What to do when your boss doesn’t vouch for you

Let me start by saying, I have been extremely fortunate to be under some excellent leadership at my former company to now at AWS, who have been truly invested in my growth and personal well-being that makes me feel truly blessed. Besides helping me grow in my respective roles, some of the valuable leadership lessons that I have learnt over the years are:

1. Empathy - One of my managers stayed back in the office late into the night, only because I was working on a critical event and then dropped me to the train station thereafter before he headed home himself. He could have gone home in the evening, but he chose to stay back. Thank You Param!

2. Shielding your team, despite all odds - As a new hire, I was put on some critical accounts relatively early with a LOT of pressure from Sales. My manager stood in front of me like a rock, shielded me from all the heat and let me focus on what I was supposed to work on at the time. He could have chosen to be politically correct, but he didn’t. He truly cared about his team and the people who reported to him. Thank You Param!

3. Enriching your brand value inside the company - This was one of the most important pieces of advice that I have kept close to me. What you work on, how you do your job and how you are being perceived is such a large part of your career trajectory in the company. Thank You Bruce!

4. You work for the boss, and then for the company - I have seen half the crew in a certain office leave, only because an influential leader quit. That’s the sort of leader that you want to be who is loved by all, and his org would give an arm for him in a heartbeat. Thank You Jim!

5. Knowing when to quit - Flattening knowledge curves, not having a leadership truly invested in your success or not jiving with the culture of the company would be some of the early indicators for you to make a move on. Thank You Ben, Josh!

A truly good boss is hard to find, difficult to leave and leaves an everlasting impression on you; while a bad boss can cause lot of stress, drama and impact your mental health which also has an effect on your personal life. That said, what I want to talk about today is a kind of boss who doesn’t advocate for you and what do you do, if that is the case.

In a survey released by Randstad US in 2018, around 60% of the employees preferred having a good boss than a higher salary. A boss plays a huge role in getting you that visibility up your leadership chain, advocating for you and all of that happens when you are not in the room. Non-advocating bosses will refuse to bring your name up favorably in promotion conversations, withheld your achievements, harp on your weaknesses and some can even undermine you and sabotage your long-term success.

It takes a while to understand if you have such a boss. And, when you discover this; the knee-jerk reaction is to become your own advocate aka PR machine. This can be a huge mistake which will further spiral you into the hole that you are already in. You could get perceived as someone who is boastful of his achievements, is not humble, is egoistic and is concerned about his personal achievements rather than the team goals. You probably don’t want to blow your own trumpet and let others vouch for you. If this is happening to you, I would strongly recommend taking a step back, doing some self-introspection, maybe; interview outside to understand where you stand in the market — learn from it — and identify the improvement areas that you need to work on to be able to take corrective action. Maybe, your boss isn’t the problem here and it is possible that you might have been short-sighted, side-tracked or lack that skill set that you need for the job.

When I started working at AWS, within the first few months itself, I had excellent guidance from my leadership on the expectations of the role, clear guidelines on the success criteria and what the goals are, what does it take for you to succeed and get promoted. And it’s not just me — this has also happened with the rest of my team where the outlines and expectations to ‘successfully meet’ or ‘consistently exceed’ are clearly laid out and it is up to an individual thereafter leaving no room for ambiguity. This is an example of excellent leadership direction right from top-down organizationally.

Assuming you are a performant employee, but are not getting the visibility that you need; that is a tricky problem to navigate with your boss. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, but it is important that you have a plan to get out of that situation. Do not take it personally and stop expecting your boss to turn around, because it will only lead to pain and anguish. There could be many reasons why your boss isn’t batting out there for you. Perhaps, the boss is new at the job and his/her priorities are to lookout for oneself, cement the place than looking out for you. There could be unconscious biases kicking in which could lead to unfair evaluations or your boss might lack the credibility to do that in the organization. Whatever the reason might be, forcing your way through it, arguing about it will not lead you to any constructive.

Find other leaders in the organization whom you can rely on, who can vouch for you. These influencers might give you the fillip that you need. The key is identifying the support of an executive sponsor who is a powerful, high-ranking ally in the organization. I know of someone who was at impasse with his leadership in terms of his career trajectory only to find the support of his executive leadership who had him promoted in 15 days and silenced all the team-transition politics. If you are blessed to have the support of such leadership, they are also excellent mentors who help you understand the big picture and are invested in your success.

If you do feel that you have done all you could; it may not hurt to explore opportunities elsewhere. Interviewing externally can act as a great leveler to understand where you are in your career growth, what you are worth externally and how are being viewed. This assessment comes from a neutral third-party which is something that I hugely value in terms of self-evaluating oneself. For the right opportunity, for the right team or a leader; consider the move. Do not stop your career advancement. You do have the potential to achieve so much more.

Lastly, never waste a good opportunity to learn from a bad boss. I was once in the room where a certain individual was asked by his manager to come inside the conference room on the pretext of a knowledge transfer. As that unsuspecting employee got into the room, he was confronted by a yelling boss in front of his team mates. I can’t imagine what that individual would have gone through. That is NOT the boss that you want to be!

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Sagar Desarda

Sagar Desarda

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The views in the articles are mine alone and do not represent my employer.