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Home | Got a Minute | Bad bosses | No. 49 – How do I stop my colleague from stealing everyone’s limelight?

No. 49 – How do I stop my colleague from stealing everyone’s limelight?

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2 March 2022

I work for a large company and would like advice on how to deal with an overly ambitious employee who keeps trying to steal everyone’s limelight. I was recently announced as the head of a new unit and as soon as this was announced he muscled his way into the project without asking me. I assumed he would be assisting but is now trying to take over, even going so far as to tell stakeholders he was managing the project. Any time a member of the team is recognised for their work, he tries to either “one up” them by inserting himself into their work or by making snide comments. I don’t know how to broach any of this with my manager without sounding petty so I’d really appreciate your advice.

I imagine many readers will be thinking they know exactly who you’re talking about! So many of us have worked with someone like this and it’s very frustrating. A few things for you to think about: first, you are now the project leader and should be the only person deciding if someone joins your team. If you now have someone on your team who was not directly included by you and who is undermining rather than assisting the team, you’re going to need to address it with him directly. I suspect he is probably annoying everyone else in the project too so your team will appreciate you showing leadership.

Second, if you see him trying to muscle in other people’s recognition or making snide remarks, as a leader in the company I would encourage you to call him out. You may need to do it privately and it won’t be easy but it’s an important conversation to have.

Third, I would speak to your manager about this and also tell them what you plan to do so they can see you’re stepping up and taking action. These are not petty issues at all and in fact, if they are left unaddressed, could create much bigger problems.

I have had some fascinating positions during my career but have exited two jobs under a discriminatory cloud. I am 59 years old and should my current position cease, I will need to make a cunning transition into my next job. After 10 years working in my current role and 18 months’ stress leave, I have no wish to work in the same field or use their references and just have a statement of service. Can I use my most favourable references if more than 10 years have passed?

My concern with your plan is that by not including a reference from the job you have just spent the past decade in, you are leaving open a big question for the potential new employer about why that might be. It is something you are going to need to address and if you do use the much older references, you will also have to explain why you don’t have a more recent one. If you do use the older references, you should check those people still agree to be your referee since they won’t be able to comment on your current work performance or perhaps even for your current suitability for the new role given you haven’t worked with them for so long.

Two years ago I raised a HR complaint about my then manager of bullying. I also approached higher management at the time and they suggested I move teams. I was very disappointed with their suggestion and as a result my small team was reassigned to another manager. Fast-forward to today and we have a new department head who wants us to report to the same previous manager. The department head seems to be dismissing my bullying claims and wants us “to be mature about this situation” and move on. I informed HR of my disappointment but to date I have not heard back. I’ve lost sleep and have been getting panic attacks again. Could you please provide some guidance? My workplace does not seem to be taking my claims seriously.

Sadly the situation you describe has happened because this wasn’t dealt with properly or appropriately when you first raised the issue. It is not OK that you have raised concerns of bullying – twice – and they have not been addressed. Worse still was that it was you who was moved and made to feel that somehow if you had just dealt with it, there would not be a problem.

I am cranky on your behalf because these kinds of situations can just fester and lead to bigger issues down the track. They are also a sign of a poor corporate culture. Irrespective of whether an investigation finds your manager was engaging in bullying behaviour, you have not felt heard and that is not right. I recommend you document your concerns, including the impact on your health then and now, and ask HR to address them directly. Ask HR what the company policy is for dealing with a bullying complaint and you might also ask if there is an employee assistance program you can access to support you through this process.

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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