Are you the blue-eyed boy/girl of your boss? If you are not, then somebody else is. When you did not get that promotion which somebody else got, what did you tell yourself? Boss’s favourite got it?
Let’s call the favourites as pets for next 2 minutes?
In every organisation I have worked in, people always talked about the boss’s blue-eyed colleague. I too have had similar vibes about some of the relationships and interactions I’ve had with colleagues and subordinates. What is interesting is that people involved in these nexuses (connections) almost always do not realize this unless and until somebody points it out to them. Well, it’s similar to being in love – it’s not uncommon for love birds to be oblivious to the world when they are indulging in the company of their exclusive one!
Pets at Home
Why does this happen in the “world-of-work” when relationships are supposed to be strictly professional? Well, we can use a cacophony of words to describe what’s not “strictly professional” – “chemistry”; “wave-length”; “attraction”, etc. based on how we want to view these relationships. And I don’t think logic matters when it comes to such relationships – personal or professional. These are more about the kind of impressions we leave when we talk about people whom we like, appreciate more. We go to lunch with frequently with few and our eyes pop-up when we greet them. Furthermore, the sheer energy that we show while talking about our “pets” is not missed by others. For example, we threw a birthday party for my youngest girl when she turned 5 years old. Our my elder daughter commented that the youngest is surely our favourite as her (the eldest) birthday affair merely warranted a quiet dinner.
What my elder daughter “conveniently” forgot was that she personally requested for a low-key affair this year. My wife reminded her of the large party we threw for her when she turned five in Kuala Lumpur a few years ago. Convenience 🙂
Difficulty of Pets
As much as it is difficult for colleagues to accept the boss’s pet; it is equally cumbersome being the pet. I say this because, for a fair amount of time, I was seen as my sales head’s favourite. This title got bestowed on me because he would have no qualms talking about my work to other colleagues during his travels. I would receive a barrage of “pings” from colleagues turned friends who told me about these public appreciations. To be honest, I was surprised, as my sales head used to batter me on a daily basis about unfinished tasks and never praised me in person.
However, I got a first-hand view of this reality when he mentioned my name and our good old days with much fondness during a recent open forum. Aha! Now I know what my colleagues spoke of way back in time when they said I was the sales head’s pet!
Sometimes our own decision making on crucial matters provide hints to people about our preferences of certain people. Once my sales lead came to my room and said, “Kamal, tell your darling to work on new mandates as she said that she can’t be bothered with new clients, as her existing clients are good enough for her!” I was shocked that some of my very own behaviours had led my subordinates to wrongly assume that I had a pet in the office. Well, even if I had chosen to deny that, I can’t control the perceptions of people around me if they believed otherwise!
The other problem with so-called pets is the issue of confidentiality. As soon as board meetings are over, some of us who are pets to colleagues who have attended these meetings would get instant updates on what transpired during these meetings. Many times those updates became company-wide decisions hence when I reached leadership roles I began to dread discussing sensitive topics in senior leadership meetings fearing that these news/decisions might first get out to the pets.
The other side of this phenomenon is that people refuse to let their pets go to other teams. There are pets who refuse to report outside their masters’ circle of influence. I have encountered situations where people had flat-out refused to report to leaders who are infamously known for their pet culture!
And there are some pets who follow their master almost everywhere. There is someone I know who worked in four of the organisations I had worked for. For three of them, I had recommended him as I trusted him and felt he was capable. And, these were validated by my superiors who interviewed him, so I think there was no bias. But I’m sure it would have been difficult for him to live being tagged as my pet. I don’t know how he managed it for 12 years but it was certainly a shame having been tagged as my pet. I say this because he was an excellent talent with an unblemished track record at work. Its been 9 years now he successfully runs a company overseas.
Public vs Private
Sometimes our gestures and public behaviours towards our pets do not help either. I recall an episode involving an annual meeting with 180 odd key people of the organisation. We were greeting colleagues before the meeting with many warm handshakes being exchanged (there were also some cold handshakes!). Some high fives; a few waves of hands from a distance. But, when this guy (my pet) walked in, I hugged him in full public glare. I didn’t give it much thought then coupled by the fact that he was no longer reporting to me. Moreover, we were seeing each other after a year. However, for many people in the room that single gesture alone was valid proof of evidence!
All said, there is very little one can do about office pets. Let’s accept with certainty that they exist and will continue to be around. It will be good to keep in mind that unlike our domestic pets, it is just not worth publicly displaying affections on our professional pets?
I’m doing my best not to show off my pets. If you are a pet, you are lucky today, but all the best, if you have a new boss tomorrow!