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‘I’m a threat to my boss because I’m smarter’

By Lynne Curry

Over the years of your career, you may have found yourself on both sides of the following situation, first as a bright young staff member and later as a manager dealing with a brash new employee.


I am a threat to my supervisor. It’s not my fault, but it may cost me my job.

Things were going well between my supervisor and I until last month. In an all-hands meeting, the CEO called on me, saying, “I know who can answer that question. Michael, can you explain it to everyone?” After I finished answering the question, I saw my supervisor’s face, and knew I’d pay a price for being called on.

She’s been difficult to deal with ever since. She either ignores or jabs at me when she talks with me or about me. She no longer invites me to meetings. I’ve tried to talk with her about the incident—came right out and asked her if had bothered her. She smiled and said, “no, absolutely not” in an icy voice.

I brought the incident up a second time and said, “You hired me because you thought I was smart and capable. It is a testament to you that he called on me.” Unfortunately, I think that only made things worse.

At this point, I’m angry and frustrated. Is it my job to make my supervisor feel secure, or is it my job to do my job? I don’t want to go to HR or the CEO.


Your job is to do your work—which includes supporting your department, your supervisor, and your company. That’s hard when you work for an insecure manager.

You’ve done a great job of trying to communicate your way through this; however, the more you bring up the incident, the more it stays in her front-of-mind awareness. Let it go. Anything more you say may throw tinder on the embers.

Instead, look for ways in which you can be your supervisor’s strategic partner. Employees smarter than their supervisors succeed when they show their supervisors how the employees’ strengths can be a benefit and not a threat. Consider asking, “How could we collaborate and leverage all of our combined skills to reach the goals you’ve set for our department?” Remind her through your helpfulness that the two of you working together might aid her career success. This may be especially important if your CEO has a pattern of acknowledging males in the workforce and allowing them to leapfrog over equally capable females.

Don’t let your supervisor’s immaturity push you to react immaturely in return. If she’s as childish as you describe, others may be watching, and your professionalism will position you as a future leader. Treat her with respect. While you may have had a better handle on the technical area your CEO wanted to answer, your supervisor may bring equal value to your company. If you can, give her public recognition for her strengths, as doing so reflects positively on you and may go a long way toward erasing her angst.

Be cautious of your language around her; you can’t afford to come across as smug or superior, even if you feel you are. Don’t badmouth her or contradict or embarrass her in front of others. If she hears or perceives you’re tearing her down, you’ll escalate the situation.

Finally, if she continues jabbing at you, negatively impacting your career by leaving you out of key meetings, or if you see signs that she’s gathering documentation to fire you, seek out HR or the CEO. You didn’t create this problem and might need someone else to co-create the solution.











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