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BY Bonnie Marcus

What to Do if Your Boss Plays Favorites - And You're Not One of Them

favoritism

Photo credit: © vege / Adobe Stock. Headshot photo by John Abbott

TAGS:Personality, Management, Career advice, Workplace

It’s so unfair! I hear this all the time from clients who work really hard to get ahead and can’t seem to get the attention of their boss because he/she has favorites. It’s a problem for sure, but it’s not unusual. 

Favoritism is part of human nature. We naturally want to work with those individuals that we like and with whom we feel comfortable. Senior executives are not immune to this behavior.

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business surveyed senior executives at large U.S. corporations and found that 92% have recognized favoritism at play in employee promotions. 84% have seen it at their companies and 23% said they have practiced favoritism themselves. What’s particularly troubling is that 56% said that when considering candidates for promotion, they knew before any deliberations who they wanted to promote and 96% said they promoted the pre-selected individual.  29% said that they only considered one candidate in their most recent promotion.

It certainly is not fair!

My client, Marie, was particularly frustrated that her boss had a clear favorite in her department and it wasn’t her. She works in a financial services firm and the entire team shares an open work space with their boss. Her boss sits next to a young woman and they laugh and share private jokes during the day. There is no question that this person is in favor despite the fact she is not the top performer on the team. This not only seems unfair, but unjustified to Marie. She works really hard, puts in long hours, and has high hopes of advancing her career.

What should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

My best advice is to follow these suggestions:

Understand your value proposition and how your work contributes to positive business outcomes. It’s important for you to know how you add value to the organization and how you can potentially help your boss succeed. This helps you build influence and credibility not only with your boss but with the entire organization.

Figure out what’s important to your boss.  What are their goals? Do they currently have initiatives that need support? How are they incentivized? What are their business objectives? If you don’t already have this information, do your homework and ask. Offering to help based on the value you add is a powerful way to strengthen a relationship and supersedes a “favorite” relationship that’s not based on performance. You can vastly improve your relationship this way.

Build a strategic network across the organization. Who are the people who have influence over your career? How are decisions made? Who is in your boss’s circle of influence? You should build relationships with all these people. They need to know how you add value to the business and how you can help the organization move forward.

Find allies and champions. Who can advocate for you in your department and in your company? Look for people who can give you information about the politics, open doors for new opportunities, and provide access to resources that will lead to your improved performance. Find out what they want and need and build mutually beneficial relationships. They will stand up and speak up for you when appropriate.

Create visibility across the organization. Use your value proposition to communicate and demonstrate to others how you can contribute to business objectives. Maybe your recent success on a project has some valuable information that will help others. Perhaps you tried a new methodology that was effective. Sharing this information not only gives you visibility but the credibility you need to establish yourself as a valued contributor.

The bottom line is that it’s your responsibility to nurture a relationship with your boss regardless of their favoritism. Don’t use this as an excuse to become a victim who takes no action. Build your own strong relationship based on your work. Identify all the people who have power and influence over your career and develop relationships across the organization to increase your visibility and credibility.

It may not be a level playing field, but you still have control, so take it!

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Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker focused on women's advancement in the workplace. A former corporate executive and CEO, Bonnie is the author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, and co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women's Ambition to Offset the Future Leadership Shortage.

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