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Being the Boss’s Favorite Is Great, Until It’s Not

Source | Harvard Business Review : By Liz Kislik

We’ve all been in situations where the boss has a favorite. It’s frustrating to feel underresourced and underrecognized while someone else is getting all the attention. Ironically, though, it can be just as challenging to realize that you’re the boss’s new “pet.”

While it’s great to get extra attention and have your work recognized, there’s often a price to pay for being the favorite. You could find yourself at risk in four ways. First, your teammates can start to resent you because of your proximity to power. They may see you as an informant or interloper, stop trusting you, and cut back on the typical mutual support among colleagues, such as sharing crucial information, connections, and other resources.

Next, if you get too attached to your boss, your objectivity and ability to think independently may fade. You can get trapped in a version of groupthink, with a single set of shared relationships. Your joint creativity and decision making will begin to suffer from insularity, and it’s the more junior member of the duo — you — who’s most likely to be found wanting if performance lags.

Plus, sooner or later, you’ll lose your special status. Bosses who play favorites almost always change to new favorites. No matter what perks you’re getting today, your boss is not your friend. As a consultant to senior leaders for more than 25 years, I’ve seen executives swap out their favorites as their own needs and loyalties shift; today’s star eventually falls, and someone new gets to experience both the benefits and the burden.

Finally, being the favorite can derail your goals for professional advancement. This can happen if your boss delegates too many projects to you, leaving you with too little time to do your own work. It can also happen if your colleagues try to use you as a conduit to get their requests or concerns to the boss. Either way, you can end up without the bandwidth to seek out your own projects or skill development. Worse, if you’re too closely affiliated with your boss, you may no longer be evaluated on your own merits. Your boss’s detractors may regard you as no more than a stooge, meaning you risk further isolation and loss of influence if your boss’s stature is diminished in any way.

You can’t just keep your head down and wait things out — you need to be intentional about protecting your reputation as well as your career trajectory. Here are three tactics that will help you endure your stint in the spotlight.

Never oversell your clout. Preserve your role as a team player, instead of acting like the boss’s messenger or sharing confidential information you’re suddenly privy to. Don’t leak information from your boss to the team, and don’t pass along off-the-record information from the team to your boss.

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