Getting held back by your boss is a dilemma many talented people face. So how can you advance your own career if you work for a boss with a big ego who may even see you as a threat?
We are taught to respect and learn from senior leaders. This is especially true when our managers have made a significant impact. They may have generated cost saving initiatives, led transformative change, increased profit margins, or successfully-led highly matrixed teams.
We are also taught that in order to advance our own career, we need to get ourselves noticed. That doesn’t just mean getting noticed for the work we do. It means asking great questions that challenge prevailing ways of thinking and offering up new ways of doing business. Yet to be a thought leader and create a profile for yourself when you report to a boss who believes he or she is the brightest talent in the room is a real challenge - to put it mildly.
The trouble is that these sorts of leaders don’t want to share the limelight and don’t like what they perceive to be competition. Getting out from under their shadow can be hard. They may be great at directing talent, but they tend to be less generous when it comes to creating visibility and recognition for their teams’ achievements. And that’s unfortunate because, after all, one of the key roles for any manager is developing their successors. Instead, they tend to showboat and try to eclipse those talented individuals who are integral to their own success.
In complete contrast, think about those leaders who have attained greatness but have done so humbly. They are equally bright and equally talented. The key difference is they have a healthy level of ego.
These leaders are change agents who never were show-offs in the school yard. They weren’t the ones yelling, “hey, look at me”. But they DID aspire to greatness. The one difference is they did not keep reminding everybody along the way and the accolades they won were as a by-product of the mark they made. Moreover, they provide an inspiring context, empower others to take the lead and are happy to recognize the individual achievements of their team members.
Ego & Insecurity
Egoists have a different motivation. Underneath every large ego is a layer of insecurity. They need to keep telling us how grateful we should be for their very existence. They worry people will forget them. They worry about being invisible. They attract ‘yes’ people. Of course when asked, they always claim that they want strong leaders as part of their team. But when it comes down to being challenged, they rarely acquiesce. They have a need to be right.
A strong leader is one who readily admits they can be wrong and is the first to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers. They welcome and embrace their team’s insight and expertise without seeing it as a threat. It’s only those with an inflated sense of self who have a difficult time accepting and acknowledging that strength lies in others.
Escaping the Shadow
If you work for an egoist, you run the risk of being invisible when your goal is to be seen as a key differentiator. What you need to do is to escape their shadow and be proactive in managing your career. Here are some of the key steps that you should be taking to ensure you get noticed.
Secure a sponsor: It is imperative to align yourself with a leader in the organization whose knows your work and whose primary role is to promote your talent. This will allow others to understand your contribution broadly and enable you to enlist a true advocate.
Syndicate: Although your boss may overshadow you it is important to promote your achievements. Of course you are part of a team, but do make sure you create awareness regarding when and how you were the key architect of change.
Build your network: It is easy for us to rely heavily on our inner circle. This is your obvious and established network. You must broaden your strategic alliances. Find out who the heavy hitters are in your organization. Seek out ways to connect. There are usually shared synergies. You may have expertise to offer that can add value to different lines of business.
Join a committee: This allows you to demonstrate leadership to a different circle of influencers. You can showcase your skills outside of your core business such as your ability to spearhead a charitable initiative.
Get noticed within your industry: Sign up for speaking engagements. Become a subject matter expert. This will allow you to create a buzz and be seen as a valuable up and comer. In doing so, you create a profile for yourself and your organization.