What to do when your boss is an egomaniac

There is more to do than scream.
There is more to do than scream.
Image: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
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Your boss always thinks he’s right, he tends not to listen, and he thinks he’s brilliant.  Unfortunately, his brilliance may be a figment of his own overly active imagination.

How do you manage up with the boss who thinks he’s perfect?

Ask for permission to be honest

Early on, ask your boss how honest he wants you to be. You might phrase the question something like this: ”Paul, I’m so appreciative of the opportunity to learn from you in this role, and I’m here to help you execute your vision. To be sure I can provide you the support you need, I just want to check in with you to see how honest you want me to be when you propose new ideas, projects, etc.”

Almost any boss will ask for honesty. The key is asking this question early on before there’s an issue or concern. In the moment (when you need to push back or question a proposed idea), it’s often difficult to do so.

Push back through strategic questions

If your boss proposes a course of action that sounds crazy, instead of saying so, identify your concerns then pose those as questions. You might ask something like: “John, developing an exclusive agreement with Vendor X definitely has its upside, but I’m just a little concerned about how it could significantly increase costs if we have to expedite shipments due to unexpected surges in demand. Based on last year’s numbers, if we had only one vendor, we probably would’ve paid a 30% premium for expedited shipments. Are you worried about that at all?”

Highlight contributions of others

Oftentimes, the egomaniac boss automatically assumes that he’s the beginning and the end of every positive outcome in the organization, and it’s helpful to remind him of others’ contributions. Some groups incorporate peer recognition into their regular team meetings. This can be a great vehicle for ensuring that team member acknowledgement is timely and regular.

Use facilitation techniques during meetings

The egomaniac boss can often suck up all the oxygen in the room during team meetings and discourage valuable input from others. Instead of letting meetings degenerate into a verbal free for all dominated by a few, use techniques like round robin that instill a sense of order and encourage balanced feedback from the entire group. This technique requires a comment from each person one by one (moving sequentially around the room).

Most bosses will view volunteering and proactive suggestions positively and welcome the help, but if there is a negative reaction, be prepared to pull back. Managing up is about offering proactive help—not trying to take over or preach to your boss.  Even the egomaniac can be teachable, so hopefully your actions will not just enhance your credibility, but also greatly benefit the entire organization as well.

Dana Brownlee is author of the upcoming book The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches