It’s tough going to work each day when you know you’re going to have to deal with your boss’s huge ego. There’s that dread in the pit of your stomach; the butterflies. “What stupid garbage is he or she going to throw a fit about today?” It’s even harder still to get anything accomplished when you’re always walking on eggshells, worrying about how an e-mail will be interpreted or an upcoming meeting might turn into a free-for-all, with threats and accusations being hurled at every opportunity.
Well, fear no more – there are a slew of wonderful books on the market to help you deal with your boss’s huge ego. I have listed three of my favorites below that I consider classics, but I encourage you to embark upon a formal study of how to deal with huge egos in general. In corporate America, it will give you a solid boost. This is a problem that isn’t going to resolve itself, as narcissism is rewarded in our society. Your jerk of a boss is probably getting “props” from every one of his or her supervisors for this kind of behavior.
My absolute favorite big ego book is Throwing the Elephant: Zen and the Art of Managing Up by Stanley Bing. Mr. Bing is a “nom de plume” for a gentleman who is an executive at CBS, where I am sure he had ample opportunity to examine a score of huge egos. This is a very funny book – the profound truths it presents are slathered in humor. Mr. Bing presents many anecdotes of shocking behavior from real-life ego demons such as Martha Stewart, Jaime Dimon and Sandy Weill. (Hey, if you thought your boss was bad … )
Choosing Zen as a lens through which to examine the narcissistic tendencies of large corporations (and their employees) was brilliant. Mr. Bing uses a central tenet of Zen to help you defuse the tension in your relationship with your boss. If you take the “I” and “me” components out of the equation, you will do well. But for as long as you zealously defend your own ego and sense of your own dignity against that of your boss, you are going to get stomped (by the elephant that is your boss). This book also offers a rare opportunity to walk around inside the mind of your boss and understand exactly how he or she is processing Life, which is another essential tool for you in terms of dealing with the abuse. Although this book was originally published in 2003 – to give you a timeline, right before Martha Stewart went into the slammer – it is still relevant and timely.
Another great book you should have in your toolkit is Lion Taming by Steven L. Katz. This book deals more with understanding the whole boss-lackey dynamic, and offers further insight into how your boss thinks. Mr. Katz chooses the lion as a metaphor for your boss, as opposed to Mr. Bing’s elephant. Lion Taming also examines in depth why it is so important to network in and outside your organization, as you cannot possibly handle a lion on your own. You are going to need some kind of backup, and there’s no way around that.
I find it interesting that in both of the above books, animals are used as metaphors for egotistical executives, as the implication here is that the supervisorial function is probably best explored by going to the zoo and hanging out for awhile. If you’re looking for examples of compassionate and enlightened leadership, neither of these books is going to help you out. What they will do is to help you hold your own while you’re building your resume, or help you keep a job while you’re looking for a better one.
There is another aspect to dealing with your boss’s huge ego that deserves a mention. There is narcissistic behavior, and then there is pathological narcissistic behavior. I am referring to narcissistic personality disorder (or NPD), which is more complicated than regular narcissism. A narcissist has the opportunity of electing to change his or her behavior; someone afflicted with NPD does not. NPD is a personality disorder commonly thought to spring from early childhood neglect and/or abuse. Per the Mayo Clinic, people with NPD “have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”
If you work for someone like this, then your boss is basically nuts, and no amount of negotiation or strategy is going to help you. If you want a book to deal with this, my personal favorite is Why is it Always about You?: The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism, by Sandy Hotchkiss, a therapist who has treated her share of narcissists. Actually, this book will help you deal with any of the NPD-afflicted people in your life, whether it’s your boss, mother-in-law or your next-door neighbor. It’s a very valuable book to read, even if your boss isn’t NPD-afflicted.
Once you decode your personal relationship with your boss and learn more about the power dynamics in your organization, things will improve dramatically for you and you will know how to deal with your boss’s huge ego. You can find all of these books on Amazon, by the way, and since they were published awhile ago, probably at a discount. Again, there are many great books on this subject published all the time and I encourage you to check those out as well. I consider these classics, and that’s why I made this list.