Stop Trying to Make the Boss Look Good

Recently, someone shared with me a New York Time’s article, “The Best Advice You’ve Ever Received (and Are Willing To Pass On)“, by Ben Pogue. It is a crowdsourced article in the same vein as his book, “The World According To Twitter.” I am a big believer that we all have something to teach and we all have new things to learn. There are experts all around us if we are willing to just ask questions of those around us. I found some new favorite pieces of advice. “Touch it once,” for example, is good advice for not putting off what can be taken care of quickly the first time: putting the glass in the dishwasher instead of on the kitchen counter (a biggie in a household of all preteens and teens) or capturing that business expense receipt in the moment. I need little gems and life-hacks such as these.

There was another piece of “best advice,” that I read, however, that really stuck in my craw (that’s a bad thing for the non-Southerns out there). The advice was this: “Your job is to make your boss look good.” Yeah…no. I’ve heard this advice too often before. Nine times out of ten it has been when something in the workplace is dysfunctional, breaking down, or harmful. If all else fails, turn a soft focus lens and some warm halo lights on the boss! It will make him/her happy, at least.

If you are showing up to work every day with the belief that your primary function is to make your boss look good, you are being harmed. Why? Because your actual talent is most likely not being honed and showcased; your flattery skills are being honed and showcased. If you are a woman, add a layer of gender bias on to that. Women are more likely to be expected to let the boss and/or men take credit for their efforts, all in the vein of “making the boss look good.” This is damaging, obviously, to the long term trajectory of women’s careers. Regardless of gender, making it a primary focus to make the boss look good (which often requires “sucking up”) allows people to be uncivil to those who are not above them in hierarchy, have lower self-discipline, and experience a false sense of job security.

If YOU are the boss who is expecting the white-glove treatment by those who are under your direction, you might be The Boss, but you are missing the mark of being A Leader. Fundamental in any relationship, be it personal or professional, is trust. The key ingredient to a trusting relationship is integrity. I define integrity as this: what I say and do on the outside matches what I believe on the inside. Sometimes that level of honesty requires us to really hear when others are speaking truth to our power. It serves no one to have a team of cheering masses behind the boss as they charge over the cliff. A confident leader will seek out the voices who say, “I disagree and here is why” and “We have got a problem and you need to hear about it.” That includes everything from questioning a particular client strategy to speaking out about sexual harassment in the workplace. “Make the boss look good” is akin to “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along!”

None of this, of course, is about throwing the boss under the bus. Remember, the goal here is trust and integrity. Throwing someone under the bus is simply the flip side of the “make the boss look good” coin. It is manipulation in the hopes of creating leverage.

Here is the full circle moment. When leaders allow themselves to be open to plainspoken truth that comes from a place of integrity, they are able to make wiser, more well-informed decisions. THAT is what actually makes the boss look good. Making the boss look good is not the goal or the measure of success, it is the by-product of quality work and true leadership.

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