12 Ways to Rise After Being Thrown Under the Bus
Every leader has a few tread-marks on their back. How deep they go depends on you.
Being thrown under the bus means someone elevated their status and lowered yours in front of others.
12 ways to rise after being thrown under the bus:
- Keep delivering great results. Don’t throw yourself under the bus by pulling back.
- Prepare for the next time. Examine the patterns of being thrown under the bus. What do you want to do when it happens again? Who do you want to be?
- Don’t complain to the boss about others, unless there are ethical issues.
- Determine what you want. Clinging to past offenses obscures positive outcomes. Aim for positive outcomes for yourself, others, and your organization.
- Maintain civility. Bad behavior from others is no excuse for bad manners from you.
- Don’t take it personally. (Well, do your best.) Taking it personally clouds your judgement, deflates your spirit, and may open the door to revenge.
- Talk things over with someone outside your organization. The goal is working on yourself, not others.
- Reflect. What are you learning about yourself? People who hurt us, help us, when we learn.
- Grow. How might this situation make you a stronger leader? Humility and grit are born in adversity.
- Stand up for your ideas. Give information without sounding defensive. Let performance speak for itself.
- Find ways to highlight your great work. Publicly thank teammates who help move your projects forward, for example.
- Proactively build strong relationships. Being thrown under the bus requires an audience. Make sure you have great relationships with the audience.
Being called to live up to expectations isn’t being thrown under the bus.
How might leaders deal with being thrown under the bus?
Often, when you are thrown under the bus, it’s a very personal act. Someone has consciously decided to advance themself at a direct cost to you. I think you have to ask yourself in such a situation whether you should be in an organisation where advancement at the cost of others is accepted. Organisations like this are not teams, they are dog packs, and have the ethics of a dog pack.
Thanks Mitch. As I wrote, “Don’t take it personally,” I realized how difficult that is. It really hurts when you’re sincere and want to do good for others and yourself. Thanks for adding your insights.
Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been thrown under the bus more than once. It hurts, particularly when you’re a new teacher who is trying really hard and who wants to be heard — but I choose to think that these colleagues taught me something about office politics. It’s also a skill to be able to hear about something nasty, and then move on gracefully.
Thanks Amy. We may like to ignore the idea of office politics. But, if we’re going to succeed, we need to learn how to play ethical office politics.
“Move on gracefully,” not that’s powerful.
Yes @Dan Rockwell. Stay Ethical. Stay Professional.
I work in IT… we get thrown under the bus frequently. It’s so easy for others to blame the computer system. Dan’s advise is spot on though. We strive to make IT the best it can be and our performance speaks for itself. I remind my staff not to take it personally (but it is hard). And at the end of the day, we usually come out on top. Reflection is good too. Next time “that” customer has a big project, I know what their weaknesses are and we get in there to help them so they are successful. Win-win. The only time I wouldn’t do that is if the person throwing me under the bus has an ethical issue, but that is rarely the case.
Thanks John. It sounds like you navigating this turf like a pro. Congratulations.
Your last sentence is important. We need to treat unethical behavior as a separate category. It may feel like being thrown under the bus is unethical, but the issue is clear evidence. Someone who is good at throwing people under the bus is also good at making it look like they are being helpful or concerned for the organization.
Basically, I think Mitch has added ‘where’ to #2. That’s an important add. But two thoughts: First, were you indeed thrown under the bus? Seems to me, especially if whatever was said / happened was a surprise, maybe misinterpretation was more to blame. And then, be really careful in your consideration of leaving. Do it for good reasons – you misjudged the culture of the organization (or didn’t find out what it was; you accepted the position), new leadership changed the culture, … Be careful about leaving because the ‘politics’ are happening – there’s politics everywhere!!!
Thanks for sharing your insights, John. Your first thought is so important. Have you ACTUALLY been thrown under the bus? Perhaps it’s miscommunication. Remember we all have a story in our heads. It might be useful to evaluate the story. (Not to minimize the disappoint and pain of feeling the tires run over us.)
Dear Dan, I love this piece! I have been thrown under the bus more times than I can count and I have grown each time and also have learned and am a better person for it each time. Why am I under the bus so much? Glad you asked. Its because I trust and then I trust again. Sometimes I’ve known the bus iwas coming and waited for it to happen. I want to think the best in people and give second, even third chances.
I’ve learned not to take it personally, people will show you who they are, eventually.
Thanks Yani. Congratulations on growing through the painful experience of being run over. You remind me that our personal journey always has trajectory. We never stand still. We always move forward, backward, or sideways. Our attitude either turns these situations into fuel for the journey, or, an anchor tied to our ankle.
Trust produces a wider life. Distrust is a great limiter. Thanks for sharing.
While I could agree with “don’t whine to the boss,” as I think most of us don’t like “whiners,” I think there is value in discussing it (after having talked yourself off the proverbial ledge) with your leadership. To simply compartmentalize it does nothing to change the behavior of the ‘thrower’ and in fact once successful, they may find it to be an effective approach to building themselves up; by tearing others down. I accept that most leaders recognize this, but this type of behavior erodes espirit de corps of the overall team, which most often impacts (negatively) their overall effectiveness.
This is especially true if the “throwing” took place in a group setting, where others (outside your immediate work group) may not know that you’re being thrown and future projects could be compromised by an erroneous image that you don’t have attention to detail, can’t be counted on, etc.
They key is to discuss it calmly and objectively ONCE, then bury that instanc, only bringing it up if the “thrower” continues their tactic. Now if your boss is the one doing the throwing, that’s a whole ‘nother story…..
Thanks Big. Your last sentence made me laugh and “cry.”
It takes real skill to discuss this without sounding like a cry baby or an accuser. Can we bring this up in a way that is good for the organization?
Perhaps part of the discussion concerns our relationship with the boss.
The other thing that is important is not allow a “thrower” to get away with subtle misstatements. We might say, with a smile, “Well, you’re almost right. What actually happened …. ”
Thank you, your comment expands the conversation.
In many agile (and for IT folks, Agile) environments, there is an expected level of honesty that can be interpreted as being thrown under the bus. I agree with jcbjr9455 that perception is everything! I’ve had people come up to me after I “named the elephant” to confront me about calling them out. I didn’t mean to do that. I just wanted to get the point out for discussion and resolution. I didn’t realize people had their feelings and livelihoods tied up in “the elephant.” That’s why I love these pointers. They work even (and maybe especially if) you mistook a comment for an attack. Emotional resilience is key.
Thanks Stephanie. Your comment gets me thinking about useful ways to bring up tough issues. Things like, getting clarity before stating assumption comes to mind. What are we trying to accomplish? Has anyone thought about…
If possible, always leave out people. Focus on process and result.
In any case, the person pointing out the elephant often seems like an adversary to people who have been ignoring it.
I have heard many people saying about their plight by organisational practices. They are either suffered from some superiors, their colleagues or victimised by some powerful influencing factors beyond their control. They ask me what to do in such situation?
And I always suggest them three things in the current situation- Perform, over communicate and do it alone. Performance is the weapon that has evidence and it provides strong platform to highlight you. Many times, people perform and assume that superiors will know it. It does not happen that way. Superiors expect people to reach them and talk about their performance and future plan. Personal talk has its own effect. When people compete to take your credit, you always try to achieve alone. Dependency may divert your effort.
Finally, the most important part is creating one’s own inventory. In other words, you should start acquiring knowledge, skill and capabilities. This will provide you much strength to reduce dependency.
Thanks Dr. Gupta. At the heart of your statements I see the idea of rising above being a victim. Take charge of your own life.
I’m with you, when people come complaining about an injustice, you have to help them turn their attention from the perpetrator to their own behaviors. It can be challenging.
Don’t take this personally, but advising someone to not take something personally seems to never work if it would have been take so regardless. It’s akin to telling someone with a red face and raised voice to chill out.
I like how Brene Brown talks about her own acts of public vulnerability it in Daring Greatly and how she’s been advised by those she admires (also subjecting themselves to public scrutiny): Make a physical list of people whose opinions you court and/or care about. If the person throwing you under the bus isn’t on that list then keep reminding yourself of that fact. Your job is to be creative, connecting, and vulnerable to those you trust, not to be an asshole whisperer (I stole that last phrase, but I wish I had come up with it myself… pure poetry).
Thanks James. “Don’t take it personally” doesn’t set well with me either, for the reason you eloquently explain.
However, it feels like Brene Brown’s suggest fits loosely into the bucket of not taking it personally.
In either case. Thanks for poking the box. I only took it personally for a few minutes. I’m over it now.
“I only took it personal for a few minutes. I’m over it now.”
That is the key to all of the don’t’s in the list…to try and minimize the time you spend cycling through them.
Not cycling through them isn’t realistic most of the time. When it is happening to you – all of the truisms you know seem to evaporate due to lack of perspective when the primitive part of our brain takes over.
Being blindsided by someone you extended trust to is probably the hardest tread-mark to get past.
Having the strong relationships with your audience before it goes down is what helped me move through it quicker.
I was -in absentia- thrown under the bus in a major way by a subordinate while I was away at a conference. He complained to my boss about issues that had already been resolved, leading the boss – a kneejerk reactionary- to conclude that I had dodged an important decision. I was summarily demoted and reassigned (via email, no less, and given encouragement to retire) without any opportunity to rebut or clarify what had really happened. I gave myself 24 hours to vent and brood while still out of town, then got busy in my new assignment determined to prove my value to the organization and our people. I led a training team that achieved award-winning results during the next year. I never mentioned being mistreated. The “audience” was in my corner. Personally, I forgave the boss and the subordinate for my own sake, since they didn’t care, but others were not so forgiving. The boss was replaced a year later, and his replacement told me that my unwarranted summary punishment was a key factor in the boss’ downfall. The backstabbing former subordinate was also soon demoted for poor performance. I was given additional opportunities to excel, I regained and then surpassed my former paygrade and remained in the organization eight more years until I retired on my own terms. Being thrown under the bus could have ended my career there, but I was determined to not be defined by it.
Thanks Jim. Congratulations!
Your comment made me think about the expression “take the high road,” for the first time in this conversation. It was no accident that your situation worked out for the best. We have to confess that not all situations work out as well as yours.
I have a gut feeling that the strong relationships you enjoyed BEFORE this event were a major factor in the positive outcome. (As well as great performance, of course.)
You remind me that strong relationships and great results take us far.
Acting professionally and focusing on the issue, not the personalities, is one way to distinguish yourself when thrown under the bus and minimize the depth of the tire treads. It is easier to do when the audience knows you, and you have established a reputation for doing good work and being collegial.
Thanks Ann. The term “reputation” says a lot when we get run over. Powerful concept. I’m glad you used that term.
Hi Dan, and all – it’s one thing to be thrown under the bus, and it’s another if nobody helps you get from under it before the second axle gets you!
In my last job, being thrown under the bus was a commonplace, and it was up to you to get yourself out from under it. This clearly was painful and never went well. I am not longer there and happier for it. Where I am now, getting thrown under the bus happens, but now if I am, there is usually an outstretched arm to pull me up. That is leadership and teamwork in action!
Thanks Mike. Love the compassion in your comment. Give a helping hand. Receive a helping hand.
One challenge is when someone is under “attack,” everyone else scatters. I’ve seen this happen. Distance is self-protection.
I think we feel better giving an outstretched hand if the person under the bus is a great performer who doesn’t throw others under the bus.
When we give a hand, we tell others that throwing people under the bus doesn’t work.
Being thrown under the bus is a rite of passage of true leadership. Seasoned leaders who are effective come to expect sabotage from those who are not as effective. The key is to be prepared as there will always be those who are not competent enough to manage themselves or leverage power in constructive ways. Fear is a huge driver of this exploitative behavior, as some are threatened by the effective leadership of others. Be aware of the audience, and understand that part of being effective is to sense and help others off the defense and out of their fear when possible. Sometimes that means helping them see their own value and helping them to shine by acknowledging their value in front of that same audience.
Thanks Ann. You said it! Your insights bring compassion and foresight to the conversation. Successful leaders create safe environments. (Not necessarily stress free, but safe.)
I’m glad you stopped in and shared your thoughts.
That is excellant! Isn’t it odd that many leaders never concider their audience. Without an audience, who would we lead?
I always like to read what you write. “Keep on keep’n on.”
Good afternoon Dan;
All 12 of your tip’s are relevant and applicable to just about every circumstance resulting from being run over ‘by the Bus’.The first two on your list happen to be the first two that would be on my list.
#1, Keep delivering on your promises. When you back off off being thrown under the bus, it create’s the perception that “it’s YOUR FAULT ytoui got ran over. Find ways to continue to be productive and add value to your organization.Additionally, remain focused on building a network of like minded indiviuals who share your phylosophy.
#2. There’s a consistant pattern of simularities among those who’ve been thrown under the bus.
Many folks will pick themselve’s up, dust off, and move on to the next challenge ‘mistakedly’ using the same approach that got em run over in the first place. WARNING; even though you alter your approach, doesn’t mean it won’t happen again. One of the sign’s I look for in potential future leaders is how they respond to advercity. Do you run and hide? Do you blow a gasket and lash out at others? ‘Or’, do you carry yourself with dignity while you refrain from placing blame on others.
I’d like to continue Dan but it’s almost 2:00, “Time to get out-uh jail!”
Thanks SGT. I’m glad you sqeeked in a comment before breaking out.
Adding the idea of building your network to the concept of not pulling back is wonderful. It can be easy to put your head down and mind your own business when you feel hurt. But, as you suggest, lift your head up and connect… AND keep working hard.
Thrown under the bus, backed-up over, drug around town, backed-up over again, and one more spin around the block for good measure…..
It is a delicate position to be in. I have witnessed and also victim of being thrown under the bus by some one who wanted to advance at any cost. Such organisations are not worth working for since such acts will keep repeating itself and all the sincere work one does goes waste. Right now my son is undergoing such a scenario where the boss hogs the limelight without so much coming to the help of his people to the extent that all orders brought in after so much effort are not executed properly resulting in customer pull out . But the blame is on staff that no orders are brought. such leaders are parasites who thrive on others >
This one came along at a PERFECT time Dan! Good advice!
I was thrown under the bus recently and it took me by surprise. It was in a meeting where everyone was above me and the boss didn’t like a program that I had also counseled against earlier. The person who forced through the program panicked and suggested that it was my idea. Compounding the situation is the fact that I am fairly new in the organization and still building relationships. I wanted to defend myself then and there but it seemed petty so I just said that I had also prepared a full plan for a different approach and would be happy to present it to everyone. So yes I took the high road in the moment but you can believe that I will find a time in the future to make sure the others in the room know exactly what happened. I’ve worked too hard in my career to let people get away with that nonsense and while I wasn’t going to publicly call her out I have no qualms about finding the right moment to set the record straight with the others.
Questioning your own answer,
“It takes real skill to discuss this without sounding like a cry baby or an accuser. Can we bring this up in a way that is good for the organization? ”