when should I let my new boss fail?

A reader writes:

I (23) have been at my current job for about one year. This is my second job out of college and I love the work I’m doing, and I’m compensated quite well compared to others in my industry. About seven months into my job, my director accepted a position with another organization. Since our department is only two people (me and the director), I was appointed interim director for two months while my grandboss filled the position.

Two months ago, my grandboss hired somebody with 25 years of experience in our field to fill the job. When my new boss (Jim) was announced, I mentioned him to some colleagues at a happy hour. I was met with some concerning comments about their experience with him and how, despite his experience, he lacked some of the skills needed to be successful in the position. I brushed these concerns off and was relieved to have a new director as I was approaching burnout from having to do two jobs and making decisions that I felt I wasn’t qualified to make.

Jim has been on the job for almost two months now and, since I’m the only one in our department, I have been responsible for training him. After two months, I’m starting to see that the comments my colleagues made were, in fact, correct. I have had to explain the same project details many times, have needed to come to his rescue in meetings with clients, and continue to manage our $10M+ department budget because he has shown no interest in learning anything about them, even though it’s his responsibility. Our consultants continue to reach out directly to me with questions, despite that being something Jim should handle. And my grandboss even emails me to discuss organizational strategy with Jim only CC’d.

My new director seems quite fine with me doing most of the work while he sits back and collects a check. But I’m getting frustrated with doing the work he is paid double my salary to do. I knew I would still be the point of contact on many things for the first month while training Jim and facilitating handoff. But, it seems he has no interest in assuming these duties. When should I become more hands-off and just let my boss sink or swim? I’m not trying to set him up for failure, but I think the training wheels need to come off at one point.

Right now.

By covering for Jim, you’re preventing people above him from seeing that there’s a problem, or at least from seeing the full extent of it. You might also be letting him avoid seeing that there’s a problem and that he needs to do more if he’s going to function in his job effectively. And the longer you keep picking up the slack, the more likely all the work is to become “yours” and the harder it will be to get him to see it as his.

At this point you should say to Jim, “Now that I’ve shown you XYZ, I’m going to officially hand those over to you since you’re the point person on them now.” And then do that — and stick to it. Don’t jump in to save him when you see things going wrong, and when people email you about things he should handle reply with, “Now that Jim is on board, he’ll take this over so I’m cc’ing him.” (Being transparent about it like that is important, so that if a ball is dropped afterwards, people will know you’re not the one dropping it.)

There’s some nuance to this, of course. If you see a disaster starting to form and it will be clear that you could have spoken up, you do need to say something. But that doesn’t mean stepping in and doing the work for him. It could be more like giving him a heads-up (in writing! so there’s a record that you warned him) — “my sense is that Client A was frustrated on that call because they are looking for ___” or “our deadline for X is getting close and traditionally we’ve needed to start the process at least Y weeks out or we’re at risk of missing it” or so forth.

It’s also possible that at some point you should take your concerns to your grandboss, who sounds like she trusts your judgment, but it’s going to be much easier to do that after you’re stepped back a bit and given Jim room to show what he can or can’t do on his own. (And in fact, if I were your grandboss and you came to me with your concerns while you were still stepping in to keep things running yourself, the first thing I’d want you to do would be to step back from that extra work so that I could see how he operated without you propping him up.)

But yeah, the time to let him sink or swim is now.

{ 153 comments… read them below }

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Yes! Grandboss says, “OP, you have been doing a better job as director than the guy I hired to be the director. I’m going to promote you to director, give you a HUGE raise backdated to when the old director left since you’ve been doing all that work since then, and get you not one, but TWO new people to report to you to replace your old position.”

      1. Usagi*

        Also, my absolutely drop-dead gorgeous single child (of your preferred gender) who is about the same age as you just happened to come back to town after travelling the world as a famous photographer. They’re absolutely loaded but 100% humble, and, what’s that?? You coincidentally know each other from high school and happened to both have crushes on each other that just because of bad timing never worked out? Why that’s fantastic, you’re such an amazing employee, I’d love for you to date and get married (or if you’re not interested in that, you can be super BFFs). Let’s just hope that your jealous ex doesn’t appear out of nowhere…

        … oh wait. That’s not my AAM fantasy letter, that’s my Kdrama fantasy.

        1. ecnaseener*

          LOL I was gonna say, no matter how great this fantasy person is, dating your boss’s child sounds excruciating!

        2. Anonymouse*

          That’s next week’s Hallmark romantic comedy.
          Presuming the business is based in a small town.

          1. Artemesia*

            One where Walmart has not destroyed the cupcake shop, the toy store, the little bookstore and the hand made furniture business.

      2. CLC*

        On the one hand that would be great but on the other the LW does state that she’s not qualified to make certain decisions. It also wouldn’t be fair to her to promote her to director if she is really not ready for it.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Agreed – OP may be ready to be the director in a few more years, but they still sound early in their career for the promotion to director.

          But yes, do step back big time on the support and let the person being paid to be the director actually do the work. Maybe they will be successful – maybe they won’t. But until you let them try, you will never know.

        2. A lawyer*

          I think OP isn’t giving herself enough credit. I had a friend who was promoted to director at a nonprofit at age 24, after working there only slightly more than a year, due to some odd timing with people retiring. And she did great! Sometimes having a person who is competent, hard-working, and a fast learner outweighs someone with years of experience.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Promoting you to Head of AAM Fanfic Updates Department as of now. Set the date for when your back pay starts!

          1. Chilipepper Attitude*

            Which one brought the cheap ass rolls?
            I kinda don’t want it to be either of them!

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              I’ll volunteer to leave the popcorn in the microwave too long during my third week with the company (we haven’t had a fire drill for a while anyway).

          2. Trixie the Great and Pedantic*

            Tangerina is in love with Joaquin and has no idea why Wakeen two cubicles over is asking her out.

              1. Carol the happy elf*

                Does Wakeen have a sexy twin who got the looks and Joaquin has a brilliant twin who has the talent? Or is Wakeen/ Joaquin a storytale multiple personality cured by the true love of a maiden, who is truly beautiful when she takes her glasses off and shakes out her long tresses?
                It’s Monday, and we need to know.

                1. Troutwaxer*

                  They were grooming a llama together and their eyes met. “Wakeen,” said Joaquin, “hand me the mane-trimming scissors.” It was something he said all the time, but this time it came out as a desperate whisper, refulgent with need… Wakeen and Joaquin had shared a mane-trimming scissors for the last three years, and management had never found the budget to give them each a full tool-set of their own.

                  “Joaquin,” said Wakeen, “I’m using it, why don’t you polish my – I mean the llama’s hooves until I’m done.” Wakeen hadn’t noticed his Freudian slip, but with this unconscious revelation of his grooming-partner’s needs, Joaquin felt a sense of nervousness rising into his chest. Could he, would he, someday polish Wakeen’s feet? And would they be compatible in the larger sense. What was Wakeen anyway? Joaquin thought he might be an INTJ, which would go well with his own EFTP, but Wakeen treated the Myers-Briggs with scorn no team of surburban housewives deserved…

      1. Merci Dee*

        Something of a tangent . . . one day last week, my 17-year-old daughter bough a t-shirt that prominently features Blanche Devereaux, and the text under her smiling face says, “Eat dirt and die, trash.”

        About two months ago, my daughter discovered The Golden Girls and fell head-first right into that fandom.

    2. Ally McBeal*

      This actually happened to a good friend of mine. Her newly hired boss took a suspiciously long time (given his prior industry experience) to onboard and she was still carrying too much of the load even after he was fully read in.

      Then, in his spare time, he launched a charity initiative around a major blockbuster film (kind of like when Lin Manuel Miranda launched a fundraising campaign as Hamilton was gearing up for its London premiere), went out to L.A. for the premiere of that movie, and… simply never came back. Stopped showing up for work, only answered enough emails to float by for a couple weeks until management realized that he had basically ghosted the entire company. It was the strangest thing, and my friend got tossed right back into the deep end of juggling multiple roles. (At least she eventually parlayed that into a better-paying job elsewhere.)

    3. Inkognyto*

      “Iceberg ahead” “What? where I don’t see it”

      Fine. I’ll be over here in the lifeboat.

  1. Waiting on QA*

    With the exception of a few minor changes, this could have been written by me about my new boss. Thankfully, at least, my grandboss seems to know and is actively working through solutions. I feel for you OP. Hopefully you have a grandboss like mine that you are confident will take action.

  2. John*

    I’ve been in situations like this where, when you try to hand over the work and responsibilities, the boss tries to force you to keep those things. And given that they are the one who assigns you work, they have standing.

    I assume Alison would say that’s the point where you approach grandboss.

    But too often, grandboss doesn’t care if the junior person is carrying the load… all they care is that it’s getting done and done right.

    1. Admiral Thrawn Is Always Blue*

      My concern is that OP may well get fired when they try to step back, for not being a “team player” aka: doing all the work. Her boss will not like this. But I don’t think she has a choice.

      1. Dona Florinda*

        I don’t think they will get fired, since so much depends on OP. But I agree with John that, for the grandboss, it doesn’t matter *who* is doing the work, as long as the work is getting done.

        OP should follow Alison’s advice, but I would also start updating my resume just in case.

      2. LawBee*

        Well if they fire her, then no one will do the work. I suspect Jim would advocate strongly to keep her on board. But I honestly doubt it would happen.

      3. Snow Globe*

        That is very likely. At that point OP moves to the strategy for when you have too much work on your plate. “I just don’t have the capacity to take that on in addition to my other responsibilities. Which of A, B or C do you want me to drop in order to take this on?”

        1. Ampersand*

          I tried this tactic regarding my own unmanageable workload—but my phrasing was: I can only do X, Y, or Z. Which should I do? And the reply was: all of it.

          I’ll try your wording next time to see if they elicits a different, helpful response. I would guess not but it’s worth a shot.

          1. Pennyworth*

            Inform them that you will do X first, then Y, and expect to be able to start work on Z around New Year.

      4. Momma Bear*

        This is why OP should write those emails to cover herself. If it blows up, she will have documentation of when and how she warned New Guy about Thing That Will Happen.

        1. MigraineMonth*


          The other thing is for OP to make sure that the work they stop doing is definitely part of the director’s role. The director will have trouble blaming budget issues on OP if the OP isn’t supposed to touch the budget.

    2. irene adler*

      Unfortunate but true. OP will burn out if this continues. Allowing that to happen is a clear sign boss and grandboss lack character.

    3. Sloanicota*

      It’s definitely possible that, if OP tries to “hand” the boss a task they don’t want to take on, the boss will simply assign them the task as their supervisor and resist any attempt to get out of it as if they’re shirking work. It’s difficult to push back and review your job description, pointing out that “administer program budget” isn’t in there, or ask for a raise/promotion based on this new high-level task you’ve been given. It is possible though, and Alison has some other letters about how to set and define boundaries at work.

    4. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Jim is the type to assume it already is the OP’s job and he wasn’t learning what the OP was training him on because he wasn’t aware he was being trained by a junior employee…he was just getting to know what she does and how the org operates. But yes, “This is now your job description” and Jim’s problem is solved. For a director level, depends on the org, but I’m not sure if 2 months is long enough, just the right time, or absolutely too early for OP to have a case with the Grand Boss; they might have a timeline of 6 months for Jim to get up to speed…or a year.

    5. turquoisecow*

      OP says grandboss is emailing them directly about things the boss should be handling, so if grandboss doesn’t know that OP is doing work that boss should be doing then they’re asleep at the wheel. Maybe grandboss thinks OP is training the boss still, or that OP and boss have decided together that OP should keep specific tasks, or maybe they are so used to dealing directly with OP that they don’t even realize things are not how they should be.

      Boss has been there two months, they should definitely have been taking more initiative and leadership by this point, and grandboss should be pushing this to happen if it hasn’t. OP should have at least a check-in, probably multiples, with boss and grandboss to see how things are going and plan the next steps in the handoff. I’ve trained many coworkers and often our boss would periodically ask us both – together and separately – how things were going. In my one-on-ones, Boss would say “how is New Person doing? Have they mastered X and Y? Maybe next train them on Z,” and presumably they were also asking the new coworker similar questions. This is a little different since OP is training their boss, but I would still expect grandboss to take an active interest in how their new employee is coming along. If I had a trainee who wasn’t progressing the way I’d like them to (and I’ve had that situation) I would definitely have mentioned something to my boss by now.

      At the least, OP, stop covering for the boss in meetings. If you’re not in these meetings with them, then find some way to be busy and unavailable. If you are in the meetings, do you have to be? Would you normally be, if you had a competent boss? Let boss fall on their face.

    6. ferrina*

      YES. I’ve been there, and this is exactly what my boss did to me. The only tactic that worked was pleading workload:
      “I’m not able to do this in addition to my regular responsibilities of XYZ. If I take this on, I won’t be able to do Z anymore. Is that what you’d like me to do?”

      Get this all in email. My ToxicBoss loved to tell me that it was fine when we were in person, then a few days later berate me in email for not getting Z done. She then used this to put me on “not-a-PIP” which looked like a PIP but wasn’t done with HR and didn’t actually have tangible goals. It was a running list of anything she didn’t like about me. She later used that to block a promotion for me to give it to her favorite lackey (who Boss had always given the easiest work for- whenever a task got too hard for Lackey, Boss immediately reassigned it to me)

  3. El l*

    Yeah, you owe it to everyone to from this point on let him handle the consultants, and the budget, and the project details he’s supposed to be supervising. I’m sure he’s happy to collect a check given that you’re doing the hard work of the job for him.

    2 months is more than enough time. Tell everyone to call him for decisions. Tell your grandboss too that while you appreciate the chance to give strategic input, ultimately it’s his word they really want.

    In other words: Wash your hands of this.

    1. Mockingjay*

      Redirect, don’t accept. Clients: “I’m going to forward your request to Jim; he handles that now.” Grandboss: “Did you mean to send this directly to Jim? I’m happy to coordinate Jim’s and yours efforts on the strategy. Just keep me cc’ed!”

      The tone is cheerfully oblivious. Jim’s here now, load him up! If (okay, when) Jim tries to throw everything back on you: “Jim, I’m so glad you’re here to take over X, Y, and Z. Frankly I was out of my depth and it’s such a relief to get back to my own tasks.”

      Jim WILL dump stuff back on you, so be prepared what tasks or parts of tasks you are willing to accept. For instance, you gather the data inputs, but Jim needs to do the analysis and write the report. You’re managing up, so pick your battles – the things you really can’t do and the things you can handle, even if you don’t want to.

      1. ferrina*

        Stay connected with Grandboss. You need that channel of communication open so you can later flag things (if Jim controls that conversation, he may try to paint you as the bad guy). So I’d respond to Grandboss, while inviting Jim into the conversation. “This is the status update on X- Jim would have the latest status update on Y, so I’m going to defer to him.”

  4. A Simple Narwhal*

    Oooh I would LOVE an update to this letter!

    Also kudos to the LW for being able to handle all these high-level responsibilities so new into their career, I hope they’ll be able to translate it into a promotion at the very least, whether it’s at this company or somewhere else. Hopefully the current company will make things right, but too often organizations are happy to take advantage of a situation that lets them get director-level work at half the price, LW might need to go elsewhere to be properly recognized or at least be allowed to work at the level they’re paid for.

  5. OrdinaryJoe*

    Great advice but I would be keeping a casual eye on moving jobs or companies. In my experience, Grandbosses aren’t always interested in hearing that the person they hired isn’t working out and that you refuse (in their minds) to do two jobs or ‘be a team player’ and help out. The house isn’t on fire yet but I think there’s smoke and a weird smell in the air …

    1. ferrina*

      This has been my experience too. Grandbosses may also trust the person with more experience, even if from your angle that person is being totally wrong. Often the more junior you are, the more replaceable you are (though that’s not always true in actuality).

      I’ve had 2 different grandbosses like this. I was told I was inefficient because I worked 60 hours when I was doing 2 people’s jobs. I was told that I’m the problem when I refused to do technical tasks that I had no idea how to do them. I was told my job was whatever it was assigned. I was told that my performance wasn’t good enough for a raise, then the next day told that I was being assigned more responsibility (literally tripled the number of direct reports and got no change in compensation).

      I really hope your Grandboss is the exception. If they are, they will move fast. If the problem is still the same at the 6 month mark, run.

    2. cubone*

      Yeah this could’ve been written by me, or anyone who reports to one of my past bosses. She refused to even look at our budget documents, would not learn basic things like where files were kept digitally, didn’t know how to set up calendar invites.

      I quit after two years of doing her job for her and I can see on LinkedIn she’s gotten 3 promotions at the same company. Some workplaces evaluate managerial success by who says yes to the right people and doesn’t rock the boat, not whether they can do their job or not.

    3. Em*

      Yes there are a few people at my office who are happy to let all and sundry subordinates clean up their mistakes and cover for their issues. Unfortunately the person in a position to do something about it has apparently chosen not to, which is discouraging. One of the reasons I don’t think I can stay at the location long term.

  6. Generic Name*

    Whyyy is grandboss still going to OP to get input on strategic stuff that is not their job anymore now that a new director has been hired? That’s part of the problem.

    1. pbnj*

      I’m not optimistic about the outcome if grandboss is still asking OP about organizational strategy and other things, especially since OP has been at the company less than a year, so it’s not like OP has a lot of historical knowledge.

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        Yeah, this is definitely concerning. That being said, it sounds like there isn’t anyone else for Grandboss to go to with any kind of historical knowledge. So it’s OP or nobody. And it sounds like OP is actually pretty good at their job.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      For a Director level, depends on the org, but I’m not sure if 2 months is long enough, just the right time, or absolutely too early for OP to have a case with the Grand Boss; the GB might have a timeline of 6 months for Jim to get up-to-speed…or a year; often the higher the level, the longer the onboarding timeline. Communication with the GB should be very circumspect on this IMO…”Should Jim be handling this one going forward?” rather than, “This is Jim’s job.”

      1. ferrina*

        Some of the tasks LW described should have started transitioning already. Managing the budget and strategy is usually one of the first tasks that the head takes over (though managing consultants might be a little longer- that feels more on the 4-6 month range)

        1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

          In my org, a Director level is an “approver,” but not really keeping up with the budget; an operations manager, or EA would do that work.

          Director is one of those squishy titles to me that could be a high ranking level just below a President or a VP, or could be mid-management level way down the chain — Senior VP > VP > Assist. VP > Executive Director > Director, etc.

    3. Hannah Lee*

      Yeah, none of this is making either Boss or Grandboss look good.

      For Boss, that they aren’t stepping up and wanting to begin taking the reins, driving strategy and initiatives for the program is as big an issue as them failing to master the skills, requirements of the jobs. While the second speaks to their capabilities in the role, the first is pinging that they have no ambition or initiative or willingness to lead or direct or anything that would be basic requirements for a director level position. Even if it’s primarily an administrative oversight, coordinator kind of Director position vs true strategic development and change leadership, they STILL should be demonstrating more awareness and initiative in that role.

      And for Grandboss, that they are still steering questions about strategy, program and department level funding and other director level responsibilities at a junior level (less than 1 year experience) individual contributor, when there is a Director … right there! and seem so passive WRT expections, goals, engagement of the new hire shows incredibly bad management of the entire department. Does the Director own any decisions, department deliverables at this point? Is there any transition plan for them to do so if they don’t already? It doesn’t sound like it. And if there’s a reason why Grandboss is not addressing it ie they’ve realized they made a bad hire and are moving things around behind the scenes to oust the new Director, a good boss would have pulled the trigger on it already AND had some conversations with LW about how things are going, possible next steps (even if they don’t show their hand of firing the new Director until it’s done)

      Sounds like LW should have a multi-pronged approach at this point: begin managing up to hand things off to Director in whatever way they can. (Maybe sit down for a “how do you envision the dept working going forward?” discussion asking Director about roles & responsibilities for the 3 people, how they see things being divided up and use the results of that to start focusing on ramping up ‘their’ stuff and handing off ‘Boss’ stuff.)
      In parallel, touch base with Grandboss about next steps for transition, and directly question when GB is lobbing higher level questions about strategy …”Is there a reason you’re still bringing those questions to me at this point? Are you looking for me to develop the strategy as an independent contributor? Are you asking me to coach Director through that this first time, so they get a sense of company norms, templates, what level of detail, backup, stakeholder analysis is typically included and then just support him/her for future planning rounds? Is there a reorg planned, explaining why Director isn’t engaging in leadership of the department as is because things will look very different in the next few months?” Basically flagging that something seems off, you’re confused about your role and you need clarification from them. And then listen to what they say with a objective, critical ear.

      And also, be updating your resume, thinking about options of where to go if this all goes south, and starting to explore opportunities. Because even if the department as a whole doesn’t implode, this new Director is not giving off ‘good boss’ vibes.

      1. Susan McIntosh Lewis*

        They *know* the guy is incompetent, but they parked him here to tread water until he retires. It works because she’s doing all the actual work. How about a nice long vacation?

        1. Artemesia*

          I have observed this twice. Good old boy bidnessman hired for exec director of non-profit because everyone knows bidnessmen know how to shape up and manage one of these soft organizations. It becomes a sinecure to have status, high salary and title until retirement. And if they try to manage they louse up the organization and if they don’t they rely on subordinates to carry them. Either way the organization suffers. The OP should be job searching — it might not be necessary in 3 or 4 mos, but odds are great, it will be and she wants to have her ducks in a row.

  7. Good luck!*

    The fact that you were appointed interim director as a recent grad with seven months in the role is a red flag about your company. The appropriate thing to do, IMO, would have been for your skip-level boss (“grandboss”) to take over management of the department with you reporting directly to them. Be prepared for your efforts to effect change to fail. You can’t fix culture.

    1. Kella*

      This was a huge red flag for me as well. Perhaps OP is totally qualified and we don’t have the details but just based on what we know, being relatively new to the work world and only 7 months into a job, being handed all of the *director* responsibilities, and then being responsible for TRAINING the replacement, all screamed “This company is flying by the seat of its pants and has no idea how to assess whether someone can do the job or not.”

      So, good job OP for running with this and handling an immense amount of pressure that never should have been on you to deal with. My hope is that they either recognize that they’ve put way too much responsibility on you and they handle the work appropriately OR they realize they got incredibly lucky to have you covering for them and really you should have the director position after all and actually be paid for the level of work you’re doing.

      1. The Real Fran Fine*

        Perhaps OP is totally qualified and we don’t have the detail

        OP said herself she’s being asked to make decisions she’s not qualified to make, which makes sense since she’s only been working for 7 months! Good luck is correct – this organization is a mess to have let this happen and grandboss should have been the one acting as director until a new one was hired.

    2. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

      So much this. In a sane world, your grandboss would have stepped in as interim director and also be the one training the director. Something is very wrong here.

    3. RC+Rascal*

      Agreed. This is so upside down I can’t even begin to know where to start. Run like the hills. With one year work experience it is unreasonable to expect OP to be performing these kinds of duties.

      1. ferrina*

        I accidentally ended up heading a dept at 1 month experience (I had hospitality experience, but nothing that remotely qualified me for this). It was a shitshow for the next three years while I worked multiple people’s jobs, took on tasks well beyond my expertise, and repeatedly had promises revoked and almost no compensation change.

        Later I learned that I should have had 10+ years exp to do that job.

        I did insanely well with what I did, but I never got credit or decent compensation. It’s great material for the resume, but don’t invest more than 6 months in this nonsense. It throws off workplace norms so, so much. And the lack of leadership/mentorship means that you aren’t learning things that you’ll need later- 10 years later, I ran into an issue with something that most people learn in their first year.

    4. In Libraries, Too*

      Depends on the organization. I ended up as interim director in my first professional job and only had several months experience. When the director left, I was the only one with the requirements to serve as a director. It was me or nobody. I eventually got hired as permanent director, but if I hadn’t, I would have been training the director because “grandboss” in a library is “board chair” and they don’t, and shouldn’t, have a say in the day-to-day operations. It’s not a matter of bad culture; it’s a matter of people don’t like their taxes spent on redundancy and contingency plans (e.g. hire an assistant director for a staff of 10 so that when the director leaves, there’s someone ready to take over or hire or pay enough to hire only FT with everyone having the requirements to be director if necessary).

      1. Good luck!*

        I don’t think it does depend on the organization. What you’ve described is a different flavour of cautionary tale, not an example of a functional work culture. Even in a nonprofit (where I spent the first half of my career) or public service (where I spent the second half) setting, there should be someone between the director level and the Board, like an ED. If your organization is well constructed, you don’t end up in a situation where you have someone fresh out of school with a month’s experience acting as a director.

        1. The Real Fran Fine*

          This. Just because it happened to work out in this one instance (and did it really? Is it possible the organization missed out on being much more effective than it could have been since the new director was only 1 month out of college?) doesn’t mean that was the right call to make. This isn’t a knock to In Libraries, it’s just recognizing the fact that someone with way more experience would have had better results due to years of practice at implementing business objectives.

    5. Sadie*

      Yes this jumped out to me as well. Being in that situation it feels normal and maybe flattering, that they chose you – and you definitely met that challenge! – but as a leader it’s just a highly unusual choice to make, letting someone with so little experience (and company experience) be interim director when by rights you as leader should be in that role.

    6. Prospect Gone Bad*

      It’s a red flag but maybe they were not actually given this role and only think they were? At 23 there is a huge amount of “I don’t know what I don’t know” going on. Maybe they were doing basic decisions, not realizing a backlog of big decisions isn’t even on the plate?

      Also, I am not sure this is a true Director role in the traditional sense, it being a 2 person department with no senior contributors or manager in between them.

      That being said, I love this question. So real and the type of thing professionals grapple with

    7. hbc*

      It seems to be a director position with just one direct report, so I’m thinking it’s more “we call the highest person the director” rather than actually having real high level responsibilities. Or at least, any high level responsibilities are very small and pretty uncomplicated, versus being a director with 30-3000 people under you.

      1. Good luck!*

        The letter writer describes managing a $10M budget, so you’d have to think that there were reasonably significant project management responsibilities even if no people management responsibilities.

    8. RR_Admin*

      And, if she is perfectly able to do the job this early, maybe there should’ve been internal promotion and not hiring.

      1. ferrina*

        Doing the interim job and doing the long-term job are different. Interim would make sense if it meant that she was temporarily managing consultants that had been vetted and hired in projects that were already active.
        Managing the budget and strategy would be highly unsual

    9. Felis alwayshungryis*

      I noticed that as well. Give a 23-year-old responsibilities that they then hire someone with experience that exceeds her lifespan to take over? I know age isn’t a reflection on competence, but it seems like throwing a lot at a junior staff member.

    10. Starbuck*

      Yes, that is BANANAS and doesn’t bode well for OP being able to go to grandboss to help sort this out. I would start looking now, and see how things go in the next couple months while job searching.

    11. M.*

      This whole situation is beyond bizarre to me. Others have already commented on the fact that a recent college grad with less than a year experience with the company was handed director duties, but I’m also a bit perplexed at commenters’ inattention to Jim? I get the point the LW is making in that she shouldn’t be responsible for training this person (I agree), but the guy has also only been in the position for 8 weeks. In the grand scheme of things, that’s really not that long a period of time, and there are plenty of letters on AAM attesting that it takes them a year or so on average to feel comfortable in a new role. This company sounds beyond chaotic and extremely mismanaged, so I can totally imagine if the dude is like, “uh, what.”

  8. Poopsie*

    Document, document, document. By that I mean keep emails. Put things in email where you can, and keep copies of them in folders, that way if the poo poo hits the fan, or if your boss tries to blame you for anything, you have the proof you did what you were supposed to*

    *Source: An ex boss who told me he did that because when he emailed the higher ups saying ‘we need to do this or that for H&S and this is what might happen if we don’t’ and they said ‘no’ he had eternal proof that he gave them all the relevant info, and they were the ones refusing to implement it.

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yes, and I’d also continue to network like crazy and work on the resume (which other commenters have mentioned). If this does end badly, OP needs to have allies in the industry to help her land in a good place.

  9. AnotherLibrarian*

    I have had to do this with a colleague, not a boss, and it was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I like helping people. I hate seeing project fail. It was one of the hardest things in the world to allow things to not work when I ‘could’ have fixed them, so I feel so badly for you OP. This is one of the hardest things in the world to do, but you need to do it. Document, document, document and then walk away.

    1. Seal*

      I’m in more or less the same boat as the OP right now and it’s awful. In my situation, I was interim director for a year but the permanent job went to someone from outside the organization. The new director is simply not up to the job and not a pleasant person to boot, so things are falling apart daily. After getting screamed at in public for trying to fix something the new director broke because they didn’t understand it, I gave up. Stepping back and documenting religiously has given me a very different perspective on my workplace and the people I work with; in covering for my current boss as well as my previous boss (who was also very bad) I was ignoring a number of giant red flags that had been there all along. As heartbreaking as it is to see so much potential wasted and so much good work undone, I’m not doing myself or the organization any favors by being the person who fixes things so others don’t look bad. I’m job hunting now and very much looking forward to walking away.

  10. SJ (they/them)*

    I’m sorry OP, this sucks.

    Along with everything already suggested, I would also say to start job hunting now (with the interim director position on your resume of course!) so that you hopefully have the option to jump ship if needed.

    In interviews you can tactfully explain what happened — something like “I was hired in an interim role, and after the position was officially filled, there was an expectation that I would continue doing significant portions of the work, without the associated title or pay. While I’m flattered my contributions in the interim role were so well-received, I of course can’t continue doing this type of work long-term without appropriate compensation”

    Good luck to you, please take care of yourself!

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I don’t think I would go into even that much detail.

      Definitely look for other jobs just so you know and have a plan.

      but I would not say that about duties and pay. You can say your org is very flat and you are looking for someplace that has room to grow, especially after you took on the interim role. You can see many skills you want to learn and there is not room for that in your org. Something like that.

  11. cardigarden*

    Oh my god I worked for a Jim. Too many people covered for him for too dang long. It was miserable and one of the reasons I eventually left. Don’t let him continue to hide behind the quality of your work.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      I’ve experienced 3 of them and it works both ways. On the one hand, too many people cover for them for too long. On the other, it’s how I got my two largest raises. I had a peer at my last job and I had to take on a huge chunk of his stuff, which was fine because there was a lot of economies of scale with doing his territory and mine at the same time. So sort of a win win (except it still annoyed people that he was there doing an hour work a day).

    2. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yeah, what really rubs me the wrong way is that Jim is more than twice OP’s age, very experienced, but isn’t being proactive about his own training. I get that he wasn’t ready to make decisions about everything on day one, but his willingness to coast irks me.

  12. CM*

    On Alison’s recommendation to specifically pull in Jim and say “I’m handing this over to Jim…” this is a great suggestion, and you should be prepared to do this over and over. Treat it almost as an auto-response and make sure you copy Jim on emails. “Since Jim is now in the director role, I’ll defer to him on this.” “I’m no longer in the director role, so I’ll refer you to Jim.” “Please consult Jim on this since he is the director.” “Adding Jim to this thread. As the director, he will make the decision on this.”

  13. Sink or Swim, Jim*

    Oof, this one made my blood boil. PLEASE do update us on his progress (or lack thereof), OP.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Oof, this one made my blood boil.”

      Ugh, me too! Sidenote: Imagine the sense of entitlement you would need to have to accept a big title/salary and then feel PERFECTLY COMFY letting your subordinate(s) do all the work.

      I did have a few bosses like that too. And the sense of entitlement blew my mind. Some people just think they are royalty, I guess.

  14. CLC*

    Hmm. It seems odd that the LW was made interim director. She sounds like she’s great at her job but very new to the industry and working in general. Sometimes when a manager position is open or they are on extended leave it’s a good development opportunity to take on *some* aspects of their job to learn some management skills, but the LW admits she was ready for a lot of the decision making responsibilities—it would have been more normal for the skip level manager to take on those aspects of the open position until it was filled. The training aspect is weird too. The new director has many years experience and is coming in at the director level—what exactly is she “training” him on? I can see maybe company-specific system or protocols, but he should be able to do the actual work and decision making himself right off the block. It honestly sounds like there are much bigger problems at this organization than just this one director.

  15. Hi-ho Steverino*

    “When should I become more hands-off and just let my boss sink or swim?”

    When you take the new job to not be around when the poop hits the fan, and everyone within 50 feet of the fan.

  16. Heather*

    Why do I have such strong “OP is a female” vibes and there’s a large element of sexism here? OP, I feel for you.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      TBF I have no clue. Where did you get this from? This dynamic happens between all combinations of people. And wouldn’t the sexism scenario be them not wanting to even let the OP do anything on an interim basis?

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I’ve seen it where the female person in the department is “good enough – #1” to do the work while management is figuring out next steps, but not “good enough – #2” to actually get the title, the salary, the office, the perks of the Director level position when it comes time to officially hire someone.

        Good enough #1 = knowledgeable and capable, able to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, able to grow into the role quickly if they aren’t already there, with a side of ‘she’ll do it without complaining and we don’t have to worry about increasing her pay while she’s filling in. We’ll pay her in atta-girls and thanks for being a team player pats on the head.
        Good enough #2 = a (usually white male) person with potential, who may or may not have any company experience, SM expertise but has “leadership potential” and we’re willing to show him the ropes, introduce him around, he’ll be a good fourth at golf (or otherwise fit into the boys club.) Plus, he’ll have the former team-player Interim Director to keep doing a lot of the less flashy aspects of the job, to advise him and help him with the paperwork, nuts and bolts … basically be his assistant while he collects the big salary.
        Bonus points if Good enough #2 happens to also be someone being groomed for bigger things, who has had a series of transfers to give him experience in several areas of the business, assignments in different regions so that when we want to make him VP of something, he ticks all the ‘well rounded leader’ boxes.

        Been there, done that, got the Atta-Girl Team Player recognition coffee mug.

        (Good enough #2 on the other hand got stock options, a fat paycheck, an executive assistant, company phone, car allowance, and lots of face time with the executive team)

        1. Been There Done That No More Patience for BS*

          Yes, this is the way it happens in scenario #2 – in some situations, OP (presumably female) pushing back to the Director makes her “not a team player”. Men who push back are most likely listened to. I have been in corporate America for almost 30 years as a female in a male dominated area and know this drill. I hope it works out for you OP – but given what you have stated, it likely will not. Take your accomplishments – significant by the way – and go elsewhere. Remember, if they don’t respect you, they don’t get to keep you.

        2. The Real Fran Fine*

          This happened to a former acting director I worked with. She was understandably furious when she passed over for the permanent post for a guy who never even worked in the industry. I wasn’t there long enough to see what resulted from this.

  17. LW*

    LW Here: Really appreciate all of the advice and input. Being so young I’ve been struggling with the fact that I feel I need to prove that I’m useful and qualified, so having to help cover for my new boss honestly made me feel like I was adding a lot of value. But now I know that it isn’t normal for me to be doing this and I’m starting to have some resentment towards my new boss. I’m definitely going to be more assertive on what is and what isn’t my responsibilities with my new boss. I’ll be sure to send in an update in a few weeks lol.

    Some additional info: At the encouragement of my old boss and other colleagues in the industry I did let my grandboss know that, since I had been interim director for a while, I wanted to show an interest in being considered for the position permanently. Being so young, I didn’t really expect to be considered for the job but I at least wanted to put an end to any future wonderings or regrets I might’ve had if I didn’t at least try. My grandboss told me that she really appreciated my work and sees me as a rising star but didn’t think I was quite ready for it. (fair)

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      You probably aren’t ready but that’s a good thing. I am in my 40s and it takes a while to develop what I call “stage presence” and be able to naturally make things happen and influence people to do what you want them to do, or do the right thing. All those years of experience give me talking points and pearls of wisdom or just plain old fashioned zingers that come out unexpectedly when I need them. It would probably be really stressful to do a higher level job without the experience to back it up.

      As per your question, don’t feel bad. Not helping throwing under the bus. This is where your age can serve you well. You can definitely feign ignorance at things at your experience level and completely delegate them back up. Anyone with half a brain in a director role isn’t going to be arguing with someone a year or two out of college about “but you do know how to do the budget!”

    2. nom de plume*

      OP, in addition to Alison’s excellent advice, would it make sense to have a meeting with your boss directly addressing the issue? You could frame it as, “I stood in for this position for awhile, but now that you’re acclimated, I thought it would be useful to go through my job description / work package to make sure we’re on the same page about it — might have been some confusion when I was covering for the director position!”

      Then you follow up with a written email summarizing exactly what your and his duties are. CC grandboss if relevant — not as a passive aggressive thing, as a know-your-workplace thing. In my org, this would be totally normal.

      The point being, you would benefit from showing that you’ve addressed this directly.

    3. Important Moi*

      LW while grand boss’s assessment is fair, do keep in mind, the company will let you continue doing the work. Whether or not they pay you…..

      1. Tuesday*

        Yeah, I agree. This is so frustrating! It’s understandable that they might think OP isn’t experienced enough yet to hold a director title, but they sure are willing to let her do all the work of the director and TRAIN the new director for half the salary…

      2. A Simple Narwhal*

        Yes, make sure you’re getting compensated for the level of work you’re doing! And if they won’t, then make sure you’re working at the level you’re being compensated for. And find someone who will compensate you appropriately.

    4. Clobberin' Time*

      You’re not ready for the position, but you’re ready to do Jim’s work for him and train Jim up, according to your grandboss?

      1. Good luck!*

        You’re not doing the letter writer any favours with this comment. Different skills are required to be at a director level that it’s very hard to get this early in your career. Strategic thinking and understanding of the industry landscape come with time and experience. A smart, competent, hard-working person, like the letter-writer seems to be, can very quickly master the tasks needed to keep things humming along day to day in an interim position, but you do need that next level of expertise to be able to fill a director-level position permanently. Coaching the letter writer to believe that because they’ve mastered the former they’ve been robbed of their rightful position is going to do nothing but foster resentment, which is not a good use of their time and energy.

        Letter-writer, it sounds like your career is off to a great start and you’ll be ready to move up before you know it! But consider whether you’re in an environment that’s going to help you develop a solid orientation to the field and strong strategic competencies, or whether you’re going to learn bad habits. You need to build really strong fundamentals and be learning from people whose judgement and management style you respect.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I agree — very few people are equipped to be a director at 23 even if they’re able to keep the day to day stuff moving (and that’s no slam to the LW).

        2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

          Agreed. And frankly, my immediate reaction to the original comment was that LW should avoid consulting those industry friends again because their advice was flawed (for the reasons you stated).

        3. Echo*

          Agreed! Project management (keeping things moving) and leadership (setting and executing a strategic vision and goals based on your existing needs and resources) are totally different skill sets.

  18. Anya*

    Something I learned from being in a very similar position to you when I was your age: if anyone (boss, grandboss, etc.) tries to make any of your boss’s responsibilities your job after you’ve handed them back to him, it can be helpful to point out what your job description actually is and that XYZ tasks are not included. When I was in this situation, I told them this and followed up with “I’d be happy to take on XYZ tasks, but we should discuss how this additional work would be compensated since it is not within my current job description.” Make them see that to do this fairly, they will have to pay you for this new work now that you’re not covering for an opening – they’ll weigh that against what they’re paying your boss and proceed accordingly.

  19. Loading my (hopefully great) name...*

    I’m in a similar situation right now. A colleague and myself are holding the fort while our new boss just wants to be seen in high level meetings and presentations.

    We decided the best way to act was to keep doing our jobs and helping out if there is a disaster coming, but let everything else blow up on him.

    Additionaly, we are low key job junting.

    1. Loading my (hopefully great) name...*

      I think I was not as clear as I hoped, we are doing our jobs… as in just our jobs and nothing more of the additional tasks we took during the time between bosses unless there is a real emergency of the king that could shut the shop off.

  20. Relentlessly Socratic*

    Jim sounds a lot like someone that needed to be let go from [insert former workplace] specifically because they were content to let junior people do the heavy lifting while they coasted and could not, in fact, perform the specifics of the job as needed or required. Our “Jim” landed a Director role, and we were all wondering how they would fare.

  21. Janeric*

    I would really appreciate it if Allison could touch on the larger impacts of how an organization handles incompetence.

    At my last job, figuring out how to work around incompetent coworkers was a big part of my job — but now that I’m at another organization it’s straight up WEIRD how much effort that whole department put into circumventing incompetence. When they hired an incompetent person as chief llama groomer, the solution wasn’t management, or training, or discipline, it was hiring a new section of llama groomers to work directly with the petting zoo division — and when the petting zoo hired an incompetent head llama groomer they just. Formed another specific section of llama groomers to avoid working with the incompetent people.*

    *this was much higher level than my problems of “ugh Jane does all her grooming with a COMB, it takes forever.” But again, our management was not competent enough to know that this was an issue.

  22. Retired (but not really)*

    A former (now retired) executive assistant for the director of the organization she worked for trained at least half a dozen directors during her tenure. And of course filled in as interim between directors. At least once she was asked if she wanted the job of director. Her response was along the lines of “never in a million years”.

  23. oldvix*

    He is new to the organization. He just might think that this is the way it is done. By following Allison’s suggestions of clearly stating, “Jim is point person on this,” you are keying Jim into the subtleties of his role. If you remain super-helpful, then he will just assume that your job is to help in these situations. Let him loose!

  24. Jerusha*

    I had a somewhat similar situation at one point in my career (junior person tasked with teaching/training a more-senior person to take up the role I’d been filling in). What worked for me was asking our mutual boss what timeline they were expecting for the new person to start performing x and y job functions, just so we were on the same page. Turns out the new person was already supposed to have been doing that. Whoops!
    (This was a conversation in the context of my annual review – x and y are among my accomplishments this year, and I know I’m supposed to be handing them off to new person, can you remind me of when that was supposed to happen and in what steps? But I think it was very important that it was in a tone/setting of genuine inquiry, not “I’m asking leading questions in order to get someone in trouble”)

    In your case, maybe the next time your grandboss addresses something directly to you and cc’s the new director you could use that as an opening for “I’ve been happy to fill in while we had the vacancy, and help train Jim once he was hired. Can you share with me your expected timeline for Jim to assume $responsibility?” That leaves the door open for either a) learning that this was indeed intended to be a much longer training and hand-over, as some commenters have speculated or b) learning that Jim should indeed be doing this already. (With a possible c) pointing out to grandboss that _someone_ needs to have an idea of how/when/in what order Jim takes up the responsibilities of his role and relieves you of them, that you are Not It, and that perhaps Jim isn’t It either, even if he should be.)

  25. FrenchyFries*

    Oh my god. I’ve been in your shoes. I strongly recommend you implement what Alison suggests asap. If you don’t start to shift things over now, this person will continue to lean on you to get their work done. When I raised concerns to my grand boss when I was in your position, he defended my boss and said it was too early on to expect her to do more (this was at the 3 month mark that my boss was not making any progress). It sounds like you have a strong relationship though, but prepare for the possibility that your grand boss won’t see the problem.

  26. Meridian*

    OP, your feelings are valid and if you don’t want to continue doing the type of tasks you’re doing, that’s understandable.

    I do want to add another angle to this though- if you stick with this for a while it can open incredible doors for you. In a year or so your career prospects will be exponentially greater than they would be if you turn this work down. If advancing your career is a priority for you (and it’s ok if it’s not!) I think you should think very carefully before you reject relationships with clients and strategic projects with your grand boss.

  27. Tullina*

    This is the first letter I’ve read and thought ‘I really hope there’s an update’

    Keeping my fingers crossed!

  28. Kuddel Daddeldu*

    OP mentioned “consultants” and a $10 million budget – that could indicate a highly outsourced organization. Our local IT, for example, has 2 permanent staff managing several contracting firms, both quite senior although one of them has no direct reports on the org chart.

  29. zolk*

    I will say, be prepared for blowback. I have a boss who is like this and also hates it when I ask questions or point out upcoming issues, even if I drop it immediately when she says its not a concern. (Later, it always blows up.) The EA told me that my assistant and I are basically blacklisted with boss and her boss because of this.

  30. An Australian In London*

    So many dysfunctional workplaces and managers critically depend on tricking or coercing higher duties at lower salaries.

    I judge how much the working world is waking up to this by the transparently desperate attempts at reframing this, a la the media beat up about “quiet quitting”.

    OP, you have been given so much great advice about *how* to step back that we aren’t talking about the “why”: if you don’t step back, nothing will change. Boss and grandboss currently have all the work that needs to be done getting done with no effort or attention from either of them. They have no incentive to change this and every incentive to push back on attempts to change this.

    Keep in mind that neither of them has to be a bad person or be doing this deliberately to nevertheless actively be benefiting from the status quo. (A useful lesson in general about privilege.)

  31. Groucho*

    Just wanted to share, I went through a functional version of this handoff last year (hired someone to take over people management responsibilities for my growing team, who also became my boss), and I did a very structured ~6 week hand-off process to transfer responsibilities to her. For each responsibility she was taking over, I made a list of what she needed to know/be trained on to do it effectively and then translated that into a checklist of tasks/meetings (e.g. for taking over direct reports we had something like: half-hour meeting to talk about how we handle management at the company, make sure she has access to all HR systems, hour and a half meeting to discuss each person specifically, joint touchbase with each person, transfer meeting invite for future 1:1s). Once all the tasks were checked off, there was a very clear point where it was now her responsibility and I stopped thinking about it. This went great because she’s very competent and took over everything.

    If you haven’t been doing something like this with Jim it might be too late to start, but maybe it would help you at least if you wrote out the responsibilities you think he should be taking over, the steps for transferring each one (including steps you’ve already completed) and then had a “final handoff” meeting with him where you go over what you’ve done, give him a chance to ask any remaining questions or ask for more training, and officially hand the reins to him for X, Y, and Z (and then document that in an email).

  32. Martha Summers*

    Oh I so feel for you! And agree with all that say you have to let him sink or swim, fly or flop, etc. This is my world for the past 6 years. And he still doesn’t know it. There are extenuating circumstances unfortunately that I am dealing with. Probably should have written my own letter to AAM a long time ago but oh well. Everyday is like groundhog day. Even with documented instructions he only follows about every 3rd one and wings his way through everything else. Enough to make everyone else think he knows what he is doing or that he’s really “leading” this department through these extenuating circumstances. Good luck!

  33. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    OP, I have been there. I can’t add to all the wonderful advice you have received, but (I am a lawyer) do document, document, document. Do everything via email. And I am totally, completely confident that one day you will rule the world if you want to.

  34. M.*

    This whole situation is beyond bizarre to me. Others have already commented on the fact that a recent college grad with less than a year experience with the company was handed director duties, but I’m also a bit perplexed at commenters’ inattention to Jim? I get the point the LW is making in that she shouldn’t be responsible for training this person (I agree), but the guy has also only been in the position for 8 weeks. In the grand scheme of things, that’s really not that long a period of time, and there are plenty of letters on AAM attesting that it takes them a year or so on average to feel comfortable in a new role. This company sounds beyond chaotic and extremely mismanaged, so I can totally imagine if the dude is like, “uh, what.”

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