Here’s the thing, it doesn’t take long for an outsized ego to manifest itself in the workplace.
Everything is self-referential. Any topic leads back to wonderful them.
One of my clients was offered a job recently that would pay roughly twice what she’s earning now. She nailed the interview, so I figured all she had to do was read and sign the contract. I was surprised when she said she wasn’t taking the position.
Why not? Because the boss of the new company had led the interview panel.
The HR manager asked relevant, open questions. The external interview panellist probed her skills and listened to examples. That took up maybe 11 minutes out of the 30-minute interview. The rest was occupied by the boss who asked one or maybe two questions, but for the most part, simply talked about himself, his company and its values, his preferences, his triumphs, and so on.
“If he’s that self-absorbed in the recruitment interview, and has so little regard for what the interview should have been finding out about me and the other candidates, I’d be plain stupid to go work for him,” my client told me. “Of course, I could cope. But really, would it be worth it?”
In short, the answer is no, for a myriad of reasons including prioritising your mental health and ensuring you have a healthy work-life balance.
But if you’re already stuck in a position with an egotistical CEO, you’ll need to be tactical and pragmatic in how you deal with them.
Firstly, don’t take it personally (do sums in your head while the egotist talks) and always keep your cool, even in stressful situations where they’re clearly in the wrong. At the same time, that doesn’t mean you have to sit back and become their in-office emotional punching bag. Instead, keep a written record of dates and times your egotistical boss was inappropriate, unprofessional, or took you to task over something menial or outside of your control.
Similarly, keep a paper trail with regard to regular appraisals, so you have a measurable record of your progress and achievements to hand. This can help resolve any conflict that might arise, swiftly and professionally without any emotion.
Getting support from your colleagues can also really help your mental health. As the adage goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. While gossiping at the water cooler (virtual or otherwise) in hushed tones is never a good look, having a trusted circle of colleagues that can lend professional support and advice will not only keep you sane but keep your work and professional progress on track.
And while it might pain you to do so, sometimes leaning into their ego, complimenting them and even poking a little bit of fun at their personality can make the egotist feel even more important and acknowledged. I know someone who used judicious teasing to manage a sibling’s ego. Little raised-eyebrow digs while saying things like, “given our sister’s outsized humility…” Sometimes she would laugh, but even when she didn’t, the reference would tend to comfort the other family members.
However, knowing how to cope with a big ego boss doesn’t necessarily make that coping worthwhile. There comes a point when exercising the skills required comes close to pandering, and where too much of your time is going towards the inflation of an already oversized ego. So, is it worth it?
Is a CEO who’s built their success — deserved or not — on such outdated behaviour likely to change? They’ve got this far leading in a way they believe to be productive, warranted, and necessary. Why change now?
If the answer is no — and with an egoistical boss at the helm, this is likely — that’s the point when you need to quietly start looking for another job (while continuing to maintain good relationships in your current one).
A leader lacking in emotional intelligence — and particularly self-awareness — is potentially disastrous for the culture of a company. And this type of work environment isn’t sustainable long-term.
According to Herminia Ibarra and Anne Scoular, excellent leaders, “ask questions instead of providing answers, support employees instead of judging them, and facilitate their development instead of dictating what has to be done.”
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