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No longer the star in my boss’s eyes

Text by Franke James, MFA. Man with box on head ©istockphoto.com/René Mansi

Dear Office-Politics,

I hope you can shed some light on my situation.

I joined this company as a marketing coordinator with a great reputation in the lifestyle industry. I worked really hard and gave my best to the company. When I first joined, the company was undergoing a change management and people were resigning everyday. I was one of the newer employees to have joined and was enjoying a great working relationship with my boss Andrew who was also new. We both worked our butts off in the beginning to turn the company around. Everybody was appreciative of the extra work I put in and was amazed at my loyalty and dedication. Me and Andrew were best mate and I even socialized and shared non-work related stories with him.

Andrew even recommended me for a promotion, which I got. I was so happy and was grateful that I found this great company with great people, and I continued putting in my best effort. Our team subsequently expanded and we are now bigger. However, there’s this new person, Sandy, who joined our team and looked after business development. She’s since became the star in my boss’s eyes. Everything is now about her, and all attention is focussed on business development.

Everyday Andrew focuses his attention on Sandy, they joke, go for coffee and drinks together. When Andrew speaks, it’s always Sandy ‘this and that’. In the meantime Andrew has become distant. I must admit I have gotten a bit jealous, but I know can’t let it affect my work because I believe in the company. But recently, somehow Andrew views my work as substandard and unacceptable. And my ideas and comments are brushed aside and not taken seriously. Me and Andrew are no longer talking about stuff other than work.

Once Andrew criticized something that I put a lot of effort into in a meeting. I was shocked and after the meeting, I rushed into the toilet and cried my eyes out. I didn’t understand what warranted that. I recomposed myself and went back to the office. Funny thing was Andrew didn’t seem to take much of this and carry on as if nothing had happened!

Everyday I felt like quitting now as my loyalty is at its low, the only thing that pulls me back is that the company is still great and they are still good people around. I really like the company. But I’m not sure what to do.

Lost and abandoned

timothy johnson

Dear Lost and abandoned,

You bring up an important issue that is too often neglected in business: psychological ownership. This is something you experienced when you first joined the company. Your boss, Andrew, who was also new, was very lavish in his praise and in demonstrating his appreciation. You did what any other person in your position would have done: you enjoyed the attention. You also imprinted on Andrew as a friend and leadership figure, much like a baby imprints on a parent figure (again, nothing wrong with that, as this is a normal process in some businesses).

The problem occurred when Andrew’s attention shifted to Sandy. Now you are feeling left out in the cold, and your goodwill and psychological ownership of the organization has vanished. The reason for Andrew’s shift could be many different things:

1) Andrew may have felt that you had grown enough in your career that you no longer needed the level of attention you had received before. This could be his technique for on-boarding new employees to help them acclimate to the new environment. This is OK as a technique with one exception: he forgot to tell you.

2) Andrew might be a sociopath, who has a new best friend every few weeks. There are people like that, and it has nothing to do with you or your performance. I’ve been around people like that, and I find their friendship exhausting, because even though they may be praising and building up others, it’s done in such a way that all the energy comes back to them. If this is the case, you are better off as you are.

3) You may have done something to make Andrew uncomfortable, and he is distancing himself from you on purpose. You are feeling left out, and your efforts and energy are being spent trying to get back in his good graces. This may just be having a reverse effect from what you desire, since nobody wants more attention when he is trying to distance himself from another.

OK, we’ve taken a look at what might be causing Andrew’s behavior and his shift in favorites. But let’s look at what you can do. If you love the company and the work as much as you say, and your earlier performance speaks for itself, you might consider a transfer away from Andrew. For whatever reason, the personal friendship has diminished, and this appears to be upsetting you. If you can do the same work elsewhere in the company, it might be beneficial for you to pursue that route.

Another possibility includes talking to some other trusted friends and colleagues (or even just observing their reactions to you in meetings). Sometimes we give off cues and nonverbal messages that we don’t intend. They may be able to tell you (either directly or indirectly) if and when you are doing this, and it may explain why Andrew is distancing himself from you. Think of it as fine-tuning your social awareness. Also, instead of viewing Sandy as an competitor for Andrew’s attention, you might remember that you are both on the same team. You gave no indication in your letter that Sandy did anything to steal away Andrew’s attention other than just doing her job well. Perhaps focusing on your own job responsibilities and teaming with Sandy to create better office teamwork might win over Andrew again, if he can see that you are a team player who can work independently of his attention.

Finally, we all receive criticism. Regardless of how it was delivered, crying in the restroom is not the best way to handle the situation; this should be a challenge for you to look for ways to improve the quality of your work. If none of these efforts work over time, Andrew is still your manager and, as such, should be coaching you if there are issues that need your attention. If he is purposely withholding performance-related feedback from you, then that does not say much for his performance as a leader, does it?

Again, there is nothing wrong with feeling appreciated, enjoying camaraderie, or having psychological ownership in an organization. All of these help with job loyalty which is a rare commodity in today’s world of job-hoppers and downsizing.

I hope this helps. Thank you for writing to Office-Politics.com


Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant

Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.

An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.

  1. 2 Answers to “No longer the star in my boss’s eyes”

  2. Thank you so much for your reply.

    I’ve felt better after I’ve gone through the reply from Timothy, he put a perspective in this otherwise disheartening situation. Although things didn’t improve after I sent you the email, I know now what my options are and what to do. I did as soon as I sent the email, as Timothy suggested in his reply, talk to someone in the office whom I can trust, and they did know about the situation. From their observation they can see that I’ve sort of fallen from the top, but they were supportive and agreed that my situation wasn’t warranted just because a new star has joined the team. They’ve suggested for me to have a one on one with my boss to sort things out.

    As to Sandy the new ‘star’ a lot of people started to realize her attitude problems. I didn’t mention this because in the letter because I thought it was my jealousy talking, but Sandy became a difficult person, hard to work with and acted as if she owned the team. It’s either her way or no way. And this wasn’t only from my observation but a lot of others have realized this. She was what they call a ‘manage upwards’ person, totally different characteristics before the bosses than to her colleagues. In the office, many have grown to distrust her and were trying to alienate her. This wasn’t a problem for Sandy because she either hangs out with the bosses or not at all.

    Thank you once again for such a wonderful website, and if it’s not too much trouble please tell Timothy my sincere gratitude, I am so impressed with him that I’m going to buy his books. And some of the books recommended on your site.

    Thank you very much.

    By Letter writer on Apr 15, 2008

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