As high and fast as I’ve made it up the corporate ladder, I dread going to work. I’m two levels below the CEO, and my immediate boss can’t stand me. Even though she’d never admit it, I can tell she’s envious of my relationships with clients and colleagues. What should I do? (issue 107, page 109)
If it’s any consolation, your situation is not so uncommon. Envy is rarely discussed in corporate circles, but it arises wherever there’s competition and hierarchy basically, everywhere and can cause untold misery.
First, a warning: Whenever I hear someone say her boss envies her, I wonder whether there’s some projection going on. Could it be that you’re actually jealous of your boss’s power and success?
But your boss’s envy may well be real; I certainly see it in my consulting work all the time. In the same way that parents can be jealous of their children (think of the dad who envies his son’s athletic prowess), bosses can wish they had some of their subordinates’ talent or energy. That can lead them to act destructively. Even if your boss won’t cop to this motivation, it’s hard to camouflage such powerful emotions.
Be sensitive to your boss’s envy, and don’t rub her nose in your accomplishments, which will only make matters worse. Try bringing her into your network and sharing some contacts. Your success and hers don’t have to be a zero-sum game.
Dr. Kerry J. Sulkowicz, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and founder of The Boswell Group LLC, advises executives on leadership, management, and governance. Send him your questions about the psychology of business (firstname.lastname@example.org).