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Coping with a toxic boss: “IAN THE IDEA STEALER”

By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.

As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years.  In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
 
In my twice-monthly column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, and Greta the Gossip, and Susie the Sugar Coater.

This week I discuss one of the trickiest bosses to deal with — Ian the Idea Stealer, who takes your ideas, passes them off as his, covers his tracks, leaves no traces of pilfering or a break-in, and does it all without witnesses seeing it happening. 
 
SITUATION: Ian is basically a thief – he steals your ideas and passes them off as his own. You’ll be sitting at a meeting, read it in the monthly report, or you’ll hear something at the water cooler when Tom says to you, “Ian had a great idea of combining two departments into one and he told us today in the weekly meeting….” Tom talks on and on and you realize it was your idea that you shared with Ian last week.  Ian takes credit for things you’ve done – your ideas about expanding the marketing plan, a new ad campaign, or the latest statistics for the report – just about everything.  Whether you’re sitting right there or not, Ian brags in meetings to his own boss, “I came up with that idea, sir.” or “I thought you’d like that, JB,” when you know it was YOUR idea first. Sometimes you and Ian worked on it together, but mostly it’s your idea. He’s clever enough to take your ideas when there are no witnesses who could vouch for you. 
 
You feel betrayed by him and rightly so. You may be passed over for recognition, promotions, raises, and acknowledgement because Ian as your boss passes off your ideas as his. So his boss thinks he – not you – is the one with the great ideas, ad campaigns, and marketing and sales strategies. He’s so clever that he convinces himself that it’s his idea, and tries to convince you of the same. He’s usually sociopathic, glib, smooth with words, and a con man. Don’t let him try to weasel you into capitulating or giving him credit, rights, or royalties from your work.  He probably never had an original idea in his brain his entire life. Like a leech or a vampire, he drains others’ brilliant concepts and innovations and sucks the oxygen right out of the room
 
Since he’s your boss, it’s difficult to confront him. You want him to like you and like your work, and you’d also like to climb the ladder yourself.   However, Ian will keep you working under him because he needs you and your ideas – he’s a brainless, empty shell of zero creativity and you make him look like a genius, so most likely, he will not promote you, nor recommend you for a transfer to another division or department, and he will guard you like Ft. Knox because you’re worth a gold mine to him.. He feels you’re his possession. He may discourage other bosses from pirating you away by telling them you’re really not that good. He’ll demean you to others to hoard you for his own. 
 
If you demand it, Ian may give you a raise to keep you happy and to secure your place in his department, which will make him look good to his bosses by pilfering your ideas.  When he gets a promotion, he may take you with him, to keep up the charade that he does all of his own work himself.  He wants to silence you from telling the truth so he may bribe you with high salary, paid days off, perks, and other benefits.  He may look the other way if you take time off or tell others you’re working from home.  If he’s paying you well, Ian may snap a pair of golden handcuffs on your wrists. Don’t sell your soul to the devil.  You will probably have to leave the company to get ahead or start your own company to make a name for yourself.  Don’t count on Ian to do it for you.
 
EXPLANATION: Most likely, Ian had parents who let him get away with things. His mother was probably over-indulgent and thought her boy was a genius who walked on water.  His father was probably unethical, and did illegal things, so Ian had terrible role models.  Ian grew up with little respect for authority, rules, and laws.  He is selfish, sneaky, and narcissistic, feels entitled, and is usually sociopathic, if not an outright psychopath. He has no conscience, no inner moral compass, and has huge gaps in ethical behavior. He rationalizes his behavior and makes excuses for everything he does.
 
He may be going through your desk when you leave, observing your password and tapping into your computer when you go home, uploading or downloading your documents onto his flash drive, peeping over your shoulder, or looking at your notes on your desk when you go to the bathroom. He may be listening to you on the phone, going through your trash, or overhearing your conversations.  He may ask your opinion and you may inadvertently give him gold nuggets of ideas that he passes off as his own.
 
He is smart but lazy and takes the easy way out by stealing your ideas. You MUST protect yourself from Ian, so change your password daily, always lock your desk, lock your purse in your desk, and take your purse or personal belongings with you when you go to the bathroom. Be careful that he doesn’t have keys to your desk. He may get someone to open your desk when you’re not there. You should get new keys made. If there’s a way you can video tape your desk, or put a video cam on it, do so, and in that way you can have proof that Ian is breaking in to your desk. You must have proof and be direct with Ian because he will lie, deny, and wiggle out of anything you accuse him up. Try to have witnesses who will stand up for you. 
 
If you want to claim credit for your own ideas, you have to send your ideas to HIS boss as quickly as you get them in your head so you can protect your innovative solutions as your own without Ian stealing them. You may want to send yourself the ideas as a certified return receipt requested letter, so you have a date when you created your ideas. If you have more lucrative ideas that need intellectual property protection, then find an attorney and register them as copyrights, patents, and trademarks. You can do it yourself online with the governments website, and if you do it through an attorney, it’s more proof of your ideas.  
 
You want to find out how he does it. You must have proof if you’re going to confront him. Go to HR first, and make sure you have evidence – a video cam tape, pilfered records, false research or statistics that you planted in a report that he thought was real and passed off as his own. Show it to HR and make copies for yourself and put them in your safety deposit box at the bank. When and if you confront him, do it only in front of the head of HR.  Let them deal with Ian. Prepare to be fired, or for Ian to seek revenge at being “busted.” Line up another job, or make sure your relationship with the higher ups is secure and that they believe you.
 
You may even want to tape record your conversations and meetings with him and your committee, so you must inform him and the committee that you are doing so before you start and Ian and the others must agree. You can take out a tape recorder, place it in the middle of the table and say, “I’m tape recording our conversation, and I’d like you all to agree to it.” You must have their verbal permission on tape before you proceed. Whether or not you can tape record, you still should put everything in writing. After each meeting, always send an email or letter reviewing what was said and agreed upon in the meeting, and who came up with each idea for each proposal, whether it was just you and Ian or in a committee. He may get others to betray you and be on his side, whether he promises them money, a share of the profits, or part ownership. He will usually try to get out of his agreements and promises. You must document everything and stand up for yourself. Write letters and emails to your boss, stating the truth about who came up with what. He’ll be claiming ownership of everything you do. So cut him off at the pass, and be pro-active from the start.  
 
SOLUTION: “Ian, we have to work together and I’d like that to be as pleasant and as cooperative as possible. I’ve noticed that several times my ideas have been co-opted by you and you present them as your own, which you know is simply not true. You did it in the meeting yesterday and I was shocked. I believe that you took the ideas from me by looking at my notes or my computer. We both know that the idea for the ad campaign was mine, and I came up with it two months ago when we were brain storming together. I resent you attempting to take credit for my idea and I’m writing to our boss and to HR about it. I’m going to tape record all of our meetings from now on because I need a record of what was said and who came up with it.  This is a serious breach of ethics. I feel I have to report this to HR.”
 
If you confront him in front of HR, you may want to add, “I put a web camera in my computer and I have tape of you breaking into my computer, so I have proof. This is larceny and theft and I have shown this to our boss and to HR. They know that you have stolen my ideas and passed them off as your own.”  Then let HR deal with it.

—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. She is the host and producer of “The Linnda Durré Show,” which airs daily on 810 AM Radio in Central Florida and streams live on global audio on computers at www.BIG810AM.com M-F from 12-1 PM (ET). For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.

Coping with a toxic boss: “IAN THE IDEA STEALER”
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