There are probably few things harder to manage in the workplace than having a boss who considers you to be a competitor rather than a colleague. This may have little to do with your actual behavior or performance. Instead, it occurs when an insecure boss realizes how smart or how competent you are. Perhaps your good reputation preceded you, or you are better educated, hold more degrees, or have received more public recognition. Maybe you simply have worked hard and are on a fast track. Now, your efforts have been noticed and rewarded with a promotion.
When you arrive at your new job, the boss seems less than excited to have you on staff. They act like you have been foisted upon them—and perhaps there is some truth to that. Because of your boss’s lack of enthusiasm, things get off to a slow start, and good assignments seem hard to come by. What can you do?
First of all, take time to get a good grasp of your new department and how it works. Don’t complain or suggest immediate changes or new processes. Also, carefully observe the interpersonal relationships among your colleagues and how they successfully interact with the boss. Tread carefully when seeking information about others, especially about your boss. You may not know the loyalty structure, and anything you say may be directly relayed to her or him.
If you are considered competition, your boss may blatantly take credit for any work you do or success you have. Keep track of your time and work efforts and document your input. When appropriate, copy colleagues on your work product. However, unless asked to do so, never go over your boss’s head by sending correspondence to those further up the chain.
A competitive boss is often stuck at a certain level. They may realize they have gone as far as they can in their own career and be envious of your potential and possibilities. If this is the case, you will need to be creative in how you work with them, and in how you win them over.
Within a few weeks or months, if you have worked hard, have been collaborative, and have completed assignments with your usual commitment and high standards, your boss should begin to see you as an asset, not a threat. If things haven’t improved, however, it may be time for a direct conversation with your boss about how you can better meet expectations. Or you could seek some confidential advice from a member of the human resources department or from a mentor. If after this effort, you can’t see a positive path forward, it may be time to begin thinking about how you can transfer to another unit or find a new position.