Silver Brook Summary: How to Succeed When You’re Not the Boss’s Favorite

Life is smooth sailing when you and your manager are on the same wavelength. In fact, there is a chance that you’re likely to get a raise or promotion, with your appraisal a mere formality. But what if you’re not the favorite? These strategies can help you beat your disadvantage and overcome feelings of being undervalued and overlooked.

Mar 18, 2024 / 2:57 PM

A few of us are the boss’ favorite: promotions or raises are never a problem. Indeed, a 2014 study of 303 managers showed that 56% of them admitted to having a pre-selected favorite for promotions1  – making the selection process a joke.


For those of us who are not favored employees, the impact on morale, motivation, and overall performance can be negative2. Yet managerial favoritism often goes unchecked, partly because we may fear retaliation for speaking out, and partly because it is subtle and subjective in nature. The rise of remote work has amplified the problem: employees not physically close to the manager can drop out of their consideration. It isn’t all doom and gloom.


Here are four strategies to overcome being underappreciated and overlooked.


  1. Manage Your Responses: Feelings of unfairness, insecurity, and resentment when passed over for opportunities or recognition are natural. However, managing these emotions helps maintain focus and avoid negativity bias, which otherwise leads to self-defeating behavior. It pays to recognize that we may have incomplete information; actively seeking evidence of the boss's positive evaluations can help balance our perceptions. Even when favoritism is clear, it may originate in the manager's pursuit of self-interest, or unconscious biases, rather than targeting you.
  2. Be Strategic: A strategic rather than confrontational approach could work in the long run. Employees actively seeking to cultivate stronger relationships with their bosses by finding common ground can overcome their challenges. Suggested strategies include
    1. Observing the manager’s communication style and areas of interest, to tailor one’s approach.
    2. Considering the manager’s goals and pressures, so you can help them achieve their objectives.
  3. Take Initiative: Another approach is that of proactive communication:
    1. Set expectations and seek clarifications to avoid misalignment. Request performance feedback to identify areas of improvement, especially if you work remotely.
    2. Actively advocate your own interests, such as opportunities for professional development.
  4. Raise Visibility and Build Networks: The adage that “good work speaks for itself” doesn’t always work, when there is no common metric of what constitutes good work3. In such scenarios, follow a strategy of raising your team- or organization-wide visibility by
    1. Documenting and actively showcasing your achievements at every opportunity;
    2. Building a network of peers and mentors within the organization, by participating in cross-functional projects and company-wide initiatives.


These strategies help you showcase abilities, create connections with senior leaders, and open mentorship opportunities.


Moving Forward:
While changing jobs might be a necessary final step if the above efforts are fruitless, the strategic approaches laid out here can help you create a roadmap to overcome neglect, showcase value, and position yourself for future success.


This is a summary and review of “How to Succeed When You’re Not the Boss’s Favorite” by Dina Denham Smith, published on on March 07, 2024. Watch this space for Silver Brook’s summaries of impactful articles from influential business journals.



  1. Reinsch, NL, & Gardner, JA (2014). Do Communication Abilities Affect Promotion Decisions? Some Data From the C-Suite. Journal of Business and Technical Communication, 28(1), 31-57.
  2. Lasisi, T; Constanța, E, & Eluwole, KK (2022). Workplace Favoritism and Workforce Sustainability: An Analysis of Employees’ Well-Being. Sustainability. 14. 14991.
  3. Boag, Paul; Aug 29, 2017. Is Success Down To The Quality Of Your Work? Smashing Magazine