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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How Not to be "That Person" When You're the Boss' Favorite

When I was in the fifth grade, I had the world’s coolest teacher. I put my best effort into all my schoolwork simply because I wanted to impress him. You see, he had a few “favorites” in the class, and I was determined to be part of that group.

Strangely, I don’t recall if I ever gained his favor, but I do remember my attitude towards the other kids that had—a feeling probably best described with words I wasn’t supposed to know at that age.

Many years later, in the working world, I found myself in a similar situation—this time as both the “favorite” and the favorer (a.k.a. the boss). And now, after over 14 years in the workplace, I’m convinced that every boss has her favorite, and at some point, every employee will (hopefully) hold that title.

But while that may seem like a good thing, my fifth grade experience reminds me that not everyone will be as thrilled as you when your manager starts giving you special treatment. In the event you find yourself the apple of the boss’ eye, here are a few simple considerations to keep handy to avoid daggers being sent your way from your colleagues.

Modesty is the Best Policy

Sure, you know your boss thinks you’re amazing—and you agree—but strutting around the office high on your own ego is probably not the best way to endear yourself to your officemates (or anyone else for that matter). And nobody likes a know-it-all, so even if you do have all the answers, you don’t have to be in the spotlight all the time.

Early on in my career, I had the good fortune of a great boss, who mentored me and gave me opportunities to the point where senior members of the firm began coming to me personally with high-profile projects. I always accepted the challenges with confidence and enthusiasm, but I never let myself assume I had all the answers. I also made a point of including my colleagues whenever I could.

For example, I had put together a presentation with some tricky performance calculations. I was confident my figures were correct, but instead of rushing to hand in my work, I pulled a colleague aside and asked if she would mind reviewing it. By the time the project was done, I had looped in at least three other colleagues, which took the sting out of them being left off the initial project. Not to mention, they were given credit when the work was done, so the senior members of the team were well aware there were several rising stars.

This attitude will not only generate goodwill among your colleagues, but it will demonstrate to management that you’re an effective leader. (And hey, that just might pave the way to a promotion.)

Don’t Take Advantage

One of the worst things you can do as the boss’ fave is to lean on that title to coast through until your next review. The great work you’re doing will impress your boss for a while, but trust me when I say she’ll notice if you start slacking off.

One of my first “favorites” as a manager did exactly that. He was a phenomenal contributor the first six months after being hired, and had earned my trust through hard work, humility, and a great work ethic. But, all that attention got to his head after a while, at which point he slipped into just doing the bare minimum. He was still quite capable, and he always came through for his deadlines, so he assumed I hadn’t noticed. But I had—and before long, I started to shift the high-profile projects to others on the team who were willing to work for it.

Fortunately, he eventually caught on and got back to his hardworking self, but that slight lapse in performance—and complacency—directly impacted his bonus at the end of the year, not to mention my trust in him. Your great work ethic can get you into the spotlight, but you’ll need to keep it consistent if you want to stay there.

Keep Your Options Open

One of the more challenging side-effects of being a badass at your job is that everyone wants you to keep doing that job as long as possible. While this can be flattering—not to mention, it’s a great feeling when you’re at the top of your game—focusing too much on what you’re great at now might prevent you from taking on the risks and challenges that could get you to the next pay grade.

So, how do you do this without sacrificing your great track record? It’s not easy, but it can be done if you keep a regular dialogue with your manager, make your goals and aspirations clear, and develop solid relationships with your peers. When you have the opportunity to dip your toe in another pool—taking on a bigger project, sitting on a new committee—do it. That said, don’t try to dive into 10 new things all at once. Take your time building your skills and a network of supporters. By the time you’re ready to let someone else take your spot as the shining star in your department, you’ll have plenty of other managers eager to snatch you up, with your former team cheering you on.

When you look closely, you’ll see that being on the receiving end of special treatment doesn’t necessarily mean a free ride—in fact, it could mean more work and more responsibility. But that’s just the kind of challenge you’ve been waiting for, right?

Photo of business meeting courtesy of Shutterstock.