Stifling career growth: Working for a boss who fears being outshone

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Bosses who feel intimidated by their juniors have low self-confidence or are unqualified for the role. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Daisy Cherono has always been keen on personal development. She worked out her career goals long before finishing university.

To improve her employability, she racked up many certification papers to give her an edge in the job market when she interviewed for a human resource officer position. And it worked.

Her employer quickly hired her, unwilling to risk her to the competition. Her stars seemed to align in her favour, facilitating the realisation of her career dreams and aspirations.

Then, her malicious colleagues started a rumour in the workplace, speculating that her appointment wasn’t entirely based on her qualifications but on her attractiveness.

“I told my supervisor I was at the workplace because I went to school. I pulled one paper after the other to prove my qualifications. At the end of the day, I appeared to be more learned than most of my colleagues, including the head of the department. That is when my troubles began,” she says.

Silent treatment

Her colleagues stopped talking to her, and her supervisor stopped giving her assignments. She was no longer copied in office emails, and the menial tasks previously assigned to her were now delegated to an intern.

“As if I did not have enough woes, I was transferred from the department. But I soldiered on and worked overtime. I remember one month I worked without an off day. They played me like a football,” she says.

This dampened Ms Cherono’s spirits. “Every time I went to the boss, I was slapped with, ‘You think you are special because you went to school; you think you are better than us.’ It was never being objective,” she elaborates.

Ms Cherono, who has since quit the job, shares that a boss who fears being outshined by his juniors will make the work environment very toxic.

Signs and behaviours

Bernard Kinyanjui, a Human Resource expert, shares that such managers are often insecure.

“They do not want anyone with higher academic qualifications and do not accommodate people with outgoing, charismatic personalities,” he adds.

Also, these bosses often personalise team achievements, even when they are not involved in the process. Sometimes, they are very sarcastic in commending employees who have done well.

“They do not give you feedback, and, on the flip side, they turn hostile while receiving feedback,” he elaborates.

Regarding succession, Mr Kinyanjui notes that such bosses do not pick a strong employee but a weaker one to continue suppressing high-performing employees.

Why bosses fear being outshined and the consequences

Bosses who feel intimidated by their juniors have low self-confidence or are unqualified for the role since they got the position through dubious means.

“Low self-esteem because the junior is more confident, smart, and hard-working than you, so you feel they might take over. Others, especially older professionals, feel threatened when they encounter someone younger who mirrors their younger selves but is achieving more at that age,” Ms Cherono explains.

How can one cope with such bosses?

“You will have to realign your ways of working to suit them so that you can fit in. When bad turns to worse, your mental wellness is affected. It is like staying in an abusive relationship. You only stay because you want the pay,” says Ms Cherono.

Additionally, she points out that such a work environment hampers an employee’s career progression, preventing them from reaching their maximum potential.

Mr Kinyanjui offers that as an employee, you should never interject or jeer this boss when speaking, even though what they say is wrong.

Instead, tell them later, or if you can correct them, do it. “If the boss has allowed you to share something and it was a success, share the feedback.”

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