How To Get Promoted If You’re Not Your Boss’s Favorite

Your boss has a favorite and it’s not you. It’s disconcerting to work hard and get great results but never get recognition from your boss. After all, your boss is the gatekeeper to a promotion. You want the acknowledgment that you’re on track and doing a good job.

But no matter what you do, you can’t even get on their radar. They give all their praise and attention to one person, their favorite. And this person gets public recognition and is rewarded with special projects. It’s their ideas that are always best and, in fact, the only ones seriously considered. It’s not fair.

It’s human nature, I suppose, to have favorites, but in the workplace when a manager overtly gives attention and recognition to only one person, the result can be destructive to other team members. It becomes a morale issue and often creates tension in the department. People start trying to win favor to get ahead or simply end up transferring out and giving up.

Anne, a former client of mine from the financial services industry, had one such boss. He clearly had a favorite. In the open office environment, he sat next to her and they shared stories and jokes throughout the day, while the remaining team had their heads down trying their best to get work done.

Anne was ambitious and dedicated to doing her best work, but had a dilemma. How can I get recognized and get promoted when I’m not the boss’s favorite?

Here’s my best advice on how to get promoted when you’re not the favorite.

Let it go

My first advice to Anne was to let go of all the emotional stuff she was feeling. Anne thought it was unfair and her ongoing frustration and fixation on the relationship her boss had with his favorite was robbing her of her positive energy and forward momentum. Let it go and then move on to more strategic actions to help your career.

Understand your value proposition

Understanding how your work leads to positive business outcomes, your value proposition, is critical to position yourself for success to get ahead. Once you recognize how the unique way your work adds value to the organization, you know how you can help your boss reach their objectives.

Connect the dots between your value proposition and what your boss wants and needs. This is an effective and powerful way to get their attention and respect. You will get their attention when you position this as all about them and what you can do to help them be successful.

For example, my former client Diane, is COO of a construction company. She is detail oriented and highly organized. She has a firm grasp on what’s happening in each department. Proactive, she has the ability to identify issues before they even surface.

Her boss, John, is the founder. He’s a visionary and micromanager and is not in touch with the details of the organization. He is always scrambling after the fact to understand what’s going on, and it causes him stress and anxiety.

Drawing from her value proposition, I suggested to Diane that she offer to help John with the details by creating a weekly status report that outlines what’s happening in each department. She helps him by giving him the detailed information he needs to steer the direction of the company.

She may not be his favorite, but she gains credibility by demonstrating her value to him and the organization. He gets it.

Identify who has power and influence

Your boss may be the primary decision maker for your career advancement, but who else in the organization has power and influence over decisions regarding your potential promotion? And who is in your boss’s web of influence? Pay close attention to who your boss listens to and whose opinion matters outside your immediate team.

It’s important to build credibility and visibility with all these people and nurture ongoing relationships with them. Make sure they know you and understand the value you bring to the business.

If your boss clearly has a favorite, these people can potentially intervene and call out his/her inappropriate behavior and decisions.

Find allies and champions

Aside from influencers, it’s helpful to find people in the company who can be your allies and champions. Advocating for yourself is important, but you can expand your own influence by building relationships with people who can stand up for you when you’re not in the room or at the table.

The more visibility you have across the organization the better. You want a supportive network of people who can recommend you for special assignments or endorse you for a promotion.

Understand what it takes to get promoted

Pay close attention how people in your department/company get promoted. With whom do they have relationships? On what type of projects are they working? How do they build influence? How do they behave and communicate in meetings? How do they interact with leadership? How do they gain credibility? Use these successful people as role models and make a strategic plan about how to position yourself for advancement.

Find a sponsor

The most powerful relationship in your organization is with a sponsor. Unlike a mentor who advises you, a sponsor takes action on your behalf. They are familiar with your work and the value you bring to the business and will actively promote you and include you in high profile projects. Ideally, they are two levels above you with a sight line to your work. A sponsor in your corner will override any favoritism your boss may have.

When you’re strategically building your network, identify potential sponsors and make it your focus and intention to build visibility with them over time. What’s important to them? How can you help them based on your value proposition? Most of the sponsorship relationships develop over time as the sponsor learns more about your work and your value, and trusts that advocating for you will benefit the organization.

In summary, it’s unfair that your boss has a favorite and you don’t get the recognition you deserve for your performance. But move beyond victimhood and take control of your career trajectory. You can build solid relationships across the organization that will support your advancement. Make it your intention to do so.

Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed., is the president of Women’s Success Coaching and author of “The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead”. With 20+ years of sales and management experience, Bonnie has held executive positions in startup companies and Fortune 500 companies.


Tanveer Naseer is an award-winning and internationally-acclaimed leadership writer and keynote speaker. He is also the Principal and Founder of Tanveer Naseer Leadership, a leadership coaching firm that works with executives and managers to help them develop practical leadership and team-building competencies to guide organizational growth and development. Tanveer’s writings and insights on leadership and workplace interactions have been featured in a number of prominent media and organization publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Inc Magazine, Canada’s national newspaper “The Globe and Mail”, The Economist Executive Education Navigator, and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center.

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