Help! I’m Afraid I’ll be Hung out to Dry

by Alli Polin on February 19, 2019

This week, I watched a TV show where two employees went to the boss and asked him to intervene with a third employee. They said they were miserable and would do whatever necessary to make it stop.  

Later that day, the boss went to speak to the offending employee and the two who went to him in confidence were in the room too. He asked the employee to stop her behavior and all three, including the two that went to him to ask for help, called him names and chastised him for stepping into the situation. 

It was sitcom funny because so many people can sadly relate.

If you don’t know, when you’re hung out to dry, it means you’re abandoned by someone you thought had your back. In this case, it was the boss, but at the office there are three distinct scenarios where this often plays out: 

  1. Boss not backed up by the team (see situation above)
  2. Colleagues not backing up each other. Saying that the issue is important to all of them but letting one person stick their neck out before they’re willing to do the same.
  3. Individual not backed up by their boss. They’re set on a task by their boss, but if it fails, it’s as if they were a lone wolf, not acting with leadership knowledge and support. 

Worried You’ll be Hung out to Dry? Do This:

Document Your Conversations

Documentation is your friend. It creates a record of conversations, actions taken, timelines, and next steps. Don’t wait until the end of the week to finally get around to documenting your conversations – you won’t remember the details. As soon as possible, write down facts, be professional and keep judgmental language out of it.  

Stop Thinking of Yourself as “The One”

When you use language like “I need them to help me,” or “I’ll run it by them for feedback but don’t need their buy-in,” you’re separating yourself. When there’s an issue that needs to be resolved, analysis completed or action taken, it’s a WE, not ME opportunity.  

Keep People in the Loop

Yes, you can move things forward without checking in or providing updates but if it’s a hot issue, keep people informed. The best way to do this is through a face to face or voice to voice meeting when possible and a follow-up email. When it’s not, still send an email, it’s better than silence. You don’t want someone to say, “I had no idea that’s what he was doing… news to me.”

Decide How Far You’re Willing to Go

Nobody can force you to take unconditional action. Think about your limits, the effort you’re willing to put in, and the risks you’re prepared to accept. If someone tries to twist your arm, assert yourself without malice and be clear on where you draw the line

The good news is that most people do have your back and are going to support you even when working on hot button issues. The majority of the time in thriving org cultures you aren’t at risk of being hung out to dry. However, if you know you’re working with a leader who has a history of letting people on their team take the fall for failures and credit for successes, be smart in your approach.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri Klass February 19, 2019 at 9:18 am

Great post and points Alli! I have witnessed a great deal of blame and finger pointing when team outcomes are either delayed or derailed. In a recent workshop one leader refused to hold themselves accountable and couldn’t wait to share how another department was really at fault.

To overcome being hung out to dry I always like to clarify each person’s role and just as you mention about keeping everyone in the loop it is important to set up check-in times to make sure the project is on track. No need to hang anyone out to dry. Empower others to be accountable.

Thanks Alli and will share!


Gary Gruber February 19, 2019 at 4:04 pm

In speaking truth to power there is strength in numbers. That “we” approach often so much better and more effective than the “me” approach. There are exceptions. Figure out how far you’re willing to go and what price you’re willing to pay to effect the change you believe is necessary.


LaRae K. Quy February 21, 2019 at 1:40 am

You really hit the nail on the head when you said that people who are left to hang out to dry are not respected by those around them. I say that as 1) a victim of someone who’s been hung out to dry, and 2) as one who did it to someone else. Respect was the key issue in both incidents…I knew I didn’t really have the respect of my team but failed to do anything to change their opinion—it hit me hard. And yes, I immediately coughed up a supervisor when I saw the tide had turned with others on our team. The lack of loyalty both times could have been turned around if there had been more awareness. Thanks for a great post, Alli!


Cynthia A. Bazin March 7, 2019 at 6:19 pm

Alli, this is an awesome article. I think we’ve all had the experience at one time or another that we feel like we’re ‘being hung out to dry’. I always feel that documentation is so important so you don’t lose the factual details. The other tip that you gave that is spot on is to keep people in the loop. Don’t wait until someone asks you about something. Be ahead of it. Thank you Alli for your ongoing leadership. I love learning from you!


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