Trying to Fly with a Boss Determined to Clip Your Wings
We’ve all encountered people whose heads are so big they barely fit through the door. They misrepresent themselves to achieve their status, then contrive to make everyone else their underlings. Their grandiose visions for the company are unrealistic, if not absurd, but they demean anyone who offers an opposing idea.
A narcissistic boss is every employee’s worst nightmare. Only the luckiest among us hasn’t experienced some form of the vanity, bloated confidence or self-centered behaviors that are their signature traits. While research shows that 1 percent of the population is afflicted with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), a larger percentage seem to find their way into C suites — probably because the most common characteristic of someone with NPD is lying and slanting the facts to make themselves look more important.
The office drama that narcissist bosses tend to stir up is brilliantly portrayed through villainous characters in some wildly popular movies. Everyone cheers on the Anne Hathaway character who gains the confidence to move on in “The Devil Wears Prada,” or the Melanie Griffith character who one-ups her glory-stealing boss in “Working Girl.” But in real life, capable subordinates who must continually endure insults and oppression can’t often orchestrate a well-deserved revenge.
A narcissist can charm even the most discerning job seeker, initially seeming to care about nurturing the new hires’ development. But gradually, as their assistants take on more responsibility, their nasty natures show through. They no longer value their employees’ input, say “no” to each suggestion and manipulate any situation for the express purpose of holding them back. The narcissist boss is ultimately about control.
If you’ve had the misfortune to end up with a narcissistic boss, take these measures to get out from under your boss’s proverbial wing.
Tap into your inner warrior.
Stand by your strong work ethic and always do your best work. Don’t let your egotistical boss beat you down. Rise above the dysfunction and stay focused on your personal goals. By remaining the consummate professional at all times, you exude competence. Others will notice.
Find ways to relieve stress (that don’t involve shrinks or medications).
Take care of yourself by finding healthy ways to release the work tension. Schedule regular massages, sign up for kick-boxing classes (and think of your boss’s face as your target) and meet up with friends for a night out on the town. Try to compartmentalize so that the stress of work doesn’t spill into your time away from the office. As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Consider filing a grievance.
You definitely had reservations about the boss’s smarmy personality when you took the job. Still, you thought your thick skin could fend off any maliciousness. But having endured humiliation and ridicule as the boss’s most accessible victim, the brutality has finally gotten to you. In fact, you can no longer stand the sight of this bully! As much as you’d like your revenge, resist the temptation. Never retaliate. But do what it takes to preserve your sense of self-worth before you get to your breaking point. First, consult the office handbook. Does it specifically cite how to handle a grievance? If not, you may want to consider discussing it with someone in the HR Department. Bear in mind, though, that tattling may also have consequences. This is not a decision to undertake lightly.
Start scoping out a new position.
Once the narcissist detects that your allegiance is wavering, you’ll quickly fall out of favor. For your own sanity and self-preservation, you may want to find a way to take leave of your boss before you’re forced out. Is there a way to move up in the organization? Even a lateral move may give you the distance you need. Try to find a good fit with a more evolved boss before moving on.
Take the high road.
Rise above the fray. Never become shrill or argumentative, and refrain from playing the blame game. Keep in mind that most industries are a tight-knit network and word of any malice on your part will spread. If you have to walk away from an intolerable situation, make your employer sorry to lose you and your dedicated service.
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This guest post was authored by Vicky Oliver
Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-best-selling author of five books, including Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots (Sourcebooks, 2008. She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media source, having made over 700 appearances in broadcast, print, and online outlets. For more information, visit vickyoliver.com.