think this position has had this issue?”

    1. designbot*

      ooh, I like that wording. It emphasizes that you are dedicated to success at this company and makes them tell you instead of the other way around.

  30. TootsNYC*

    I suppose the other thing you could do is take the promotion and job hunt like a maniac, and quit as soon as possible. At which time you say, “I felt I couldn’t turn the promotion down, there was a lot of pressure, and I thought I could make it work, but I realized that working with Dick is an absolute horror show. He micromanages; he’s unpleasant; he’s XYZ. And so I’m leaving, even though the company thinks I’m worth promoting. That’s not enough to make up for it.”

    1. Kyrielle*

      If the promotion can be avoided, I would avoid it and not do this. Do not willingly take the promotion.

      1. You may not be able to stick it out as long as job-hunting will take.
      2. A toxic job can make job-hunting even harder – it’s hard to be your best in interviews when you spend all day at work wanting to scream or hide.
      3. If you take the promotion, Dick will now be your last (most recent) manager, and thus your reference from that job to the next one after the one you step to. Yikes.
      4. Saying all the negative things…if you’re very lucky, they’ll be taken to heart and applied. If you’re not, they’ll light fire to the bridge with the people they’re said to (and maybe the whole company), potentially damaging your reference with anyone from there.

      I really want to encourage you to crusade against this for the sake of others…but for your own sake, no, I wouldn’t.

  31. Resident Martian*

    OP here! First thank you so much to Alison for taking my question- I have been very stressed and worried about the ramifications of all this. You’ve really helped to clarify what concerns me about the situation, which is that I’m being asked to go to war for my supervisors instead of the other way around. The CEO scheduled a sit-down with me for Tuesday afternoon, so I am pouring over the comments as well and soaking up all of this great advice and experience. Seriously, a big thank you to everyone!

    To clarify a couple of questions I’ve seen asked:

    This new job would not be a promotion or include a pay raise. I would go from “Teapot Clerk” to “Teapot Generalist”. In fact, the interview for assistant supervisor that Bob was in when he tossed out my name was the position I had put in for, and been turned down for. I was not granted an interview, and it was fairly clear that those who were granted interviews were all related closely to current managers. (One brother, one college roommate, one member of the same church, etc.) I had been putting in a lot of hours training with other departments and gaining the skill set they said they were looking for in supervisor candidates and I had years of seniority on all the candidates, but I did not make a big deal out of not being granted an interview. I simply realized that in a place that runs on “who you drink beer and shoot pool or go to church with” the deck was stacked against me here in this place (especially as a woman in a very blue-collar industry) and began updating my resume. I graduate with a BS in Management this December (I went back as an adult) so have been trying not to let the rejection get me down and remind myself that there are bigger and better things ahead!

    As to whether Bob suggested me out of malice, I don’t know! I have gone back and forth on the question, especially since he will be my direct supervisor starting in 2 weeks! Ultimately, I think he just has a realistic view of what the job needs- a strong performer that will take personal responsibility for keeping the department afloat, while Dick has the title and the salary. And has enough patience to save their tears and swear words for the drive home.

    I still have the meeting on Tuesday to prepare for, so please keep the advice coming! Thank you especially to Parenthetically for the Oliver Twist reference- I laughed for a solid minute and felt much better.

    1. LBK*

      I think your best move here is to just stick to your guns, continue to repeat that you’re happy where you are and don’t want to move (which is a stronger justification since it’s not a promotion, so there isn’t any obvious benefit to you that you’d have to justify turning down) and prepare yourself to start job hunting in December. Knowing that the company is rampant with nepotism, I suspect this won’t be the last time you’ll be put in a tough spot like this. Good luck!

    2. neverjaunty*

      Good luck in your job search, Resident Martian! It’s quite a testament to your abilities that you’ve done as well as you have in this environment – but when your bosses are actively trying to use you as a human shield, it’s time to run.

    3. Vanilla Nice*

      Resident Martian, based on the context you’ve provided, I would suggest sticking to your guns about not wanting the job and emphasizing why you’re happy where you are now.

      The CEO knows that Dick is a problem. He’s just looking for an easy solution.

  32. LibraryChick*

    He was given his own little department to rule over, thanks to his uncle.

    This is someone who wields way more power than he should be allowed to, and is far more connected than you are. Definitely find some other way to avoid the promotion without invoking Dick.

  33. neverjaunty*

    Definitely find some other way to avoid the promotion without invoking Dick.

    Words to live by!

  34. Ruffingit*

    Some have commented on why the supervisors haven’t approached the CEO. Perhaps they have and weight wasn’t given to their comments whereas a person like OP who has worked for Dick once already and, if given the choice, wouldn’t take a job with him again, may have more credence given to her. The supervisors haven’t worked for Dick, the OP has already. The company is being impacted because a high performer like OP would rather stay in her job than work for Dick, which means the company is losing talent in that role. And, in this case, OP helped to create the department Dick is heading if I’m understanding correctly.

    So I can see why the supervisors might want her to talk to the CEO. Her perspective is a very different one than theirs and has a lot more direct contact with Dick than the supervisors have had.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I tend to agree.
      OP, you could ask these people who are encouraging you to talk to the big boss what they have said to the boss so far and what the reaction has been. Ask them why they think you will fair any better than they did.

      And you can also leave them in limbo and not tell them what you are going to do. “I’ll think about it.” This might give you some space in your head to think about their answers and your next steps.

      I can work with almost anyone, but when I see people abusing others I feel that I have to say something. So this is where I am coming from. And it’s true that saying something does not win you points all the time and in some cases it can cost you. If I found out I HAD to work with Dick no matter what answer I gave the boss, then I the truth would flow, most certainly.

  35. boop*

    If it were me, I would be honest but polite. And I wouldn’t spontaneously announce it out of the blue, I would wait until the next time they push. Or the hundredth time they push. If you pry into a person’s reasons, you deserve the gentle truth bomb.

    And is it a truth bomb? They had to create a new department just to get Dick out of everyone’s way. Is that something you can really pull off in secret?

  36. nonegiven*

    You keep asking about training my replacement. Are you trying to force me out of the company?

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