You’ve climbed up 'the boss’s favourite' ladder. You’re enjoying the view; the perks, the praises, the promotions. It’s a good place to be. And then you remember the game, Snakes and Ladders where each roll of the dice determines your fate; will you go up another ladder, or down a slippery snake – way back to the beginning.
Being the boss’s favourite can be a lot like playing Snakes and Ladders - it can go either way. A well-deserved, reward for your continued efforts to go above and beyond or the by-product of less desirable motives - resulting in tensions with your peers and colleagues, and a ceiling on your success.
If you suspect that being the boss’s favourite isn’t working for you, we have identified some tips to help you identify the potential motivations and tips to wiggle out of challenging situations that you may face.
Your team members start to envy and despise you
The first, most obvious problem with being the boss’s favourite is that you become the least favoured by your team. Whether it’s praising you constantly, or letting you get away with things they can’t, or giving you more desirable work projects, all these things can add up and may make you resented by co-workers.
The good news is that there are things you can do to turn this to your advantage. Karen Dillon, author, keynote speaker and former editor of Harvard Business Review magazine, suggests you “work very hard to be a good colleague to everyone”. And in a sense, be a favourite to the team members also, by being supportive and offering to assist them even when the boss doesn’t. It’s very hard to resent someone who is trying their best to be helpful – so, chances of you being disliked decrease significantly.
Tip - If you are constantly the one and only team member who receives special treatment, try to find a way to share the love. Create a buffer between you and the boss by inviting your other team mates to take part in one way or another, in projects which your boss has eyed-up for you. By doing this, your teammates won’t see you as a threat, and you will avoid the awkward, envious gaze you might get otherwise.
You are just a pawn in your boss’s game of chess
You may not realise it initially, but making you a favourite, could just be part of a powerplay for your boss. They may be strategically positioning you in a place (think things like; promoting you into a certain role) to take control of a situation. Being their favourite might have nothing to do with your skills, abilities, or performance. There could be a much more sinister motive behind your prized position within the team.
Organisational politics are alive and well across all industries and can be used to strategically play out self-interests. If you are caught in the crossfire, then you too need a plan.
Tip - Spend some time defining your goals, identifying the reality of the situation, and working out your options and consequences of each. By having a plan, you may be able to outplay your boss’s chess game and bring things back to a level playing field where you feel more comfortable. Likely you will gain the respect of your peers and colleagues in the process.
You lose integrity, trust and tarnish your reputation
Being too attentive and ready to jump whenever, wherever, and however high the boss likes, may seem like a good thing, yet may actually tarnish you character and personal brand within the workplace. Eventually, you may become known for this characteristic, and lose both the respect and trust of co-workers.
Trust is one of the hardest things to get back when it’s lost, so it’s a good thing to uphold and maintain from the outset. Think about integrity and your personal brand; what do you want to be known for within your organisation and industry? Do you really want to be known for being the person with shaky principles, who sways whichever way the wind (or the boss’s wish’s) blow?
Joseph Folkman, Co-Founder, Global Authority in Psychometrics and Research, Leadership, and Change, says trust is contagious, and that you should never underestimate the power of even just one person not trusting you. That one – is enough to sow the seed of doubt, that can lead others to wonder if their trust is misplaced.
Tip – Consider whether your behaviour is entirely genuine or whether you are just being a crawler. If you are constantly “sucking up” to your boss, determine your own motivation. Is it reward, recognition, status, promotion, or fear of losing your job? If any of the above rings true, then perhaps there are healthier ways to have these needs met in the workplace and get the outcome you need based on merit.
Your boss leaves, another favourite comes along, and you lose your favourite place
You might be in the boss’s good books and having a jolly old time, picking all the cherries on top and then all of a sudden – the boss leaves or is fired. Or, even worse – they find a new favourite…
By investing your energy into pleasing the boss, rather than in your work, you risk losing everything the moment your boss falls out of favour with the organisation, or you fall out of favour with them.
Tip – Think about ways you can build your personal brand more broadly. Can you be involved in other teams, committees, volunteer positions or mentoring programs where you are interacting with others across the organisation. The more people who get to know you, like you, trust you and see your talent, then the more doors and opportunities are likely to open.
Your boss has a ‘thing’ for you
One of the most problematic types of favouritism at work, is when there is romance involved. The reality is, love in the workplace is common. Research from the ABC’s Australia Talks Survey, showed meeting at work was the third most common way Australians found their partners.
In some cases, these advances may be welcome, and given the close nature of work, common interests and time spent working on common goals, romance can flourish. The challenge for both you and your boss is how you will manage your relationship both in and outside work, which requires thought for yourselves and those around you.
In other cases, these advances may not be welcome and given the power disparity between a boss and their team members, can be very damaging personally and professionally.
Tip – Everyone deserves to be psychologically safe at work. If you can’t discuss the situation openly with your boss without fear of the consequences, reach out to your HR Department or another trusted manager for advice.
Your boss expects more and more from you
It may have started off as small favours here and there and then the demands keep coming. They derail your day, creep into your personal time, and sometimes push you to the limit in terms of your skills.Your life feels like one continuous roller coaster to stay at the top of the favourite list for a boss who never seems to be satisfied – no matter what you do.
Tip – Consider whether they are demanding or are simply trying to push you out of your comfort zone to help you achieve your potential. Perhaps you are the boss’s favourite because they see great things in you. It may be as simple as having a quick conversation about how you feel.
Your boss never wants to let you go
You are a star performer, have applied for new opportunities and promotions and each time you come up short. Maybe your boss loves you so much that they want to keep you in their team - if they possibly can. On the surface they can’t sing your praises highly enough, yet behind the scenes they are sabotaging your chances of success.
Tip – You need to take a two-pronged approach to this one. First, help your boss to realise they will cope without you. Show them that you and the team are achieving goals together. Reinforce that it is a team effort, so your boss starts to feel comfortable that you're leaving won’t leave them in the lurch as they have a whole team they can count upon.
Secondly, make your success objective by asking your boss what you will need to demonstrate to be recommended for a promotion. At your regular catchups share how you are meeting the criteria you both identified so your success is transparent.
• Share the love – invite team mates to take part in your projects and be sure to give credit to their work if you are being publicly recognised.
• If you think you are being used as a pawn for your boss, try and identify your options and consequences so any actions you take are a conscious choice.
• If you are sucking up to your boss, give thought to the reasons and try and address them in a healthy manner for the workplace.
• No one should receive unwanted romantic attention from their boss. If placed in this situation approach HR or another trusted leader.
• If your boss seems to be demanding more and more from you, reflect on whether the motives are selfish or to help you achieve success.
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