5 Reasons Your Great Boss Is Hurting Your Career

Like other good things in life, a great boss relationship, taken to extremes, can wreak havoc with your career. I’ve seen otherwise smart and talented people lose credibility by over-aligning with a great boss. Be sure to diversify your relationship investments. Perhaps you’ll recognize these career-derailing characters. Avoid these common traps.

Great Boss Traps

The Coat Tail Rider

On the surface it feels like the perfect symbiotic relationship. You’re her right hand guy. You work hard and always achieve results. She gets promoted to a new department, and she brings you over. It’s comforting for her to have a someone familiar she can rely on, and you get a promotion, or a new assignment. Win-win, right? Then it happens again, and again. Sweet deal?

Although it’s comfortable and feels like the fast track, beware of riding coat tails, particularly into more than one assignment. Your identity will become enveloped within your more powerful, great boss. People will begin to see you as a package deal. If her career derails, so will yours.

Also, the best leadership growth comes from working with a variety of leaders. Although the devil you know feels easy, you’re both limiting the growth you would get from working with a wider variety of leaders. Better to let your relationship morph into a mentoring relationship, or friendship, while you each continue to pursue the next steps of your career.

The Mini Me

Your great boss is successful, so you work to emulate his every move. You begin dressing more like him and picking up mannerisms. After all, it works for him, why not you? In fact, you may not even notice you’re doing it. Trust me, others do.

No matter how great a leader your great boss is, resist the urge to lead like him. Your best leadership will come when you lead from a place of deep authenticity.   No one wants to follow a copy-cat.

The Tag Along

Your great boss is looking to develop you, and has your best interest at heart, so he brings you along a lot: to the big meetings, to the charity fundraiser… to happy hour. When there’s a company function, there you are right by his side. You always find your way to his table at dinner.

After all, powerful people hang out with other powerful people, right? Be careful. Some such exposure is healthy but over-exposure will burn. Give your peers a chance for the face time. Be deliberate in getting to know other people at those functions. It’s harder, sure, but the widened network will be invaluable.

The Name Dropper

When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s tempting to just throw around your bosses name. “Karin said this MUST be done by tomorrow at 5.” Weak leaders hide behind the power of other leaders. Even if your boss is the one asking for something to be done, resist the urge to use that muscle. In the long run you’ll have much more credibility when you own your asks.

The Good Soldier

Your great boss says jump, you say how high… every time. You trust him. Now of course, there’s a time and a place for good soldiering, but real leaders know when to question and put on the brakes. Sure your boss may reward you for your consistent execution of her directives, but she’ll be amazed when you challenge her with innovation and suggest creative, and better alternatives.

Work to build a fantastic relationship with your great boss, but beware of such co-dependencies. What feels easy and comfortable, could damage your career in the long run.

Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning and tagged , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. When I was in the corporate world, I saw all of these in play.

    For the most part, I made it a point to widen my network of influence. During one merger, it proved beneficial.

    I was viewed by the buying company as an asset. They saw me as an individual with a voice. Having backbone.

    Instantly I made new friends and easily melded into the new company.

  2. Steve, Thanks for sharing your story. A broad network in and outside your company is so important. I’m always amazed to see people put all their eggs in one (albeit powerful) basket. Mergers happen, players and priorities change…. stay focused on doing an excellent work and building genuine relationships up down and sideways.

  3. Karin- this post moved my mind into new spaces. I love it.
    You remind me of my daughter Sarah when she was very young (less than seven years old). She told me with a gloom on her face “dad, because I love you so much I stopped loving you”.
    Because you travel a lot. I keep thinking about you. You keep me worried. If I didn’t love you your love wouldn’t hurt me.

    Too much of anything fires back. Having a leader that engulf us within his/her mind is like keeping us in a closed room with no ventilation. We end up in dampened minds.
    Karin you wrote “Be sure to diversify your relationship investments”. A great statement as relationships are assets and we need to turn assets into profitable investments. Don’t we say “Return on Investment”?

    • Ali, Love the idea of connectivity in lose circles.. of the third party as joiner. Cool insights. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I think this plays into #1, 3 and 5 a bit but I would throw out the Buddy Boss.

    You’re such good friends and you want him or her to succeed that you can’t leave when it’s time for you to leave. I’ve been on both sides of that and it’s not pretty.

  5. I’ve been part of the “package deal” and took the punch. When he failed, it was time for a new package to be brought in and the old one shipped out. Great advice here from you, Karin. It’s fun to work with people you know and have an awesome relationship with but you need to know when it’s starting to hold you back and not propel you forward. Shadows can loom large.

  6. Karin, you identified one of my best weapons: name dropping.

    As the spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California, I would have to recruit other agents to speak with the media and those interviews would be filmed in front of a TV camera. They would always say NO, and then I would drop my boss’s name (the head of the FBI office in San Francisco) … that sufficiently shut them up and I then told them what they had to do instead of asking…sometimes a job needs a hammer 🙁

  7. Trying to be a sidekick for a boss is always double edged. On one hand you do get a lot of opportunities over others; on the other hand you morph into them without knowing it.

    I have found it is always a good idea to lead up and down and sideways in order to learn from everyone and share your gifts with everyone. Same goes for colleagues. Having many different vantage points and personalities can help us grow and evolve.

    Well done Karin!

  8. Hey Karin,
    This was really good. I’m reading the 1986 John Love book about McDonald’s (“Behind the Arches”) and it hammers home how Ray Kroc’s early executive hires were people drastically different than him in personality and viewpoints. He then gave them great leeway — under crystal-clear guidelines of the larger mission — to run their areas as they saw fit and to challenge him if they had a better idea. Conveniently, too, his reports’ areas of oversight were rarely ones Kroc wanted to deal with. Basically knocked out each of the five traps you listed above.

    That example is almost too perfect to expect to find again, of course. More broadly, I’d say the lesson is that repsonsibility for avoiding the traps also lies with the manager/boss: hiring the right people, training them well, especially in specialties you don’t have but the organization needs, and then stepping back a bit.

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