Machiavelli once ruminated on whether, as a leader, it was better to be loved or feared. While he concluded that it is “safer” to be feared than loved, as humans we crave community and recognition from those we respect or who are in a position of leadership.
Our natural instinct in the workplace is to try to curry favor with the boss so we can be influential in the decision making process, know that our ideas are heard first or bend the ear of our leader when promotion opportunities arise. While all of this might sound great for you personally, it can actually work to your detriment in very important ways.
Envy brings out the worst in people
When you are seen as the “chosen one” in the office, your teammates and coworkers will inevitably begin to envy you. While it may appear inconsequential at first, your proximity to your boss’s power may present some challenges in doing your job. Coworkers will gradually shut you out of important interpersonal office relationships. Even those who eschew workplace friendships recognise the need for connectedness in sharing crucial work-related information and team communication. If you are seen as the boss’s favorite, you may be left out of the loop, intentionally or not.
Hitching your wagon to your boss’s horse may work against you
Currying your boss’s favor is nice while it lasts. However, bosses who tend to play favorites are also fickle in their affection. You may be the heir apparent to their job one week and at the rear of the pack the next thanks to a manager’s changing whims or perceptions. It is also unwise to attach your merit within an organization to anyone else’s. Sure, your boss is influential today, but should they lose their position or credibility, you will likely lose yours as well unless you are associated with something other than your boss.
You begin to lose your objectivity
The idea of “groupthink” was first introduced by Irving Janis in 1972. He theorised that groups who are insulated from outside opinions are subject to faulty reasoning, a deterioration of mental capacity and a lack of moral judgment. Whether that group consists of 2 or 20, the concept remains the same. The longer you spend in the shadow of your boss, the more likely you are to insulate yourself from the differing opinions of your coworkers. Without that difference, you lose the ability to make an objective decision. This, coupled with a growing sense of invulnerability inevitably leads to carelessness and negative consequences.
So what should you do instead?
As humans we tend to want to be recognised for our accomplishments. We want to feel as though we are in positions of power to affect change for the better. In order to do this without sacrificing personal integrity or career trajectory, it is important to act decisively and methodically in your relationship with your boss.
- Honesty is the best policy. Do not oversell your influence with your peers or your boss. Give credit where credit is due. Never claim success that is not yours.
- Honour the workplace team. As tempting as it may be to let favoritism work for you, remember that your work team is where the majority of your tasks are accomplished. If relationships are strained, productivity plummets and your credibility dwindles.
- Be impeccable with your word. If something is shared in confidence with you by your boss, do not tell your coworkers until your boss shares the information. If something is shared in confidence by a teammate, do not tell your boss but rather encourage your coworker to build that relationship.
- Get to know other executives. Many people who are seen as parrots of their boss can combat this by interacting with other executives and learning from their insights. While some bosses become paranoid about losing their sidekick, most will see your desire to learn as a way to leverage your talents with other areas of the organization.
As nice as it may be to have the favour of your manager, you might find that it leads to greater stress and career hindrance rather than help.