Selfish leaders. My friend and leadership expert Vince Molinaro describes them as the self-centred, egotistical folks who think that leadership is all about them. As Vince says “They don’t seem to care about the company they lead, the employees or customers. All they seem to worry about is their next company car, bonuses, stock options, and perks. It’s all me, me, me!”
Unfortunately, selfish bosses are relatively common in organizations. Staying pretty focused on your own little world can actually help you climb up several rungs on the ladder. Selfishness works great as an individual contributor and even pretty well in small intact teams where you need to drive results. As a result, the leadership ranks have too many of these selfish types and you had better know how to deal with them.
Make Their Success the Outcome
Working for a selfish boss is no reason to abandon what matters for your business—you just have to go one extra step and articulate how what’s good for the business is good for your boss. For example, if you think your team needs to introduce a new product line, you can say “our customers will get the closest shave possible if we add an 8th blade to our razor.” But you can’t stop there; make the link back to your boss “the head of marketing will go nuts for this idea—you’re going to be a star!”
Making the extra link in the chain is a really good way to think about things when you have a selfish boss. You still get to do what’s right and if what’s right happens to have positive side effects for your boss’ ego, all the better.
Find a Win
If you think something needs to be done that is not an obvious win for your boss (or is even a strike against him), find a way to frame it as a win. One approach is to highlight the delayed gratification of doing the right thing. “I know letting Frank manage this 8 blade project is hard to stomach, but I’m confident that the powers that be will recognize you for taking the high road.” Alternatively, reframe from a negative on one dimension to a positive on another. “I know letting Frank manage the 8 blade project is hard to stomach, but you’re always going to be the one who gets credit for the idea—and this way you get the glory without having to do the work.”
Make Feedback Situational
When things go wrong, you need to be very careful and delicate with feedback to a selfish boss. You certainly don’t want to say anything that bursts their self-love bubble. Instead, make feedback very situational and frame things so that you’re focusing on helping the world understand the greatness of your boss. For example, if your boss didn’t do a great job defending her 8th razor blade idea, you can give feedback such as “In that pitch meeting, when you focused on the high-level marketing case for the 8th blade and didn’t speak to the logistics of implementing the program, I don’t think Xiang could really see your vision through to the roll-out. How could we bring your vision down to his level next time?”
Your job is not to stoke the fires of your boss’ raging ego. But to get what you need done, you might need to throw on a log every once in a while. Always keep the best interest of your customer, your organization, and your team top of mind, but use some creative framing to make sure the right thing for your stakeholders has a silver lining for your boss.
It’s a bit nauseating, I’ll grant you, but if you don’t have a choice but to stick it out, these techniques should get you through.
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