Avoid Riding Coattails, Becoming a Mini-Me,
and Other Career Limiting Mistakes
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, riding coattails, or shadowing every move.
Be sure to diversify your relationship investments and avoid these common traps.
What Do I Do If I Seem Over-Aligned with My Boss? #AskingForAFriend
Avoid These Common Mistakes
One of the most heartbreaking conversations to hear in a talent review conversation is, “Yeah, John is good, BUT … I think he’s kind of like ‘Robin’ in the shadows of Batman. And _______ (insert well-meaning great boss’s name here) is ‘Batman.’ John’s good in a supporting role, but I’m not quite sure he’s ready to take the lead.”
Of course, this is tragic, because in many cases John is the one doing a good job, supporting team members, working late, solving problems, and doing everything to support his great boss. But he’s seen as a coattail rider, or supporting cast member not able to lead on his own.
He has GREAT ideas, many of which have changed the game, but he’s been in the shadows for far too long and hasn’t differentiated his brand.
Here are a few big ones I see all the time.
First up, the coattail rider.
Great Boss Mistake #1: The Coattail Rider
On the surface, it feels like the perfect symbiotic relationship.
You’re her right-hand guy. You work hard and always achieve results. And then, she gets promoted to a new department, and she brings you over.
It’s comforting for her to have 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 coattails, 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.
Crushing Mistake #2: 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 copycat.
Beware of Mistake #3: The Shadow
A close cousin to the coattail rider is the shadow.
Your great boss is looking to develop you and has your best interest at heart. So, he brings you along to all the things. 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 face time. Be deliberate in getting to know other people at those functions. It’s harder, sure, but the widened network will be invaluable.
Avoid Common Great Boss Mistake #4: The Name Dropper
When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s tempting to just throw around your boss’s 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.
And Great Boss Mistake #5 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.
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See Also: How to Be a More Courageous Manager