Are you in an abusive relationship with your boss?


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You're listening to School Leadership Reimagined, episode number 194.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey, builders, welcome to another episode of the school leadership reimagined podcast. I'm your host, Robyn Jackson. And today I want to talk about a topic that I'll be honest with you. I've been struggling with how to kind of talk about I've recorded this podcast a couple of times now. And the reason that I've done that it's because I want to get this right.

You see, the question I'm going to be asking you today is are you in an abusive relationship with your supervisor. And I have to be really careful because I take abuse very, very seriously. And so when I talk about being in abusive relationship, I'm not just using that as a euphemism for, you know, a bad relationship or a difficult relationship. I'm talking about when that relationship with your supervisor crosses the line. And the reason that I want to talk about this today is because I got to meet so many new administrators during the staff alignment accelerator. And when they started telling me their stories, I got concerned, because people were taking treatment from their supervisors that I don't believe any of you deserve to be taking. And I started thinking, as I'm listening to these stories unfold, that if you just substituted supervisor for intimate partner, then all kinds of alarm bells would be going off about the fact that the relationship was turning toxic, slash abusive. And yet, because we're in a work situation, because we we are often in very toxic districts, we look at that behavior.

And we think it's normal, and that's dangerous. 

So what I'd like to do in this episode, is to give you some signs that let you know that you know what this may not be the right relationship, this this relationship, there's something wrong with this relationship that I have with my supervisor, and then talk to you about what your options are. Because I think a lot of people think that if I'm trying to climb the ranks, if I if I'm an assistant principal, and I want to be a principal someday, or I'm a principal, but I want a central office job, or I want to be a superintendent someday, that I have to take this. And I want you to hear today that you don't have to take it. Because when you're a builder, you always have other options. So let's go.

The first sign that your relationship with your supervisor may be off that it may be turning abusive, is that you feel like you are not free to make your own choices. Now, be careful here. Because when you work in a district, there is a framework under which you have to work. And so there are there are some guidelines around choices that you make. So I'm not talking about that. What I'm really talking about is that you're always walking on eggshells, because you're afraid that if you do something, you're going to be punished for doing it. So at this point, if you're feeling like you can't make any decision on your own, because you're terrified that it's going to make somebody else upset, then that's a sign that there's something off because if you are truly a an administrator and people have hired you to do that you have advanced degrees you have experience, people should be able to trust you to make certain decisions on your own. And if you're feeling extremely micromanage, or you're feeling terrified that you can't make a decision because you're terrified that you're going to you're going to upset somebody or that you're going to get punished or or or retaliated against for making even the smallest decisions. That is not normal.

That is not what you should be feeling. 

The second thing you want to look out for is that does your boss, undermine your authority? In other words, does your boss let your staff members call them and complain about you and then make decisions that overturn decisions you've already made, without talking to you first, does your boss send the message that you are irrelevant, that they are the ones who are really important? Do they do things to make you irrelevant and undermine your authority so that no one listens to you, that is not normal. And that's a sign that the relationship is veering in the wrong direction.

Number three, you never know which version of your supervisor you're going to get right? So your your your Boston's to be a bit of a chaos, chaos creator, they one day they come in, they love you, they're friendly, they love bomb you, you're so great, the next day, you can't do anything, right? They create chaos wherever they go. And so as a result, you're destabilize, you never know what to do, because you never know, you know, the boss can say one thing one day, and the next day, they're like, I never said that. And so you just don't know what version of your boss you're going to get.

That's the case, there's something off in the relationship. 

Number four, as a result of all of this, you have lost confidence into your own perspective. Even when you see something right before your eyes and it feels obvious, you start questioning yourself about everything. You know, a builder empowers people, a leader is even empowering, but a boss often is disempowering. And they they make you start to question yourself. And so if you find that you're constantly questioning yourself, you don't trust your own perspective anymore, then you may be in an abusive relationship with your boss.

Number five, they insult or humiliate you, especially in front of other people. Now, sometimes this will come disguised as a joke, but it's not a joke, and it's no laughing matter. In other cases, maybe it's not a joke, maybe they intentionally are insulting you, in front of other people, they, they belittle you in front of other people, they yell at you in front of your staff, they, they they they say things that are insulting and disrespectful to you, in front of other people, that's a sign that you may be in an abusive relationship with your boss.

Number six, they threaten or intimidate you. And sometimes those threats are subtle. And so a lot of times you're questioning Did I did I just hear what I what I thought I heard a lot of times those threats are subtle. And so they'll say things like, you know, if you ever want to get anywhere in this district, right, there's a threat that if you don't do this, you can't rise. You know, I've heard bosses say, supposedly facetiously, you know, and if you can't do that, just tell me where I need to send your last check. That's not empowering, that's not encouraging. That's a threat that if you don't do this, you're going to lose your job. And that is abusive, that's not going to bring out the best in you.

And if you have somebody who regularly threatens or intimidate you, or then that is that that relationship has turned from a collegial relationship to an abusive relationship.

Number seven, your boss isolates you from other people. So I've seen this play out in districts, right. So I was working in a district that was had a history of toxicity, it was just it was, it was so dysfunctional, and one of the things that people would do in this district is that the boss would pit everybody against everybody else. They'd make people competitors, because they didn't want people uniting and working together, because then they might unite against him. And so what they did was, what this boss did was he, he would just pit people against each other, he isolated people, that isolation can look like that. Sometimes, they leave you out of critical meetings where you really need to be there. Sometimes it means that they go and they talk to other people, and they don't talk to you. Anytime you're being isolated, pushed to the side. That's a sign that there's something not right in your relationship, and you're not being treated fairly. Here's the next one. Someone who disrespects boundaries. Now, this is not about somebody asking you to occasionally stay late to work on an important project. That's not what I'm talking about. I'll give you an example.

I remember when I was an assistant principal, and we were that there were other APs in my cohort. And I remember one of the other APs in my cohort said to us that her principal was at what make her take leave every time she had a doctor's appointment. And so her principal would make fill out a leave, slip and ask for two hours leave to go to a doctor's appointment. But here's the problem that was in direct violation of our contract our contract clearly stated that we were not hourly employees, and that we did not have to take leave, to go to things like doctor's appointments, dentist appointments, those kinds of things. So her principal was directly violating that boundary that was established by our contract. And I remember telling her, you, you, you don't have to do that she can't make you fill out a leaf slip, you can just leave. But she was terrified to do that, because she wanted desperately to be a principal one day, and she was worried that if she, if she pushed back on this issue, then the principal may not, you know, make every bad evaluation may retaliate in some other way. And what hold her back from her dream of being a principal? Do you find yourself doing that? Do you find yourself compromising and letting people get away with stuff because you want to get ahead and you think the only way that that can happen is if you compromise? Well, that's not a normal, healthy relationship with your supervisor, that is abusive. 

Alright, number nine, your supervisor regularly shames you. They make things your fault, they treat you as if it you are the bad guy, they tap into guilt and shame in order to get you to do things that they want you to do.

That is abusive. 

And then number 10, there's control of information and a lot of cases, they will live intentionally withhold information from you to keep you out of the loop so that you stay under their control. I worked in a district once where this was regular, and the exact staff.

So I remember I was called in to do some core values work with this district. And one of the main things that was happening and it was so crazy, is that the exact staff all withheld information, because there was a lot of backstabbing, and distrust and competition happening. And so people would withhold information that was critical for somebody else to do their job. So that that person would feel or so that they could write in, in front of the superintendent as the hero and bring this information that the other person didn't know. And they could look great, that so dysfunctional, and if it's happening to you, I want you to know that that's not normal. And if you're seeing Yep, that's me, Yep, that's me throughout this entire list, then it's likely that you are in an abusive relationship with your supervisor. So what do you do about it?

This is the hard part here, because so many people I talked to and I'm saying, You know what, you don't have to take that you are worth more than that. You bring so much to the table, that you don't have to take it people are terrified, because the politics and the cultures in their districts have been so dysfunctional for so long, that they don't feel like they have another option. And that's what makes this so insidious. And a lot of people sacrifice and slowly but surely give away what they truly believe they, they let they let the system of road that from them. Because they say One day, I want to be a principal. And one day, I want to be in central office or one day, I want to be a superintendent, I want to rise to the ranks. So I have to do this thing now in order to get where I need to be. But my question for you is that if you consistently go against your conscience, where you are now, who will you be when you get where you want? And will you even like yourself, then one of the things that I love about builder ship that I find missing, and a lot of conversations around leadership is that when you are a builder, you are free to be who you are. You're free to act in ways that that align with your belief system, your values, your conscience, in fact, you cannot be a builder if you don't do that. And you can still achieve incredible amazing things. And so see principals and assistant principals contorting themselves into somebody they don't even like in order to get ahead in a district that doesn't value them. That doesn't respect to them. That that that ask them to continually compromise that that that is is is hurting Kids and cheating kids. And we think that we have to take it, we think we have to, to align to what they say we need to be in order to get ahead. But once you get ahead, especially if you've continually allowed people to, to, to compromise who you are, when you finally get to that position that you really want, you won't even recognize yourself, because you have effectively become an artifact of the institution. And you will find yourself doing the same things that that other people did to you that you hate it, and you won't be able to stop yourself, because that's who you've allowed yourself to become. Because if you are a part of a culture that regularly abuses people, that abuse feels normal, and you feel like that's just a part of paying my dues.

No one should have to pay those kinds of dues, in order to move into a position that helps them serve kids. 

And so if you feel like, well, this is just what I have to do to pay my dues. No, you don't. You don't have to do that. And, and and you want to question why you'd even be willing to take that in order to pay your dues? Because Because here's what happens, if you start sacrificing pieces of yourself pieces of your soul in order to quote unquote, pay your dues so that you can get to a position that you want, or get a promotion that you want. Then, who do you become by the time you get there? Will you even still like yourself? By the time you achieve what it is you're trying to achieve? Or will you have have sold so many pieces of your soul in order to keep the peace and to rise to the ranks, that you don't even recognize yourself? By the time you get to the position you want to be in? And people will say to me, but I need this job. There are many jobs there out there.

Do you know many other places would love to have you your skill set? You don't just stay where you are. Other people say well, you know, I just don't want to rock the boat why? The boats leaky the boat sinking rocket. And you're doing it not only for yourself, but for everybody else who's suffering under the same abuse. Rock that boat? Well, I don't want to, I don't want to upset that person. Because then I won't be able to get to where I need to be again. You are sacrificing your your conscience, you're sacrificing your beliefs and your values to get somewhere. Will you even like yourself once you get there, because here's what I see happening. Over time, you continue to take this kind of abuse, you continue to compromise you continue to let go of, of what you believe you continue to allow yourself to be treated this way.

And what happens is you subtly start becoming them, you suddenly start to become the very thing that you dislike the very thing that is that is mistreating you you start to let go of those parts of yourself that say, wait a minute, this is wrong. And the only thing that's left is the parts of the cell of yourself that say, well, I'll just take it, this is just the way things are. And then you start to do the very same things. And one of the things we have at mindsets always is is that the fish rots from the head. And I see it over and over again in organizations all over the world. A lot of times, the level of of abuse and mistreatment that happens in school starts with the superintendent and the exec staff and they start doing and the people start seeing those people and say, You know what, if you want to get ahead in this district, that's where you have to be.

Sometimes you just have to be a boss. 

I've heard people say that you never have to be a boss, or as we like to call them a boss hole. You never have to be that. But but sometimes people think well, if that's what it means to get ahead in this district, then maybe I have to do it. And subtly, they began to adopt those adopt those same attitudes. So same dispositions, those those same behaviors and and the principles start treating teachers that way. And teachers pushback at first, but eventually, because of the culture, the teachers then begin to pick up on those things, and they start treating the kids that way. Unless somebody stands up and says we're not going to do this, and maybe that somebody is you. You know, one of the most annoying things about me is that I see so much potential and other people, sometimes more than they see in themselves. So when people tell me about their impossible situations, I get, first of all indignant, that's abusive, you don't need to take that.

And then secondly, I start talking about, well, there are all these options that you have available. And my husband tells me this all the time, but it is very annoying when people are struggling for them to hear you say, but you have so many options. But my problem is that if you don't recognize the options, you have you think that that the ones that you're currently living with are the only ones that are available to you, and there's so much more available to you, there's so much more you do not have to take it, you could do something else. And sometimes that means leaving, and sometimes it means staying and standing your ground. And sometimes it means a combination of it. But there are always options. You don't have to continually take mistreatment. You don't have to continually allow somebody to shame you, you don't have to continually wallow and self doubt and think that this is what it means to pay your dues, it's not. And the longer you accept this kind of mistreatment, the longer you are withholding yourself from your full potential. And you are cheating your teachers and your students of what you bring to the table, you can achieve every dish you want to achieve without subjecting yourself to abuse. If someone is speaking to you in a way that is disrespectful, and speaking to in a way that that erodes at, at at at at your your your your self worth, you don't have to take it just because they're your boss, if someone is asking you to do things that you believe are unconscionable, unconscionable, and you feel like you have to do it, or else you're gonna lose your job, you don't have to, at some point, you got to decide.

And that's what builder ship is. This is one of the reasons why I love bill to ship the most is because we will never ask you to be somebody you're not you can be a builder and still be who you are, we're never going to ask you to do something against your conscience. In fact, we're going to be asking you to tap into your conscious and make sure that your work is in alignment with their conscious, we're never going to ask you to do something that harm somebody else.

Because we believe that as a builder, you're never tearing people down, you're building people up. 

I debated a long time about whether or not I was going to air this episode, and I talked it over with a few people who were like, You got to be careful here, right? I'm not trying to light some sort of, you know, nationwide walkout or, but I do want to tell those of you today who you feel like you're starting to sacrifice who you are for the sake of this job for the sake of ambition, you feel like you're in a space where people are not only not respecting you, but they're actually taking advantage of you they are actually doing things that would count as abusive. I just believe I owe it to you to say you do not have to take that you bring value to the table. There is so much potential inside of you. That that is is being stifled when you allow yourself to continually be in a situation that erodes at your conscience, that that sucks you into toxicity. And in what will happen is the longer you stay, the more normal it will feel and the more you will begin to emulate the people who are mistreating you. And I just need to say for those of you out there right now who may be in that kind of situation, that you do have other alternatives. A lot of times when when we get so caught up in the situation, we just don't feel like there's another way out. There's always another way.

There's always another way. 

So that's it that's that's today's that's today's podcast and I have so much more to say about it. But I have to be careful because again, I don't I don't want someone to hear this podcast and think oh my supervisor asked me to stay late the other day, because we were working on something really important. I'm in an abusive relationship. No, that's the gig. That's the job. Sometimes you have to stay late. That doesn't mean you're in an abusive relationship with your school. What I'm talking about is, if your school is asking you to compromise your morals, if your school is, is taking advantage of you, especially when you have a negotiated contract that says differently, if you are working for someone who regularly verbally abuses you, calls you names, yells and screams that you if you are working for someone who asked you to constantly step outside of your role to do other things, without properly compensating you for that, those are the kinds of things that I'm talking about. And as just to say this, if you're on a roll right now, and it doesn't feel like it's a good fit for you, you don't have to stay. I'm not talking about abuse of now. Now I'm just talking about if you're in a place where you feel like it's sucking your soul, you hate going to work every day, you don't believe in the organization you're working for, you don't believe you can make a difference. You don't believe in what you're doing. You're not necessarily in an abusive relationship, but you hate where you are right now. And you don't believe it can change or that you want to be a part of that organization anymore, you have options to the beautiful thing about being a builder.

So builders build, you don't have to take whatever it is you're getting right now, you can with the raw materials in front of you build something better, sometimes that means building it in the organization you're in and transforming that organization from within, you can do that people think that can't do that, you can do that you have the power to do that. And you know how I know because I did it. And I'm not special, I'm not a unicorn, I just had to believe that I could, and I did. So sometimes you have, if you don't like what you're seeing, you have the power to build something better, right where you are. And then there are times when you're better off, building something better somewhere else. And knowing how to recognize that, and knowing when to leave. Equally as important. I guess what I'm just trying to say to all of you out there, if you're in an abusive relationship with your school district Get out, you don't have to take it, you have options. If if you're not in an abusive relationship with your district, but you don't, you're not happy where you are, you don't believe in the work anymore, and you don't like who you've become, as a result of being a part of that organization.

You too, have options. 

Because as builders, we can always build something better, with whatever we have in front of us is time for you to step up and shine because we need you. There's something that you have that we need. And you can't be your best self while you're taking abuse. You just can't, then maybe this, this episode might not have been for you today. Maybe you're saying no, I'm fine. I'm happy. I have a very supportive boss, but you have a colleague somewhere who you know needs to hear this, would you? Would you please share this episode with them? Maybe, maybe you didn't need to hear this today because you're happy and you're fine. But some of the things that I said today you're starting to see creep into your own leadership style and, and you still have time to stop it before it becomes abusive. Please do that. Maybe you didn't need to hear what I had to say because you're fine. But hearing it over and over again, has helped to develop a new appreciation for your situation. That's wonderful. I hope it does. So that you see how good you've got it and you are re you are re energized to make sure that you're providing the people you serve with the right kind of support so that they can blossom. Wherever you are on the spectrum of things. I hope that you keep what we're talking about today in mind because it is so important. We gotta treat each other better. If you're currently being mistreated, you don't have to take it. You have other options. Sit down, explore those options and pursue those options, so that you can be your best self for our kids. Because no matter what situation you're in, there are options. If you know how to look for them, like a builder. 

I'll talk to you next time.

Hey, if you're ready to get started being a builder right away, then I want to invite you to join us at builder ship University. It's our exclusive online community for builders just like you where you'll be able to get the exact training that you need to turn your school into a success story right now with the people and resources you already have. Inside. You'll find our best online courses, live trainings with me tons of resources, templates and exemplars and monthly live office hours with me where you can ask me anything and get my help on whatever challenge you're facing right now. If you're tired of hitting obstacle after obstacle and you're sick of tiny little incremental gains each year, if you're ready to make a dramatic difference in your school right now, then you need to Join builders ship University. Just go to build a ship and get started writing your school success story today

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