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My boss is a self-serving ego-nightmare

Dear Office-Politics,

My boss is a self-serving ego-nightmare at the cost of my self esteem. He had minimal previous experience in the field his management post assumes, yet assumes he has has magically accumulated expert knowledge of every area of our function. He contradicts or disagrees with every opinion or comment we say to the point he constantly contradicts himself. He takes over ever meeting we attend.

Twice in the last 2 weeks he has chased out people who were helping me and taken over, only to make things worse. The last time he did this he made my problems worse and I had to wait until he went to a meeting so I could get the person who was helping me back so that I could complete my task.

He talks over people when they are talking but does it in a way that he says we interrupted him. I have 12 years+ experience, however anything I attempt to contribute is criticized extensively. He never says “hello” or “Did you have a nice weekend/holiday“. My work mate describes him as the rudest person she has ever worked for.

He is exceptionally moody, some days, such as last Monday, he systematically went to each of our desks and found a way to upset us. He never delivers on any of his promises. He is in with the guys-club (group of managers in our area – one of these is likely the senior manager of the floor where any complaint I made would go to). He gives all the interesting and high profile projects to one of the team (who was our most junior and by far least experienced), but he has positioned this person as the most high ranking. This person is an infamous brown noser and is very giggly and ‘touchy’ with him. They have lots of ‘whispering’ meetings at each others desks. I am sure this is not an affair, what I am sure is that she is providing him data about what the rest of us are doing, as he has slipped up a few times knowing things I have not told him. What is interesting is I have observed that he brown noses managers that are superior in position to him.

I used to deliver huge projects for a well known high tech firm and now I am working in the back ground doing menial tasks, I have to approve everything I do through him, this is a huge ‘demotion’ for me. I do critical jobs (when possible), in secret so that he does not make me constantly re-work them, such as helping other departments out.

My once loved job is now hell. I have considered moving and have had a couple of interviews but feel resentful that I should have to move. My other work mate is at their wits end also and has the identical observations I do, (from what I can see he treats this work mate worse than he treats me).

I know I should go to the HR department but I am terrified of losing my job as we have limited income at home. In the last round of layoffs they got rid of “trouble causers” (as termed by one manager), and many good people were let go.

Feeling trapped, losing my self esteem, please help.



dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Trapped,

You describe your boss as full of power-tripping, naked self-interest and ego gland hyperactivity, technically incompetent and unknowledgeable, interpersonally unskilled and rude, not a very nice person, a power tyrant and ego tripper, an overly political player who plays favorites and uses the new junior as a spy, and into a low-integrity good old boy network. But, Trapped, other than that, congrats on having such a great boss!

Seriously, it’s so obvious that we hope you can develop a sense of humor and realize if he’s so blindly obvious perhaps:

a) You can take it less personally and see it for what he is, defusing, asking yourself,” how miserable his life must be to be this insecure and unaware,” etc.. Remind yourself that only “hurt people hurt people,” and while compassion is tough when you get burned, you don’t want to be so angry that it’s like taking poison (anger) and thinking it’ll kill the other.

b) It’s likely that others see him for the blindly obvious behavior and often power pedestals are shaky to stand on. Maybe others will see him for what he is, and he may topple. Take solace in that.

c) Focus on building your own positive buzz and reputation (self-promo, network with seniors).

d) Don’t give the benefit of the doubt to the junior brown-noser since she’s getting all the benefit and you’re getting all the doubt! Protect yourself by having more private agenda, keeping your friends close but your enemies closer by not revealing what she will simply pass on.

Sometimes when someone is this blatantly political, punitive, and controlling, they are symptoms of a tyrant running a “private power pocket,” sometimes called a “closed shop.” This means he may have some hidden naked self-interest he is hiding and over-controls his department because he wants to maintain control, hoard information or resources, conceal illegal or quasi-legal behavior, or perpetuate some unethical ends.

Other clues are absence of open communication flow in and out of the team, little disagreement allowed, whistle-blowers being punished in the past (so be careful), and an environment of people’s living in fear — do we allow this demigod to keep hurting the company or blow the whistle, yet we might be risking revenge. As you ponder whether it’s safe to tell appropriate people, please consider the risks and rewards carefully, including the fact that whenever a private power pocket exists, it usually means that the layer of management above it has a huge political blind spot, or is privy to the power pocket and lending tacit endorsement. In some companies, they are even accomplices. We’re not suggesting this is happening, just that it’s a possibility.

Finally, regarding feeling trapped, you ALWAYS have choice, first over your attitude.

Best wishes and stay savvy! Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2005. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

  1. 4 Answers to “My boss is a self-serving ego-nightmare”

  2. Never ceases to amaze me how these bullies are allowed to carry on their behavior under management’s nose and allowed to get away with it. They drive out good people and create an atmosphere of sniping and backbiting. One of my Bosses would have been quite happy for us to pay to work, such was her contempt for us.

    By carole t. on Aug 15, 2007

  3. I have to agree with this who bully tactics thing. I ahve a boss that constantly breathes down my neck at everything I do and then checks and re-checks all I’ve done. He talks to me as if I were a kindergartener and repeats commands like a drill sergeant. He is rude, sloppy, lazy and disrespectful to most everyone except his boss. He thinks he knows everything about everything and since it is just the two of us in this office I find it very annoying to be around him. He comlains about his job and how he works all the time but really I am doing the basics and performing some of his duties so he can run around town or go home to relax awhile. I have been tape recording all his commands to me so I don’t leave anything out. He told me yesterday that I am making about 1 (one) mistake a month and that is entirely too much. I deal with the government and their paperwork at a funeral home. He also said that 1-2 mistakes every 5-6 months is not good but may be acceptable depending on what it is. Last month I left a letter out of our cities name on a document and had to amend it. He still goes on and on about that. It seems when anyone makes a mistake he carries it so far it is like the old daying of beating a dead dog. I really don’t have any idea what to do and how to handle him. He says he is never wrong about anything and I thought he was joking so I laughed, but he was not joking. He really believes he is perfect and he does not make mistakes at all. He lies to me and I caught him taking documents from one file and placing them in another next to it and then he turned around and said I mis-filed the paperwork. I was so shocked at this I could not believe that he would stoop that low as to say I file everything wrong, just look at this file and I just apologized for it and then took a long walking break to get away. If that is what he is doing behind my back and making me look bad or making up things about me, I don’t understand why? I have never given him any reason to be this way and have always been cordial to him. Is there someone who can help me? I really need the help. Thank You.

    By Sandy C on Nov 5, 2009

  4. Sandy are you in a union? If not join immediately, i too have the same boss.

    I couldn’t take his crap anymore so i went through workers comp, i had kept some dates and times of his bullying and i also got several other people who had witnessed my distress or had problems with him to also write a witness statement.
    I have won my claim and am waiting for a management plan to be actioned.
    The upline managers tried to say it was all me to save their arses as they did not support me through the whole process and never took my complaints serious.
    I am majorly depressed have lost myself through his intimidation.Please keep a journal, go back i’m sure you will remember dates he has bullied you.
    Make a formal complaint to management, when i complained they said yeah but you never made a formal complaint. Ridiculous hey, speak to human resources, occ health, the union.Tell them you cannot talk to your boss about all this as he is too righteous and your not comfortable.You need to stand strong he is trying to make himself look good meanwhile you are getting depressed,anxious ,stressed and think you are a whiner, trust me going through the same thing action this now!!

    By Anna on Jan 19, 2010

  5. I used to work for a trade union. They keep their office staff non-union so they can bully them. My old union boss ran around with receptionist who he used to maybe still dates. I would walk into the office and they would be so in to each other, I felt like I had to go back home and shower. She made many mistakes and there was NO accountability or HR to complain about. He disliked me, and I had to leave for my own mental health. Her games paid off, she will get to retire from there. No work and all giggles pays off for some. It is funny how Unions preach worker rights, yet want to keep there office staff non-union so they have complete control over them. Practice what you preach! Power often goes to their head as they are pulled off a latter, and end up running a business office by popular vote! With little business training yet alone a degree.

    By Cathy on Feb 12, 2014

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