When “they” Ain’t the Boss but Neither are You

I like people who understand what being a leader actually means and yet they still want to be a leader. Those people are willing to invest a part of themselves in helping other people grow and succeed. While they may make a living by leading, their primary goal is to make a difference. A difference in their organization, I should add a positive difference, but even more importantly, a positive difference in the lives of the people they lead. 

I’m much less fond of people who merely want to be a boss. You know, those people who want power and control over other people. They often have oversized egos and most everything they do they do with an eye towards how it will benefit them. Those people are hard to work for but it’s even worse working with them. That’s because even though they have no real authority, or often, no ability, they act as if they do. 

They frequently try to bully people into doing what they tell them to do. They insinuate that “one day” they will be the boss and they will remember who did what they were told and especially remember those who didn’t. The veiled threat is intended to coerce compliance and often, it works. 

Working with people who think they are the boss but aren’t can be downright maddening. But unfortunately it happens so it’s essential to find effective ways to navigate the situation professionally. Here are a few ideas to work in that environment without looking uncooperative, resistant and less than a team player.

  • Regardless of their behavior, treat them with respect and professionalism. Avoid engaging in power struggles or arguments, as this can escalate tensions.
  • Try to understand why they may feel the need to assert authority. They might be compensating for insecurities or trying to gain recognition. Empathy can help you approach the situation more constructively.
  • While being respectful, assert yourself when necessary. Be confident in expressing your thoughts and ideas, and never let their behavior undermine your own sense of worth.
  • Clearly define your roles and responsibilities to avoid confusion. Politely but firmly remind them of your position and authority when they overstep their bounds.
  • If you face ongoing issues, consult your actual supervisor or even a higher authority in the organization. Explain the situation calmly, focusing on how it affects your work and the team dynamic.
  • Avoid confrontations in public or heated environments. Find a private setting where you can discuss the situation calmly and rationally.
  • Emphasize that everyone’s objective is to work toward the success of the team or project. Redirect the focus on achieving the best outcomes rather than power dynamics.
  • Collaborate with other team members and colleagues who may be experiencing similar challenges. Unity can create a supportive environment that challenges inappropriate behavior. But remember, “collaborating” doesn’t mean whisper campaigns full of complaining and rumors. If your collaboration doesn’t include solutions to the problem then you’re likely not helping anyone. 
  • Keep a record of any problematic encounters or instances where the individual oversteps boundaries. This documentation can be useful if you need to escalate the issue later.
  • In severe cases, involve a neutral third party or HR representative to mediate the situation and find a resolution. Don’t think for a minute that this is a gutless solution. These “bosses who aren’t bosses” can be a cancer in an organization and there’s no need for you to play Don Quixote and try to “fix” the situation on your own. 
  • Demonstrate leadership qualities in your own actions and decisions. Be someone others can look up to, irrespective of their perceived authority.
  • Use the situation as an opportunity for personal development. Learn from the experience and find ways to improve your own communication and conflict resolution skills.

People regularly can and do lead without a position of authority. They use influence, not coercion to lead people in a constructive and positive manner. They have the best interests of other people at the heart of everything they do. If you’re wondering in you’re being led by a leader without a position of leadership just ask yourself “what’s in it for them?” If nothing comes to mind they are likely leading.

If you’re wondering if you’re being bossed by a “boss who ain’t a boss” ask yourself the same question. It should take about a second to develop a list of everything that’s in it for them. And helping others is very unlikely to be on your list.

Remember that working with challenging personalities is part of professional life. Maintaining your composure and professionalism is crucial for your own well-being and career advancement. Never surrender control of your attitude or professionalism to a less professional person. Because it’s those two attributes that will eventually help you persevere.

Want more of LeadToday? I’ve changed things up on my Twitter feed for subscribers. I recently began publishing two or three videos each week focusing on an element of Authentic Leadership. I’ll post these videos each Tuesday and Thursday morning. Sometimes a bonus video pops up at other times during the week. They will be about 10 minutes long so we can get into the topic in a more meaningful way. The investment for subscribers in still only $4.99 a month. That’s for at least 80 MINUTES of quality video content on leadership a month.

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