Working with an Egocentric Boss

Yikes! Many of us have had to work with self-centered leaders. Some find a way. Unfortunately, many employees or co-workers who are unable to develop a good working relationship simply leave. Others, even though they find their jobs dissatisfying, stay too long. This type of boss can easily thwart the clarity and fulfillment of the company’s goals. S/he can unwittingly create legal ramifications (e.g., bad decisions, perceived discrimination, etc.), but taking a legal approach rarely makes a positive difference for anyone. Being a bad boss or leader isn’t illegal!

We conducted a short survey, and those participants who had experienced working with egocentric bosses told us these leaders had a greater tendency to transfer blame, yet accept the credit for others’ accomplishments! They were perceived to be highly manipulative and made poor decisions that created additional problems for the organization or clients.  Men were described as callous, immature, emotional and bullies, while women were described as back stabbers and “b’s.”

Employees and co-workers say this type of leader avoids talking straight and being honest. S/he doesn’t respect others. They continue voicing opposing points of view or belittling others with differing opinions, even after everyone else moved on. These bosses fail to listen to both sides of an issue before making their decisions. They tend to value secrecy, avoid others and pit people against one other, causing high turnover and mistrust throughout the company.

Here are five ways to help you work with them:

Don’t Label Them. We label their behavior and attitudes (e.g., no integrity, “b,” etc.) and expect them to readily understand our frustration. Many times we do this to vent. Unfortunately, it rarely makes a difference. Instead, use this approach: Describe the issue by telling a story or sharing an example with them, or your mentor. Keep it simple. Be patient and be a parrot (repetition of points).

Give Up False Beliefs. You can’t fix and change them. It’s a fact. There are no magic words or methods to transform these types of bosses, or any boss who is perceived as bad. They have to really, really, really want it, for any change to happen! Acceptance that they are the way they are will reduce your stress and may allow you to more effectively work with them.

Practice Your Presentation. During your preparation, have someone play devil’s advocate. It reduces your anxiety and allows you to be calmer and clear when you make your presentation. As you would do with any boss, good or bad, be sure to provide information in the manner they understand best (e.g., graphs, written descriptions, pictures, stats, etc.). Also, you may need to hire your own coach to either learn how to respectfully yet confidently assert your point (even if you realize it could cost you your job) or how to leave if the situation warrants it.

Provide Meeting Agendas. Be certain to follow that agenda. Take great meeting minutes and distribute within 48 hours of the meeting. When you are required to provide ideas or recommendations during a meeting, ask for others’ input. This is critical if the boss is being dismissive of your contributions. Unfortunately, this type of management style makes it difficult for a team to provide critical input, particularly, if it wasn’t his/her idea first. Often outside guidance on how to fulfill the company’s strategic goals is required to help navigate the company’s growth.

Hire An Outside Coach. It allows the egocentric boss to hear other ideas without losing any sense of power. Make this suggestion to your boss, or have someone who has influence recommend this to him/her. The right coach makes a positive and profound difference. While most bosses have management styles that can be improved, suggestions and coaching to facilitate that improvement needs to come from a respected source, preferably outside the company.

There can be a silver lining:  One Director hated his boss, a VP. Everyone else found the VP difficult to work with too (aka egocentric).  Under the guidance of his coach, the Director had a conversation to clear the air with the VP. He started treating his boss with more respect. Very quickly he became viewed as one of very few people who could work well with this VP. Others began to come to him for guidance. As a result, the President saw this profound difference and offered the Director a lucrative opportunity.

(c)Jeannette Seibly, 2011

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