When a Leader Plays Favourites

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Reposted from the Globe and Mail’s “Nine To Five” advice column

Reader Question:
Our previous senior manager, who was fantastic, left, and a new one was hired. The new senior manager has bonded with a member of our team and spends a lot of time with him. My immediate supervisor, who reports to the new senior manager, is fair and his attention is evenly distributed. Yet he is unaware of what is happening and we are not sure whether we should let him know. We feel it is unfair that the new senior manager pays zero attention to us and lavishes our colleague with all his time.

To make matters worse, our colleague “brags” about how close he is to this new boss. This individual gossips and is now starting to show attitude toward our manager. I guess he feels protected and invincible.

What this new boss is doing this makes no sense. Do I inform my manager? Or should we approach human resources?

My Answer:
I support your inclination to do something, but going to your manager is not your best strategy. Tattling can too easily backfire.

What would you do with lots of attention from this senior manger? Use the answer to design your own relationship with him. Maybe your colleague is just the first to take action, and the new boss is not “doing” anything but responding kindly. Or maybe the new manager found your colleague easy to talk to at the get-go and now he’s sticking with what’s comfortable.

The whole scenario could simply have fallen into place accidentally. Your opportunity is to be deliberate in changing it.

Approach this new boss with a positive observation of the close relationship he has with your colleague and express your hope to also connect more often. . You might say: “Perhaps we can have lunch occasionally, too, as I’d like to share some ideas with you and I’d appreciate your perspective.”

Prepare something interesting to share, and a couple of intelligent questions. End with “hope we can do this again soon,” and then make it happen.

The key to this approach is to be transparent with your colleagues and manager about what you’re doing. Work to build an equally strong relationship with your manager and encourage your colleagues to ask for the one-on-one time they desire. You might also take some time to tell your bragging colleague that his insubordinate gossip isn’t appropriate. In this way, you can turn “unfair” into “fair” without handing the task off to anyone else.