Never Outshine the Master

“Temper your brilliance in the presence of your boss.” ~ James Lynn

I have been reading about power. Robert Greene’s first law in his “48 Laws of Power” * is to “never outshine the master”. It is a shocking statement.

Consider how you act around your supervisor. Do you pick up on little cues she sends you about how she expects to be treated? And, if you have a friendly collegial relationship with your boss, are you smart enough to tone it down when you are in a larger meeting with others? When I was in the Army, I would chat casually over drinks with the Mayor at the Officer’s Club, but in the morning, among the men, it was “Yes Sir” and “No sir”.

You can sometimes get away with being frank through humor. The court jester could say things in the royal court that would get the guillotine if said by others. You can use humor to show how smart you are, but be careful, you may not be as funny as you think. The safe strategy is to figure out how to ensure that the boss gets credit for your great idea. Never make your boss envious of you.



Louis XIV – the Sun King – his birth was a miracle from God


Why is it important to know how to act around your boss? Despite the so called collaborative or neo-progressive culture touted in present day organizations, in sooth there can be but one or two actual leaders … “Sun Kings”, not unlike Louis XIV. When you are working for a narcissistic leader you need to be careful never to take the spotlight off her. Your success, even continued employment will depend upon following this law of nature, never look better than your boss, especially in public. What do you think of this law?

* The 48 Laws of Power, Robert Greene, Penguin Books, 1998.