How To Become Your Boss’s Favorite

Career Enrichment
10/16/20 - Nicole Wood

Sometimes, it can feel like you can’t manage to do anything right, especially in new roles or when working with new people. Your to-do list can become overwhelming, leading to a lot of stress and tension. You might see some of your peers being put on a pedestal as company golden children. What do they have that you don’t?! These are completely understandable and relatable feelings. I guarantee that there is no difference between you and these so-called all-stars. They have simply mastered a few techniques that make them respected and appreciated by leadership. You can too! No matter your role, here are some fool-proof ways to quickly become your boss’s favorite.

Take Extreme Ownership

No one expects you to know everything or know how to do everything that’s assigned of you. On-the-job learning is much more common than coming in knowing exactly how to do your role. What is expected of you, however, is to completely own your domain and area of responsibility. Figure out how to get things done even if you don’t know the answers yourself.

If your boss sends you an email and says, “Can you please look into this?” Become the boss’s favorite by replying within 24 hours confirming receipt and that you are on it. Then do it and let your boss know of your findings. If something comes up related to your work area that you don’t really know how to handle, don’t just hope the problem goes away or someone else deals with it. Escalate the issue. Your boss doesn’t have enough brain space to keep track of every little thing they delegated your way. That’s the point of delegation! So make sure they know when they send something over to you, they can remove it from their mental to-do list because you have it covered. Taking things off you’re boss’s plate is sure to help you become the favorite.

What this might look like in action:

Taking the liberty of creating a new report that you think will help you analyze something in a new way. Seeking input from others who play a part in a task you are working on. Scheduling time with your boss to talk through challenges you are facing and get their input on how to approach them. 

Provide Proactive Updates

This is so basic, and I say it to every junior employee, but you’d be surprised at how many senior level leaders struggle also with this. If your boss has to ask you, “Hey, how is xyz project going?” then you’re already behind the eight ball. Become the boss’s favorite and don’t make them ask you! Stay in front of updates so you can put your boss’s mind at ease. This isn’t just a kindness. They are responsible for anything that’s been assigned to you, so if for some reason you don’t get it done or miss a deadline, they often have to deal with the consequences.

Proactively updating them on your progress helps them know that the project is moving along. It allows them to offer guidance along the way to avoid rework and gives them an opportunity to support you. Remember, your boss is on your side and is there to help you! These updates are important even when you have to say, “I’m struggling.”

What this might look like in action:

A daily or weekly wrap-up with some quick documentation of what you accomplished. Throwing 15 minutes on their calendar to talk about a project you’ve been working on. Copying your boss on critical update emails so they have visibility to progress.

Maintain Perspective

This one is tricky. Independent of anyone else’s experiences, your experiences, feelings and challenges matter and can’t be force-ranked against anyone else’s. It is, however, important to practice empathy with your boss, just like you want them to practice empathy with you. They may have come from a previous generation where work boundaries and wellbeing expectations looked different. They may be under extreme pressure to hit numbers or meet objectives that you may not be fully privy to.

Your needs and boundaries should never be sacrificed. And at the same time, it’s important to put yourself in their shoes and maintain perspective regarding the challenges they’ve faced in their career and how that may make their sense of normalcy different from yours.

What this might look like in action:

Thanking them for taking the time to teach you something. Keeping complaining/gossip to a minimum. Thinking about all the things that are on your boss’s plate and what pressure they may be under before reacting to a request.

Put in the Time

Flexibility is the future. I personally am not a stickler when it comes to the specific hours a person works or where/when/how they get their work done. All I care about is that the work gets done and that employees are present enough to build strong connections and provide the support that others need from them during reasonable work hours. I tell everyone who works at ALV that some weeks you’ll work 30 hours and some you’ll work 50. We also have an unlimited PTO policy. Taking time off is incredibly important to maintain wellbeing and long-term motivation.

All that being said, there are times when no matter how well you manage your time and priorities, there is just a large volume of work that needs to get done. It happens, especially if your company is rolling out a new product or program or another major change. I struggle when I see people more than happy to enjoy the 30 hour week but never actually putting in the 50. If you’re getting everything done, good for you. But if you’re telling your boss that deadlines will be pushed or that you’re stressed and overwhelmed by your to-do-list, they will expect you to spend the extra time to catch up.

What this might look like in action:

Staying late to get something done when it is time sensitive. Carving time out on a weekend to catch up when you’ve fallen behind. Taking a class or doing some research in your free time to get up to speed on a topic or skill. Being flexible to take a one-off call or handle a major fire during non-business hours when there is a strong business need and you’re able to jump in to support. Asking what else you can do to help when you recognize that your boss is working crazy hours or under extreme pressure.

Own Your One-On-Ones

If you are successfully abiding by point #2 (providing proactive updates), then your one-on-ones should really be your time to manage, not the other way around. You don’t want them to end up being more work for your manager or a time for them to simply ask you for updates on lots of things they don’t have transparency to. Of course you may use this time to provide updates, but if that is kept to a minimum, you can spend your time discussing other valuable topics like:

  • Brainstorming solutions together
  • Getting their feedback on challenges
  • Discussing your working relationship and how to continually improve it
  • Setting goals and talking about your career path
  • Receiving coaching on how to handle situations or certain people

Become the boss’s favorite by coming to your one-on-ones prepared with an agenda (bonus points for sending it in advance), and send a follow-up as well. If something gets discussed in a one-on-one, make absolutely sure that you do what you say you’re going to do.

What this might look like in action:

Sending an agenda in advance including updates since your last chat. Cancelling or scheduling meetings based on business needs, not what’s become habitual. Driving the conversation and not waiting for your boss to tell you what they need. Asking for feedback. Clearly stating your needs.

Two women sitting and talking

Know Your Numbers

I guarantee your boss has certain metrics that they are accountable for, and maybe you do too. If you’re not sure what they are, ask! You should know at any given time where your department stands relative to its goals, and your priorities should be aligned with these metrics. We are all responsible for hitting goals, and I love to see people who make knowing the numbers and the levers that influence them a part of their routine.

What this might look like in action:

Getting familiar with the metrics your team is evaluated on (and of course knowing your own!). Making sure you have a reporting system to be able to track your metrics in real-time (or as close to it as possible). Sounding the alarms when performance against goals is starting to slide. Reevaluating periodically if metrics are still aligned with business goals.

Check Your Work

Again, this one seems so stinking simple and yet it can easily be forgotten. Mistakes will happen – we are all human. But silly, avoidable mistakes should be minimized by thoughtful procedures and quality control practices. Like we’ve already discussed, your boss is ultimately accountable for your work so if something goes out in error or if you provide an incorrect data point, they are often the one having to explain it. Do what is in your power to avoid errors, especially with tasks that are client-facing or requested by senior leadership.

What this might look like in action:

Having a peer proofread an email that’s going to an important client or to a large mailing list. Double checking your numbers and gut checking them to make sure they make logical sense before providing them in a report or presentation. Implementing a quality control or audit system for key tasks, especially anything that relates to money or billing. 

Anticipate Their Needs

Your boss is constantly trying to free up time to be more proactive and strategic. The easier you can make their life, the more they will appreciate you, which leads to becoming the boss’s favorite. Likely, they will want to bring you up along with them as they climb the ladder. Try to understand what might be keeping them up at night (professionally) and take on tasks or make suggestions before they even have to ask.

What this might look like in action:

Knowing which projects are in the pipeline and preparing things to help them run smoothly. Being aware of critical dates to ensure your team is prepared to meet deadlines. Getting ahead of data gathering or prep work for meetings you know are coming up. 

These tips aren’t simply about playing a game of favoritism. These are fundamental professional skills that will help you succeed, be trusted and be well-respected by everyone you work with (while also becoming your boss’s favorite). Many of them seem obvious but are difficult to put into practice. Over time, however, with the right coaching and accountability they will become second nature, and you will see your career start to soar.

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