In the beginning, you got along great. Your boss had this way about him, a gregarious personality that drew you into his stories, ideals, and goals. Yet, as time went along, you began to realize something. Everything was about him. You noticed he shut down your ideas only to present them two weeks later as his own. When things went right, he took all the credit and when things went wrong, he threw you under the bus.
Now, you realize your boss is suddenly on your every move. Like a hawk, he waits and then swoops down and picks apart the work you’ve been doing. It seems like no matter what you do, you’re just not doing anything right. ‘Your decisions are unfounded, you should have done ________ differently.’ The way he would have done it. Even though what he recommended before contradicts what he’s saying now.
If any of this sounds familiar, you may be working for a narcissist. Narcissists cover a wide range of personality types, but you see them often in positions of power. They are adept at stepping on the backs of others to get to the top. What happens when one of those backs is your own?
What do you do when nothing you seem to do is good enough, when your every decision is questioned and challenged? As long as you believe that you are acting with integrity, and doing the right thing, you can still get ahead in your career even if your boss seems out to get you. There are times to listen to his advice, and there are times to follow your gut. I’m here to give you hope. Know that you can still be recognized in spite of your boss’s foot on your back. Here’s how.
Create a network of colleagues you can trust.
Believe it or not, your boss is not the only person who has power and influence over your career. It is your network that can influence your success more than your boss. It may seem like your boss holds all the cards, but when it comes down to it, he is only one person. Your network is as large or small as you make it. Build up a network of people at all levels in (and outside) the company by investing your time in them. Get to know people. Ask questions about them. Build trust over time by following through on your promises and being honest.
One of the most powerful ways to earn people’s trust is by being authentic. Be you. Be trustworthy. Don’t say anything behind someone’s back (or in an email) that you wouldn’t say to their face. People will recognize your authenticity and know you are someone they can trust.
Keep organized notes.
Cover your ass, so they say. When dealing with narcissistic people in positions of power, it’s essential to conduct business in writing. One thing to know about the narcissist is they are never wrong. You’ll notice their stories change depending on the situation in order to hold their illusion of being right. Any time a decision is made that will affect the trajectory, cost or outcome of a project you are in charge of, get that decision in writing. Even if your boss comes to your office and replies verbally, follow up with an email. Start it with, “I want to confirm I understand correctly. Based on our conversation, you decided . . . let me know if I have misstated any of this . . . ” and then save it. If you keep virtual or physical folders of project notes, file these. These notes will help pull you out from under the bus.
Own your failures as much as your successes.
If, however, things don’t turn out as you expect, own your mistakes. Be the first to step up and point the finger at yourself if you’ve screwed up. This builds trust with your peers when they see you admit to a mistake.
Act in accordance with your conscience.
As Jiminy Cricket says, “Let your conscience be your guide.” This is especially important when it is clear that you and your boss’s goals do not align. There is something to making the boss happy, but when you know in your heart that you are doing the right thing, then you should do it. Make your decision based on your conscience, and then stand by it. If it turns out later that you made the wrong decision, that’s okay too as long as you own it and learn from it.
Never let your fear stop you from doing what you know is right. I had a boss tell me once, “The cream always rises to the top.” I believe a lot of what makes this happen is by doing the right thing, because in the end, good always wins.
I’d love to hear from you. Share in the comments of tricks you’ve used for dealing with a difficult boss or coworker.
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Copyright © 2016 Katherine J. Wheeler. All rights reserved.