Why Do Bosses Play Favorites?

Most people think that favoritism must be eradicated. While rank and file employees think it terribly unfair, there are rational reasons that make bosses play favorites. After all, it is such a widespread practice in management.
First, we must understand that being a “favorite” can mean a lot of things; it can range from a reasonable case, like having more confidence in a competent person; to a destructive blind faith in a hopelessly inept or corrupt subordinate. We prefer to discuss situations between these two extremes because they account for the majority of cases.
Since it is inevitable, it is important to your career to understand why a manager would give high marks for reasons other than workers’ productivity. To have a better chance of getting a promotion, you must be alert on the most common reasons why someone tends to get favoured over others:
Management gets needed information. You need information about your workforce. Oftentimes, the favorite is the only one willing to give that information. The boss can only learn how the staff really feels about a certain project if one of them can be trusted to give an honest feedback. Be warned, however, that there is a very fine line that separates giving useful information from a malicious gossip. Smart bosses are wary of people who report trivial things, with an obviously personal agenda, as they themselves would not trust that individual.
They have things in common. It is only human nature to be more comfortable with those who share common interests with. These bonds cover different types. Some of them come from a common school or province. Some share similar hobbies or sports. On a more personal level, it can be that they both have similar tastes or mannerisms. You can remedy this to a certain extent by taking up his hobbies, for example.
He/she trusts the favorite. In other words, your boss believes in those loyal to him. This is different from simply being honest, although it may help if your boss thinks you are not dishonest. It may be that the person has demonstrated his loyalty by making the extra effort to finish a task that is important to his boss, or by being the advocate of his ideas among his peers. Of all the qualities, this is by far the most valued. However, it takes a lot of time and effort to attain this perception since this must be proven in many situations. Furthermore, a single blunder may destroy this relationship.
The person has become a personal servant. On the other hand, the favorite may be the one who regularly performs his boss’ personal errands. While it may not be forgiven if it is an emergency, this is unprofessional and should not be done because it is demeaning and unlikely to result in a promotion. The boss is just exploiting his subordinate to save on the cost of hiring a maid, although there are some managers that show genuine attitude.
They see leadership potential. It is not only the work at hand that matters, but also the possibility of a person being capable of doing tasks of a higher level. The truth is being the best at your work may even be a liability if your boss thinks nobody else could do what you are doing. Managers look for persons who they believe can be groomed for a promotion, who they deem “managerial material”. Taking up personality development, speech courses or some other workshops to improve your image may help you if you believe you lack these qualities.
Good or bad, favoritism is a fact of life in the business world. Despite all the competency-based rules a company can make, it cannot be totally driven away. The best recourse for a person to get ahead without compromising personal principles is to understand well what motivates a manager to anoint a favorite. With this knowledge, you can plan beforehand what actions to take that is not incompatible with your values.
*Originally published by the Manila Bulletin. Written by Ruben Anlacan, Jr. (President, BusinessCoach, Inc.) All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.
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