Dealing with a power tripping co-worker is one thing. But what happens if that power tripping person is your boss?
Just when you thought you finally landed your dream job…your power-tripping boss (whose ego is the size of a continent) rapidly turns it into a nightmare!
A reason why mockumentaries and comedies involving bad bosses click so much is because a great number of people, especially those working in the corporate setting long enough, can totally relate. Yes, we may laugh at the crazy antics of Dilbert’s pointy-haired satanic boss, be amused by the ignorantly insensitive Michael Scott from The Office or snicker every time we watch Mr. Burns bully Homer in The Simpsons; but while we find comedic fictional versions of bad bosses particularly entertaining on screen, it isn’t quite as fun dealing with one in real life.
So, what do you do? Working under the resident power tripper isn’t exactly the ultimate morale-boosting experience. In fact, it can get demoralizing because the person whom you originally expected to mentor you is turning out to be quite like a dementor in a Harry Potter book!
HIPP asked Organizational Development Consultant and Life coach Russ Juson of the Organizational Change Consultants International (OCCI), a leading change consultancy specializing in paradigm shift interventions, to shed some light on the matter.
Power-tripping in a nutshell.
It all boils down to ego. “Power tripping goes back to a negative belief system that bosses have to be right and look good all the time,” says Juson. “And that negative belief system leads them to think that the only way to do this is by being bossy and imposing.”
If you find yourself stuck with a boss who makes it a daily habit to flaunt and impress his seniority over you, then you have to understand that he is most likely coming from a space of low self-esteem. A boss on a power trip compensates for his feelings of self-doubt by manipulating or making his subordinates squirm, just to boost his ego.
“Power-tripping is all about being recognized,” says Juson. “The bigger your boss’ ego, the more ego needs he has to feed; and going on a power trip is his way of temporarily relieving his insecurities about how HE does his job.”
Villains in the work place.
It’s bad enough that your workload is stressful and demanding. But add a boss-from-hell to that equation, and you have another thing coming. Power-tripping bosses come in all forms and figures; the more aware you are of how they operate, the better it will be for you to handle your current predicament.
Liz, an account executive, calls her supervisor “the dragon lady” mainly because the latter constantly breathes down her neck. “She checks on me every half-hour and demands I give her updates on projects that it actually interferes with getting tasks done on time,” says Liz. “When we fail to meet a deadline, she goes ballistic. She doesn’t smile and she makes it a point to slip in nasty comments about me to our country manager. I couldn’t really do anything about it because she’s the one in direct contact with him.”
Anna, on the other hand, shares how her senior editor seemed quite harmless to her when she first started her job. “She’d be all perky and pleasant, and would compliment me all the time about how well I was doing. Little did I know that behind my back she had been plotting to ease me out of the company once she has successfully exhausted my personal network of writers.”
Every working adult has probably worked for similar bosses like the two we just mentioned. “The reality is that there really are bosses who sabotage their employee’s success,” says Juson. “They want to come out looking like the bida of the story. It’s mostly ego; and when there is an ego need, it always comes from fear—fear of looking bad, fear of losing control…”
Dealing with the devil.
Given that you are already knee-deep in power-tripping hell, you only have two options.
First is, LEAVE. You have to know when to call it quits. “People think that leaving may seem like the easy way out,” says Juson. “But if the situation has already gone beyond your personal breaking point and you feel that you are already going against your personal values, then you owe it to yourself to leave. There’s really no reason for you to stick around. The good news is that there are bosses out there who treat their employees with the respect they deserve.”
“However, if you cannot afford to leave now,” he says. “Then, change the way you feel about your boss!”
At the end of the day, how happy or miserable you are is entirely up to you. As cliché as it sounds, you alone hold the key to your happiness. The fact is that you can’t really change the way your boss treats you; and no perfect environment, wherein the world is always on your side, exists. You cannot change people. But you do have the power to change the way you feel about your situation, about your boss.
“The more you exert effort in resisting your ego-tripping boss,” says Juson. “The more drained you will be at the end of the day. What you resist persists. If you continue looking at your boss the same way and you have to work closely with him every day, then you’re heading for career burnout. But if you focus your thoughts and energy in more important pursuits, then you’re on your way to salvaging what you once thought was a dire and hopeless situation.”
Manage your power-tripping boss.
Managing up is the key. “Every great manager/worker at one point had an impossible boss,” says Juson. “Your challenge is to take out the obstacle. I’m not saying you shoot your boss, what I’m saying is that you learn how to manage him.”
Of course, you cannot manage your boss if you do not even manage yourself. So start by giving yourself a reality inventory. Take stock of what you perceive as “difficult.” Is your boss really difficult or do you just perceive him to be difficult because your personalities clash? If this happens, it could be that you are just finding it more convenient to blame the problem on him than taking personal responsibility.
“Make an honest analysis of your situation,” says Juson. “Why is your boss on your case all the time? Is he constantly snapping at you for no reason? Or does he only get angry when you miss your conference calls? If everything he is demanding doesn’t go against standard employee rules, then he’s just doing his job.”
“If you HAVE been performing up to par, and you just happen to be stuck with a power-tripping boss whose ego needs constant feeding,” says Juson. “Then, if it makes you money anyway, feed it! Look at it this way—if your boss constantly picks on you to feed his ego, you actually have a degree of influence over him. Given that, how will you now play the game?”
At the end of the day, dealing with a power-tripping boss requires personal mastery. Do your job excellently to the point where the boss does not have license to complain. The moment he does, shrug it off because you know yourself well enough to not take anything he says personally. Differentiate yourself from him by asserting your confidence as an individual. Bear in mind that you cannot allow yourself to be manipulated by someone who is even more unsure of himself than you are.
Published in HIPP Magazine, March 2009.