Here’s the thing, it doesn’t take long for an oversized ego to manifest in the workplace.
Everything is self-referential. Every subject leads back to great them.
One of my clients was recently offered a job that would pay about double what she now earns. She passed the interview so I thought all she had to do was read and sign the contract. I was surprised when she said she was not taking the position.
Why not? Because the boss of the new company had been leading the interview panel.
The HR manager asked relevant, open-ended questions. The external panelist gauged her skills and listened to examples. That took up maybe 11 minutes of the 30 minute interview. The rest was taken up by the boss asking one or maybe two questions, but mostly just talking about himself, his company and its values, its likes, its triumphs, and so on.
“If he’s so self-absorbed during the hiring interview and has so little regard for what the interview should have revealed about me and the other candidates, I’d be downright stupid to work for him,” my client told me. . “Of course I could handle it. But really, would it be worth it?
In short, the answer is no, for myriad reasons, including prioritizing your mental health and ensuring a healthy work-life balance.
But if you’re already stuck in a position with a selfish CEO, you need to be tactical and pragmatic in how you deal with them.
First, don’t take it personally (do sums in your head while the egoist talks) and always remain calm, even in stressful situations where they are clearly wrong. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you have to sit back and become their emotional punching bag at the office. Instead, keep a written record of the dates and times when your selfish boss was inappropriate, unprofessional, or called you to account over something minor or beyond your control.
Similarly, keep a paper trail regarding regular reviews so you have a measurable record of your progress and performance. This can help resolve any conflicts quickly and professionally without any emotion.
Getting support from your peers can really benefit your mental health, too. As the adage goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. While gossip at the water cooler (virtual or otherwise) in a hushed tone is never good, having a trusted circle of colleagues who can provide professional support and advice will not only keep you sane, but your work and professional progression on track to hold.
And while it may hurt you to do so, sometimes leaning into their ego, complimenting them, and even mocking their personality a bit can help make the egoist feel even more important and recognized. I know someone who judiciously used teasing to control a sibling’s ego. Small raised eyebrows as she said things like, “considering our sister’s excessive humility…” Sometimes she laughed, but even if she didn’t, the reference would comfort the other family members.
However, knowing how to deal with a big ego boss does not necessarily make dealing with it worthwhile. There comes a point when practicing the required skills almost gives in, and too much of your time goes into inflating an already oversized ego. So, is it worth it?
Is a CEO who has built his success – deserved or not – likely to change based on such outdated behavior? They are so ahead in a way that they believe is productive, justified, and necessary. Why change now?
If the answer is no – and with a selfish boss at the helm, it probably is – that’s the point where you should quietly look for another job (while continuing to maintain good relationships in your current job).
A leader without emotional intelligence – and especially self-awareness – is potentially disastrous for a company’s culture. And this kind of work environment is not sustainable in the long run.
According to Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoularexcellent leaders, “ask questions instead of giving answers, support employees instead of judging them, and facilitate their development instead of dictating what needs to be done.”
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