Karl Moore remembers the moment he fell out of favour with his boss.
He was working as a manager at IBM in Toronto when a new person joined his department. Up until then Moore had been part of his boss’s “favoured inside circle” — but suddenly everything changed. The transferred employee became his boss’s new right-hand person, the outcome of brutal office politics.
“Good news for the team but I was soon put on the bench,” said Moore, now a professor at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal, Canada. It certainly wasn’t a fun experience — and it definitely made his job harder, he said.
If your boss plays favourites — but you’re not one of them — is there anything you can do about it? And should you even care if you're never flavour of the month? After all, nobody likes a sycophant.
After about a year, once again the sun shone upon me.
Moore eventually made it back to being one of the favoured few. But it took some time waiting for “the new person’s halo to diminish a bit”. More importantly, Moore was able to change the tide after he delivered on a couple of key agenda items for his boss that were central to his success. “After about a year, once again the sun shone upon me,” he said.
Falling out of favour for no good reason is a difficult turn to take. But, it doesn’t have to be permanent. Here’s what you can do.
Think about exactly what your boss needs to succeed and look good to his bosses. Find a way to help make it happen.
“One of the things that makes virtually all bosses smile on us is if we help them deliver on one of the top items on their agenda for the year,” said Moore. “If you can better understand your boss’s top three agenda items and help them achieve one of those, they will tend to nudge you toward the favourites category.”
Sometimes it can be as simple as asking about priorities and then helping to make sure that at least one of them comes to fruition, said Moore.
Boss as customer
For Andrew Wittman, a former marine, police officer, and federal agent, the solution is to change your perspective.
It's important not to start feeling bad about yourself.
“No matter where you work or for whom, when you approach work from the perspective that says, ‘My boss is not my boss; he or she is my customer or client’, everything changes,” said Wittman, managing partner of South Carolina-based leadership consultancy Mental Toughness Training Center. “You’ll instantly have all the power and control. You are merely leasing your services to the company. They are your client and you give them great customer service.”
It’s important not to start feeling bad about yourself — or letting the idea of not being a favourite take over your thoughts, said Wittman. Otherwise, that’s all you will think about and you’ll lose out on opportunities to get ahead.
“If you focus on making your boss a satisfied customer and making she or he look great to the higher ups, which will lead to being a ‘favourite’, your brain will sift through all the facts and data and confirm you are a favourite,” said Wittman. As a result, you’ll be less critical, be able to focus on solving problems more intently and act in ways that will naturally make the boss happy.
The inner circle
Just because your boss doesn’t seem to like you doesn’t automatically mean other people won’t.
If the crowd likes you, it can help sway the boss's opinion.
“Try to get in good with the people who are the boss's favourites,” said New York-based Vicky Oliver, author of Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots. “Sometimes if a boss's pet raves about you, it can help ease the friction.”
And always strive to be a good team player. “If the crowd likes you, it can help sway the boss's opinion,” she said.
A fine line
Don’t go overboard fawning on your boss, thereby alienating yourself from your colleagues or making them resent you. For instance, if your boss tells a lame joke and you laugh louder than everyone else, that is just outright brown nosing, according to Oliver.
“But if you come in with a solution to a problem that no one else has considered, that is simply shining on your own merit,” she said. And, spread the love when you do: “If you laud others on the team for helping you arrive at a solution, that is bound to score points with the boss and with your teammates.”
Keep your options open
Rare these days is a boss — or subordinate — who sticks around for life. So, luckily you are unlikely to be wedded to this person for eternity.
You probably won’t like working for someone who plays favourites, even if you become the flavour of the month. But don’t let yourself fall into a workplace pit of despair over it. Instead, continue working hard and behaving professionally and show that you care about the team, company, and clients.
“At the same time, you should be working your way into a different position where the boss is a better one and so you can focus more on being great at your job and growing toward your next promotion,” said Moore.
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