Unfortunately, as you've probably noticed, true leaders are very few and far between. In fact, chances are that your current boss falls far short of that. Worse still, there's a good chance you're working for someone who's making your life miserable. And if you've spent just ten years in the work force, it's almost impossible that you've never worked for such a person.
Part of building your personal resilience is learning how to handle these people decisively and effectively. The alternative is wasting a lot of emotional energy, staying miserable and having little to show for it in the end, except maybe lots of stress and ill health.
One reason why most people do waste so much emotional energy dealing ineffectively with a bad boss is they make one critical false assumption. They assume the boss is fundamentally a rational, sane person who is choosing to do bad things, either through inexperience or through "malice aforethought". And yes, that's sometimes true. There are lots of bad bosses who know the difference between right and wrong and consciously choose the latter.
In a large percentage of cases, though, that's just not the case. Instead, you're often dealing with someone who's clinically ill with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, Anti-social Personality Disorder or something similar. How can you spot the difference?
Let's focus on Narcissism for the moment. Your boss may very well be a narcissist if:
- He (I'll use the male pronoun here, although there are lots of female narcissists in positions of power) is charming and has considerable acting skills
- He's arrogant and abusive when he thinks he can get away with it
- He's got an inflated self-image
- In his eyes, your company is really all about him, not about the official mission statement
- He's really good at manipulating people emotionally
- If at any time he has taken credit for YOUR work, you know how it feels!
- He has zero EMPATHY with others and isn't emotionally capable of anything except feigned empathy and emotional intimacy
- He's a control freak and a micro-manager
- He requires a lot of ego stroking
- He surrounds himself with "yes-men"
- He constantly invades your personal space and free time, since he has no sense of personal boundaries (you are, after all, just an extension of him, a tool)
Think of fictional characters like Cruella Deville, Anna on the series "V", or Ben from "Lost" and you'll get the general idea. Just keep in mind that not all narcissists are outwardly cruel or abusive. Worst of all, narcissists are such excellent actors and manipulators that they're really hard to spot.
In one organization I worked for, there was one ladder-climbing manager who was demonstrably incompetent, thoroughly disliked and whose decisions were just short of ruinous to the overall mission... yet he ended up in the number 2 position! That's how good these people are at acting and how poorly equipped most people are to recognize and combat them.
Some among them are so adept at making others feel good that few suspect their real agenda. And those few have a really hard time making themselves heard. After all, how can something that feels so good be SO wrong?
Next time, I'll share with you some concrete strategies for maintaining your personal resilience in the face of ANY kind of bad boss, including the narcissist.
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger