5 Signs Your Boss is Sabotaging You (And How to Respond)

If you suspect your boss may be holding back your career growth, there’s a real chance you could be onto something. After all, more than half of all managers admit to hoarding talent. Discover the signs your boss is sabotaging your career path (and what to do about it!).


Your boss says she wants to promote you, but does she really?

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if your manager has your back, especially if you’ve been stuck in your current job for a while.

Even if your boss has your best interests in mind, plans for promotions can get blocked for a variety of reasons (like your boss’s boss doesn’t approve).

But there’s also a chance your manager isn’t pushing super hard for your next promotion because they value having you right where you are, as their essential right-hand rockstar.

Keep reading to discover the signs your boss is sabotaging you and your career advancement! 

A Common Situation: Managers Often Hold Back Their Best Employees

Sadly, this kind of bad behavior is all too common in the corporate world.

Did you know more than three-quarters of large companies have identified talent hoarding as a serious issue? In fact, more than half of all managers admit to hoarding talent – selfishly refusing to promote great employees.

I wish these facts surprised me more, but during my 20+ years climbing the corporate ladder, I witnessed too many bad managers hold back their best employees (including my own – more on that later).

And it’s not just a crime limited to the mid-level managers – I’ve seen senior leadership attempt to keep prized employees who work on their pet projects confined to the same job too.

Like a golf-loving executive who tried to block the career move of a rockstar event planner who worked on, you guessed it, all his favorite client golf tournaments!

So, that feeling you’ve got, thinking your boss is sabotaging your career advancement—chances are high it could be more than just a passing thought. It could be the very reason why you keep getting passed over for a promotion.

Toxic Managers: Why Your Boss Might Be Sabotaging You

All too often, bad bosses hold back their best employees because these individuals have become vital to the team’s success, or more specifically, crucial to the boss’s own success.

Which is why that gem piece of advice you’ve probably heard about making yourself indispensable at work isn’t as golden as it sounds.

When you become indispensable to your boss, you’re more likely to find yourself stuck in the same role, with a manager sabotaging your next career move.

Instead of striving to make yourself indispensable, and potentially getting pigeonholed into a niche role – aim to become in-demand.

An employee who is in-demand is seen as having the potential to adapt and succeed in a variety of roles and challenges. In doing so, you won’t only have your boss plotting to keep you – you’ll also have their peers eager to hire you!

5 Signs Your Boss is Sabotaging You at Work

Here are 5 signs your boss is sabotaging you and doesn’t have any plans to foster your growth and advancement.

1. Your Boss Gives Corporate Catch Phrase Advice

Your boss told you “you’re just not ready yet” or that you need to “act like you already have the promotion.

Corporate catch phrase advice is a cop out that does nothing to help your professional development. It’s a clear indication your boss is leading you on and would rather extract more work from you than promote you and pay you more. 

A boss that has your back is going to give you constructive feedback — clear and specific guidance on areas you need to develop and grow to advance your career. 

2. Your Boss Doesn’t Document Your Progress

Your boss didn’t put anything in your last performance review about how you’re doing a good job and tracking toward a promotion. 

Now, you can’t expect your boss to offer any written or verbal guarantees about a pending promotion. BUT, their review feedback should be positive and indicate you’re headed in the right direction.

If your boss hesitates to document your career discussions, this could be a red flag they aren’t serious about your advancement. 

3. Your Boss Doesn’t Give You Credit in Public

Your boss avoids giving public recognition for your hard work and outstanding contributions, opting instead to express appreciation through high-fives and shoutouts in private conversations or within the confines of your coworkers.

A manager who won’t provide opportunities for you to shine in front of others — especially their boss or peers — is an indication they want to keep you all to themselves. Whereas a boss who really plans to promote you will give you the credit you deserve in front of the big boss and other senior team members.

4. Your Boss Keeps Plans to Promote You a Secret

Your boss hasn’t told anyone other than you about their plans to promote you. 

A good manager who really intends to promote you is going to be busy shoring up support for your promotion by talking to all the right people. This means, at a minimum, they’ve started laying out a justification to HR and their own boss about your readiness to get promoted. 

In essence, they should be working to ensure that all the necessary stakeholders in upper management are on board with your potential advancement.

5. Your Boss Says You Need to Find a Successor

If your boss insists you must groom someone to replace you before considering your promotion, it’s a red flag they may not be genuinely committed to advancing your career.

A dedicated manager, serious about your promotion, would actively assist you in identifying and training your successor.

Certainly, as you advance into more senior level roles, preparing a successor becomes more important. However, if your boss is making it a prerequisite for your promotion, it essentially means they’re asking you to perform their responsibilities.

After all, if you were to quit your job suddenly, the responsibility of finding a replacement falls on your boss.


What to Do When You See Signs Your Boss is Sabotaging You

If any of these warning signs of workplace sabotage sound familiar, it’s likely your manager is all talk and no action when it comes to fostering your path to a promotion. Or worse, these could be signs your difficult boss is sabotaging you and your career progression.

And this means the first step is stop relying on your boss to promote you. You don’t have to remain stuck in the hands of a sabotaging boss! (especially when now is the best time to get promoted)

There are more influencers in your career journey than you might think. And the best way to respond to signs of sabotage is to widen your circle of supporters. This strategy was a game-changer for me when I was dealing with a difficult situation where a toxic manager was holding me back.

By gaining more exposure with my boss’ boss and other senior leaders, I was able to show my readiness to take on higher levels of responsibility. And this made it impossible for my manager to block my advancement when the big boss promoted me to work for another leader within the organization.

Having senior managers see your potential can be just what’s needed to prompt (or pressure) your manager to take action and support your progression. 

So, take proactive steps to interact more with other leaders in your company, especially those on the same level as your manager. Seek out opportunities to join projects that involve multiple teams, particularly those led by someone other than your boss.

And here’s another idea: use your development plan to document your desire to gain more knowledge about different functional teams in your company. And then set up a one-on-one meeting with your human resources partner to discuss ways to make that happen. 

This can be a great way to bypass your boss to gain access to other influential leaders at your company AND position yourself as an “in-demand” rockstar as opposed to an indispensable employee!

More Advice About How to Get Promoted at Work

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When Your Boss Promised to Promote You But Then Quits

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Passed Over for a Promotion: Should You Stay or Quit?

Here are 3 key considerations to help you confidently decide your next career move.

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When You Don't Trust Your Boss Will Promote You

Discover when relying on your boss to get promoted can be a big mistake (and what to do about it)


Next Steps: Take Control of Your Career

Bottom line, if you have a sense your boss might be holding you back, trust your instincts. Look for any signs your boss is sabotaging you because there’s a real chance you could be onto something.

However, don’t feel confined to relying solely on your bad boss for advancement. The good news is that by building strong relationships with additional leaders and demonstrating your high potential, you can take control of your own destiny despite your boss’s egregious behavior.

And, if all else fails and your boss continues to sabotage your advancement, your best option is to explore opportunities at a different company. Leave the toxic work environment of your current company behind. Find a new job at a healthy workplace that rewards managers for advancing and growing top talent!


If you want more insights and strategies on how to advance your career faster and make more money sooner, be sure to join the Finally Promoted community — it’s free!


About Author

As a former CMO who started her career as an admin assistant, Alison writes about climbing the corporate ladder.

After several frustrating years stuck in middle management, Alison set a goal to use her corporate career to achieve financial freedom – and make work optional.

You can read more about her story here.



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