Recently one of my MBA students came to me and said that he knew more than his boss did and it was a problem because he didn’t want his boss to feel like he was being outshined but at the same time he wanted to be able to use his knowledge, intelligence, and experience to further his career but he felt that if he used his knowledge his boss would feel like he was trying to make him look inadequate, outshine him, take his job, etc.
So what does one do when they know more than their boss? I have a little experience in this area; I once worked for a call center director who really did not know what she was doing, I knew much more than she did about the call center environment, agent attrition rates, agent training, agent motivation, etc., and I proved this to her everyday and she was very resentful of the fact that I knew more than she did. The big shots from upstairs would come down and ask me my opinion and she was not happy about this in the least, and in a roundabout way she made me know this and she made my life miserable, because she viewed me as competition and we did not have a very good relationship and it created a very awkward working atmosphere.
I also once worked for a manager year’s back and I also had more knowledge than he did and instead of creating a confrontation I used my experience to make my boss look better. I brought my suggestions to him rather than someone in upper management and I used my knowledge so that it appeared that my boss contributed to the ideas that I had. Some may think that this just gives your boss the credit and keeps you out of the limelight, but it really didn’t, because my boss really appreciated this, I made him look good, I took care of him. This really helped me in my job, it elevated me in his eyes, he put me in a position where he could utilize my knowledge where it elevated him in the eyes of upper management and so granted I wasn’t being looked at directly by upper management, but in most companies the direct road up is usually through your direct supervisor or manager, and so if you have him or her on your side you are usually in pretty good shape.
So my answer to the student was use your knowledge but use it in a way that your boss can use it, let him or her know that you are not there to steal their limelight, you’re not there to take their job, if you can make him or her look good, they are going to appreciate this and that’s going to help both you and him. That is my advice to anyone that knows more than their boss, and granted this doesn’t work for everybody and in every situation but in general you have to make the person that you directly report to look good. The argument can even be used that that it is part of your job to make them look good, because if their happy you’re generally happy and this may help you in your career, this may help elevate you and help you move forward and upward in the company that you work for.