In Robert Greene’s book “48 Laws of Power,” he opens with the first law of “Never Outshine the Master.” The idea here, is that if a person outperforms someone in authority over them, it will often not end well. While it may seem like kissing up, it is important to keep one’s battlefield in order. Each member needs to be identified for their role. Know how a person currently relates to you in the structure of employment, and then relate to them accordingly.
I don’t mean to suggest that if someone is beneath you in hierarchy that it’s appropriate to treat them as such. That would be foolish, and could start more problems. Instead I want to focus on individuals in authority over us. Such people should be carefully analyzed. While some managers and employers respect an employee who speaks up, even confronting them publicly, most will find it a threat.
Transgression of the Law
Case in point, is a situation where in my arrogant youth, I challenged a boss. I worked at a movie studio at the time, and had a boss who was never on the job. One day he started showing up and began micro managing me. Since he was conspicuously absent, I had taken over his job responsibilities to get the project moving. Once he returned, he began to complain about everything I was doing, and had me jump through hoops to insert his will over me.
After he confronted me several times, I had enough and reacted to him. I called him out for his inability to show up to work. I showed how in his absence, I had taken over the job responsibilities he was incapable of handling.
Shortly after my big moment, I found myself off a major theatrical project. Ego is a part of the human experience. One need recognize it, not only in their own actions but as the guiding force in others.
Observance of the Law
In my article (linked below) about psychological warfare, I describe a manager who was easily manipulated. I often used a tactic where I appealed to the power and experience of the manager.
While I detested him, for the most part, I found him an ally. I would often cast a causal comment about a difficult problem, in such a way, that prompted him to rise up the hero.
“What a great idea,” I might tell him, as he offered to step in and deal with a problem person. “Thanks for the help, I couldn’t have done it without you,” reinforced his help with a stroke of ego.
Acknowledging the skills of my manager, he was never outshined, but given the mask of respect.