So Your Boss Was Fired ... Now What?

When Lisa's employer underwent a corporate buyout in 2008, the last thing she expected was to learn that her manager had vanished overnight.

"I sent her an e-mail and it bounced back," said Lisa, who's now a social media consultant in New York.

"One day I was asking her for advice, and the next day she was no longer with the company," she said. "I was stunned. No one was told this was going happen. We found out after the fact."

Besides being appalled by losing her boss of three years ("We had a very close relationship," Lisa said), she worried about her own job.

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"My next thought was, 'Am I next?'" Lisa said.

In this era of corporate shakeups and work-related breakdowns, having a boss disappear in the night like some dissenter in George Orwell's "1984" has become increasingly common. But that doesn't make it any less upsetting or baffling. Nor does it make navigating the resulting political minefield any less tricky.

Wondering what to do if your boss becomes one of the disappeared? Here's some advice from workplace experts and employees who've been in the trenches.

Plaster a Smile on Your Face

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You will undoubtedly be curious about what happened. You also may be worried about your own livelihood. And if you liked your boss and think the company handled her departure badly, you'll probably be pretty ticked off to boot.

But the last thing you want to do is reveal any of this to the powers that be, said workplace consultant Cynthia Shapiro, author of "Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know -- And What to Do About Them."

"You can be concerned, but you don't want to show it," Shapiro said. "What you want to show is positivity and open support for the company, even if it's fake. This is job security. Even if the company knows that you're playing the game, they will still appreciate it."

In other words, demanding answers from HR is not the way to go. Nor is glaring at the higher-ups in the lunchroom or stirring the gossip pot within earshot of your boss's boss. If you need to vent, do it outside the office with friends and colleagues you trust.

Whether your boss left of his own accord or was summarily dismissed, "it's a crisis for the company," Shapiro said. "This is when they need a cheerleader, not a pessimist. People have no idea how powerful being positive is in a company."

Don't Make It All About You

"Sarah," a media personality in the Northeast who didn't want her real name used, took this idea to heart when her boss "went AWOL" for undisclosed personal reasons last year.

Besides worrying about her manager's well-being, Sarah feared that the promotion she'd just earned would fall through in her boss' absence -- and that her boss may not have done the necessary legwork to promote Sarah's new radio show.

"I was at sea," Sarah said. But, "I was sympathetic because they were scrambling to keep the organization going. I didn't want to make it about me."

Instead, she put her head down and did her best to start her show with a bang, giving her boss' replacement a couple of weeks to get his bearings before asking for his help promoting her new show on the air.

"I wasn't going to let this completely throw me," Sarah said.

Because she handled the situation like a champ, her new boss and other members of management rallied around her and threw their support behind her show.

"They felt really bad that the rug had been pulled out from under me," Sarah said.

Offer to Pitch In

But grinning and bearing it until your cheeks hurt isn't the only way to support your employer though such a rocky transition.

If you really want to look like a rock star, go to your boss' boss and offer to lend a hand, said Peter Handal, president, CEO and chairman of Dale Carnegie Training, an international training organization that helps corporations improve employee performance.

What should you say?

"I don't know what happened, but I want to help," Handal said. "Is there anything I can do?" is a great icebreaker.

"Fill the vacuum," he added. "This is an opportunity to shine."

Shapiro agreed.

"That is what companies promote," she said. "Managers have to think about the company first and then themselves. That is a leadership quality."

If the big boss does indeed charge you with a specific task, do it promptly and be sure to follow up with her, "even if it's a task that everyone hates," Shapiro said. "It's a test to see if you can do it. It's not, 'What about me?' That will sink you."

Know When to Dust Off Your Resume

Of course, there are times when none of the above will apply.

Take Lisa, the social media consultant whose boss was eliminated in 2008.

"I was in the communications department, and we were the worst offenders of bad communication," she said. "No one talked about it. It was a taboo subject."

To make matters worse, the company had begun taking aim at all of Lisa's allies in management.

"The people that I was close to at the top were no longer there," said Lisa, who felt it was only a matter of time before she too would be given her walking papers. "I was in a real catch-22 situation."

That's when it's time to start putting out feelers for a new position either inside or outside the company, Shapiro said.

"If your boss was removed in a department-wide layoff, there's a 75 percent chance your department won't survive," Shapiro said. "You will either be let go or you will be moved elsewhere in the company."

Recognizing this, Lisa updated her resume and started sniffing around for new opportunities.

"While I wanted to go to another full-time position, the recession had set in," she said. "People were not hiring. So I left the company to form my own consultancy."

Like many underemployed workers, Lisa's had her share of employment ups and downs in the past year and a half. But she's much more optimistic since 2010 began.

"Now, there are actually jobs on the job boards," she said. "That glass is half [full] as opposed to two years ago, when it was half empty."

This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.

Michelle Goodman is a freelance journalist and former cubicle dweller. She is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube". For more information, see Anti9to5Guide.com.

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