My Boss Doesn't Seem To Have My Back

Last Updated Sep 18, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

Dear Ron,
Several senior managers have complimented me several times and have helped move me to good assignments. However, my immediate boss has tended to remain neutral and has expressed no interest in developing my career. How concerned should I be?

However your boss feels about you, he's at least chosen to take a neutral path, and that's a much better situation than you might realize. What you don't want is for him to be actively standing in your way and working to highlight your flaws or set you up to fail.

Your boss is probably aware of your senior manager's high regard for you. And he knows that in part, his job is to help develop the people under him, and so it's in his self-interest for you to do well. If he's not a very good boss, though, or doesn't really have that much power, he might not be inclined to do much more than stay out of your way. And as mentioned, that's not such a terrible situation for you.

Your job now is to work hard to at least keep him neutral, and perhaps even turn him into a supporter. The best way to do this is to stroke his ego whenever possible and publicly support him in a way that helps his standing in the company. So you might, for example, thank your boss in a public presentation for giving you the time and support to deliver the results you've been able to. You want to shore up any weaknesses he has, and pre-empt any feelings that you're outshining or usurping him in any way.

I once had a client who was a manager at a technology manufacturer who was in a similar situation. His boss didn't dislike him, but was a few years from retirement and more interested in doing his own thing than in bringing along his people. At the same time, though, my client knew that if he wanted to, his boss could have held him in place by saying he really needed him in his current role, and there would have been little my client could have done about it.

So my client worked very hard to build a close relationship with the boss, discovering that his boss's main goal was to continue in his current role and location before retiring, despite talk of transferring him elsewhere. My client made it very clear that he supported his boss's goal, advocating for him publicly when possible, and eventually my client was promoted with his boss's acquiescence. My client then returned the favor by continuing to express support for his former boss in his current role before he finally retired.

In this way, my client turned a neutral player into an advocate. The important thing to remember, though, is that just because someone's not an active supporter of yours doesn't make him an enemy.

Send Ron your career and job-related questions.

  • Ron Brown

    Ronald B. Brown is a leading expert in the fields of leadership development and organizational change. He is the founder and president of Banks Brown, a management consulting firm that specializes in providing leading-edge skills to optimize the performance of leaders and organizations. He has served as a consultant to Fortune 100 corporations such as the Procter & Gamble Company, Avon Products, Inc., McDonald's Corporation, General Electric Plastics, Kaiser Permanente, Shell Oil Company, Eastman Kodak Company, General Mills Inc., and Motorola, Inc. Brown holds a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, and an M.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University.