Is manager setting successful assistant up for failure?

Dear Joan:

I work for a boss who constantly sets me up for failure. Until now, I have been able to rise to the challenges she has placed before me and proved her wrong in whatever she thought of me.


In the five years I have been employed with this company, she has been my boss. Since day one, I should have seen a problem. But being a na├»ve, uneducated individual, I never questioned her “motives,” or spoke out of turn. Basically, I took the abuse she handed to me year after year.


The thing that makes me most upset is that she waits a whole year to bring to my attention problems that could have easily been rectified if brought to my attention when they occurred. Instead, she waits until my annual review to bring them up. She has gone so far as to solicit written documentation from a director in our department to suggest that I am not a “good fit” for this company. By accident I found this documentation, and was shocked to learn that it was written but never brought to my attention, by either the director or her. Instead they were going to use this as a means to fire me.


Fortunately, by finding this, it allowed me an opportunity to redeem myself. I solicited feedback, via email, for a fourth quarter meeting with her to discuss my performance, and from all the managers and the director in my department. The director provided very positive feedback, countering the original documentation submitted only two months prior. My boss was a little surprised, saying, “There was a problem but it seems to have rectified itself.” I did not question her further (since I should not have seen the documentation to begin with.)


Now, four months later, she has outlined two goals for which she knows I will fail: turnover analysis and data collection and analysis for a report that collects hiring and firing data for management. I am an administrative assistant with no statistical data background. She has acknowledged this but explained since we are a small company, there really is no logical position to assign this goal to—except mine. She has now held me to 100% accuracy in three out of four reporting periods. Three out of four! No one in the building is held to this, not ever her! By doing this, she has struck a tremendous blow to my confidence. I have been severely depressed and I only see failure. She even went so far to say that if I can’t meet these goals, she may have to really look at whether I am a good fit for our company! This is the second time she has said this to me in the past two review periods. I just don’t understand.


I can’t help but feel this woman just doesn’t like me and is determined to get rid of me. I am an excellent employee—dependable, supporting eight managers with varying needs, a great multi-tasker, liked by everyone. Others outside our department come to me for information and assistance and I always follow through on every task and meet my deadlines. I don’t understand why she is determined to get rid of me. I just recently completed a university business communication class—a seven-month accelerated program offered through our Leadership Development Program. I completed the class with an A. I am trying to improve myself and she knows it. But still…I’m at a loss.



It is possible that your manager is indeed trying to get rid of you. And I certainly agree with your assessment, that waiting a year to dump a year’s worth of feedback on you suggests that she is a lousy manager. However, it is also possible that the “poor fit” you keep hearing about is real.


Since the company is small, the organization may need someone with more analytical skills to support the eight managers. Perhaps they do need an analyst to create reports and take on some technical projects. If this is true, the next question is: Should that person be their administrative assistant? Your manager has told you that “there really is no logical position except yours” to assign analytical work to. Perhaps a better solution is to create such a position.


In other words, the managers need to determine what your role should be. If they need an administrative assistant to help field calls, schedule meetings and do other typical administrative assistant duties (and I suspect they do), then you should be focused on that. In fact, most companies limit the number of people an administrative assistant can support. Eight is a large number of managers to support effectively. Do you think there is too much work for one person? If so, they also need to determine if they should add another administrative assistant, to take some of the burden off of you. If they decide they also need someone to do analytical duties that require a different skill set, they need to determine if a new position should be created.


I urge you to explore these questions with your manager and your director. I think it’s fair to say, “I am already supporting eight managers effectively (be sure you gather feedback from each one of them to validate this claim). It’s a very tough juggling act because there are so many of them. I’m not trained—nor was I hired—to do analytical project work. It seems as if you are holding me to a standard that is not a part of my job description. Without training and assistance with this I am not going to meet these new tight measures. You have told me you are going to use these projects to decide if I am a good fit for this company. I’ve already demonstrated that I am successfully doing my job (be specific when describing exactly what your other managers have said about your performance). How can these brand new responsibilities be used as a measure of my “fit?”


If you get excellent feedback from every manager but her, I suggest you also have a private meeting with the director. Explain the history, using objective facts and remain professional—no boss bashing. Ask her advice. Suggest that there seems to be no issues with anyone by her. 


If this manager continues to dog you and threaten you with threats of firing you if you don’t pass her “fit” tests, find a better place to work, where a talented administrative assistant is truly valued for the valuable asset they are.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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