Want to look good?
Make the boss look good
You can help your own
becoming the employee who
the boss considers crucial
to his or her success.
But it's not about
a boot-polishing lackey
Globe and Mail:
September 20, 2006: WALLACE IMMEN
Want to climb faster up the corporate ladder? Try giving the person on the
rung ahead of you a boost, career pros suggest.
Sure, you want to make yourself look good in your career. And one of the
winning ways to make yourself look good is to make your boss look good, the
"It all comes down to the reality that teams don't get promoted, individuals
do," says Elizabeth Murphy, president of Toronto-based leadership coaching
firm Rutters/E.R. Murphy & Associates Ltd.
And you can identify yourself as that worthy individual by demonstrating you
have unique strengths that are useful to the leader, Ms. Murphy says.
"Being the employee the boss considers essential to his or her success makes
you the one most likely to get carried along to the next level when the
manager takes the next step up," she says.
But this is not about becoming a boot-polishing lackey, she emphasizes. In
fact, always saying yes can actually be a formula for failure.
"Many people assume that, to be in favour, you've got to agree with the boss
and do what you're told," Ms. Murphy says. "It's easy to become a clone, and
a lot of leaders think they want clones around them."
But the clone is not the person the boss and senior management will decide
to promote. "Someone who always agrees is not going to be seen as the person
who can provide original ideas and momentum they need when the chips are
down," she explains.
Instead, what you should aim to be is a complement -- someone who can fill
in the gaps that are in the way of the boss and success, she says.
For example, in seminars she runs for junior executives, one of the most
common complaints she hears is that their boss is so involved in long-range
planning and achieving performance numbers that project details and people
issues are left to slide.
By being the person who moves in and offers to help on untended issues in
those areas, you become the leader's support system, she says.
So how do you identify the gaps you can fill?
Study whether your boss's leadership style is personal or impersonal, and
what things they are good at and things they prefer to delegate, suggests
career coach Colleen Clarke, president of Colleen Clarke and Associates in
Your initial offers of assistance should start informally until you gain
your boss's confidence, Ms. Clarke suggests. Rather than asking for a
meeting with a manager, who can be under enormous time pressure, look for
opportunities to talk when between tasks, such as when the boss is headed
down the hall for a coffee or in the elevator on the way to work.
"It can be lonely at the top and if you make an effort to reach the boss
informally, it opens a dialogue," Ms. Clarke says.
The boss will want to spend some time
listening if you offer insights. "The ideal is something you've read lately
that would help the boss succeed, or a suggestion about what a competitor is
doing. But something intelligent about anything that is happening in the
office will show you are observant and aware."
|One thing every manager needs is a source of information about how changes
are playing out in the trenches, Ms. Clarke suggests. This is not to say
become a mole or a gossip, but an adviser and go-between. "You can suggest
what works and what doesn't, with practical examples and not just theory."
But you want to be a source of support rather than a
bearer of bad tidings. If something needs improvement, be prepared with a
couple of suggestions if the boss asks for them, Ms. Clarke says.
Be supportive, but be willing to offer a constructive alternative to
something you don't agree with or you know will meet resistance from the
team, Ms. Clarke recommends.
For example, acknowledge you've understood a concept as presented by the
boss and perhaps say: "That's interesting." Then present your thoughts by
using a bridge word, such as "however" or "and."
Avoid using the word "but" because it implies you've rejected the idea, she
If, despite your input, you think the plan remains flawed, it's best not to
publicly air your objections. "It's a done deal, so you might as well do the
best you can to make it work."
It's a matter of always acknowledging the boss's authority and experience at
all times, Ms. Murphy advises.
Even if you conclude that you have a better idea than your boss, you should
avoid the temptation to try to do an end-run and take it to a higher-level
manager, she says. That will be seen as an attempt to undermine your boss's
If the boss is skeptical of your approach, you can press your point and
still remain supportive by saying something like: "I know this is not
something you would normally do, but I believe, in this situation, it will
get results," she suggests.
And what if your idea works, but the leader takes all the credit for it and
leaves you out of the spotlight?
By all means, you deserve credit, and you should make a point of reminding
the boss of your role, Ms. Murphy says.
"Remember that your goal shouldn't be just to sound off that you are upset
about not getting credit, but to point out that you've been putting in an
effort that supports the boss and is worthy of recognition."
If you don't receive any recognition, it can be ego-numbing, but being the
unsung hero can still play to your advantage, she says.
"The person knows you have been doing more than your share, and he or she
will not be able to take on a new position without your help," so it is
likely that you will be promoted when your boss is promoted.
Of course, there's a risk that getting close to the boss can raise the
jealousy of co-workers. "This is a real balancing act, because if you take
playing up to the boss too far, you will get a reputation among your
colleagues for being a suck-up," Ms. Murphy says.
So it's best if you are upfront about having the ear of the boss, she
suggests. Point out you've worked hard to be in this position. "Don't put it
down to some kind of political thing that you're lucky about," Ms. Murphy
It's important you always show great support for the team and give thanks
for contributions of all members, she cautions.
It all comes down to corporate survival. "Any organization is like a tribe
on a desert island," Ms. Murphy says. "Everyone has to work together to
"You have to be aware of what is important to the boss and provide it, but
you also have to be seen as essential to the survival of the whole group.
That's how you rise in authority."
© The Globe and Mail.