When Your Boss is Napoleon

As our interview commenced, he sat down and his first chin rested on the second. The one further below was larger in scale, resembling a goiter to some extent. He spoke at length and after each story, he laughed at his own jokes.

That was the first warning.

When he stood up, the distance from whence he sat was not much further. At roughly five foot two, he was by all measures… short. His physical appearance was on par with the Pillsbury Doughboy, complete with a plump and round belly. Had I pushed on it, I do not believe he would have responded with the mascot’s signature laugh, “Hee hee!”

I was looking at my future boss and someone who possessed a massive Napoleonic complex. My instincts proved correct. Given what ensued over the next ten months, and I should have never doubted myself.

It was a hot start-up company with serious traction in the market and fantastic technology that solved a major challenge. The role was perfect – based on where I was in my career and the relationships I could leverage. I won’t reveal the company, the year of employment or the name of the Napoleonic manager, but all fathers have faced this scenario at some point in their career.

When Napoleon disrupts your work/life balance, here’s how to manage the scenario.

First, bear in mind that managers come and go. They, like you, are based on performance and if they ruffle enough feathers in the office senior management will have to address it at some point.

Second, keep a paper trail if specific episodes are truly unnerving and BCC your personal email. Doing so will ensure if you’re fired for nefarious reasons, you have email documentation to review with legal counsel. You may be able to prove your boss had poor judgment.

The ‘unnerving’ element could represent an ongoing problem. Case in point, the boss I described above would take over meetings that I scheduled and speak endlessly, without any opening for me to participate.

Speak to him first, and if nothing changes, draft an email. “I was impressed with the details you provided in today’s meeting, however, I’m concerned the client will be less responsive to me personally in the long run.” Keep it short, state specifics and begin and end the email by complimenting him.

God knows he has an ego to stroke. Napoleonic people always overcompensate for being eye to eye with other people’s nipples.

Lastly, when you have to get something accomplished and need his approval, position the scenario so that he believes he came up with the solution himself. Here’s a mock example:

“Manager, we could lower our price and sell more product in bulk or raise the price to increase profit margins. What do you think senior management would favor?”

“We’re a public company, profits count, right?”

“Of course, well said. I think that’s the best solution. Thank you.”

This example is probably too simple, but the point is, lead him down the path you want to take. Remember, you’re dealing with someone who isn’t playing with a full deck of cards, so placate him.

And unfortunately, if he interferes with your work/life balance, you have to invite him over for dinner. It sounds ludicrous but it’s the price you have to pay to provide him with perspective about why you have to leave work at reasonable hours. When he sees your family and you feed him, sometimes this feeds into his ego and he’ll often be more understanding.

Eventually, the Napoleonic manager runs through a company’s ranks like a bad stomach bug. People will catch on to his ways and you’ll have a new manager. Or, maybe you’ll get promoted.

Keep on the look-out for future posts about how to earn your next promotion at work. Someone’s got to pay for junior’s college, right?

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