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Coaches Diary: Kicking the Cat


The latest installment from Olivia Stepanino's casebook involves a client who learns to stand up to a bullying boss.

Tears began to roll down Nicky’s cheeks – and speaking between sobs, she told me about her deep unhappiness at work.

Nicky had worked for the same manufacturing company for eight years and at first she had been delighted with her role as a supervisor. However a year ago, Nicky had been promoted to another department with a different boss – one who had a reputation for being a bully.

At first she had coped with her new job by keeping her head down and working hard. But in the last six months or so, her boss – eager to pass the blame for an expensive error in the department – had made her life hell.

“I know my boss is under pressure from the board of directors”, said Nicky, “but it really feels as though he is ‘kicking the cat’ at the moment. What makes it worse is that I had pointed out that we were in danger of making a mistake but my boss just ignored everything that I had to say.”

Nicky had tried to have a conversation with her boss’s superior in order to air her unhappiness – but to her horror, this had made matters worse. Rather than listening to Nicky, he had instead done all he could to sidestep the matter – hoping that with time, the problem would go away.

Determined to deal with the problem, Nicky had approached her immediate boss suggesting that they should both air their views with the company’s managing director – in an attempt to negotiate a way for moving forward.

Starting to cry again, Nicky told me that instead of being reasonable, her boss had turned scarlet in the face and started to shout and swear at her. “He told me that I had no right to bring the matter up with anyone – and that if I did, he would see to it personally that I lost my job.

“I just can’t afford to be without my job,” she said between sobs, “I’m a single parent and I really need the money so I’ve decided to keep quiet.”

Clearly, Nicky was becoming increasingly unhappy with the situation and I suggested that she should take legal advice. “You have every right to be treated with respect in the workplace – and the law will take a dim view of bullying and intimidation, especially if the correct grievance procedures have not been put in place.

“It may well be that the managing director doesn’t know what’s going on, so I really do think – after taking legal advice – that you should consider having a word with him.” I said. “Just imagine how good you’ll feel not only standing up and being counted – but also, your courage may save someone else from having to go through the same experience at a later date.

“Finally, you need to take into account your own self-respect. All the time that you don’t stand up for yourself you are contributing to the bad treatment you are receiving.”

Nicky admitted that she had also been feeling increasingly depressed and lethargic – and agreed that if she didn’t do something about it, it was likely to get worse. As we continued our conversation, Nicky agreed that she didn’t want to be unhappy and was therefore open to my suggestions for improving her situation.

Of course, it was to be hoped that the company’s managing director would investigate Nicky’s complaints and take appropriate action. If he didn’t, they maybe Nicky would have to resort to legal action. Either way, by standing up for herself, she would be taking back control over her own life – and that would give her the inner strength she needed to lift her out of her depression.

As she stood up to leave, Nicky already looked not only more confident – but also taller!

Olivia Stefanino is a leadership development consultant and executive coach, who works with blue chip organisations, SMEs and individuals. To find out more – and to download your free e-booklet “128 ways to harness your personal power”, visit


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