When Your Boss is a Crony
December 23, 2015

When Your Boss is a Crony

by Brian de Haaff

Have you ever started a new job only to find out that your boss is a part of a good-old-boys’ fraternity — and so is his boss? You get that funny, “I am in the wrong locker room” kind of feeling. Or maybe, “I am in the right locker room, but I am not on the team.”

This happened to Frank (name changed.) After settling into his new position, he discovered that several people within the company were longtime buddies — and his own manager was reporting to a college friend who was also the CEO.

That explained why whenever the CEO called, the boss sprung into action, no questions asked. Frank soon learned not to be too shocked whenever one of the buddies was promoted to a new position; after all, upward mobility was the expected path for members of that exclusive club.

It can take time to navigate a new role at a company, and even longer to uncover the myriad of relationships that at first, seem straightforward, even normal.

But finding out that you are reporting to the big boss’s crony can be a game-changer.

This news reshuffles what you thought you knew about your workplace, and it can be unsettling. Suddenly you are more careful about what you say and to whom. Plus, your prospects at the company seem slightly dimmer than before.

Cronyism is an ethical challenge for companies. While some companies take great strides to avoid potential conflicts of interest, other companies actually encourage the hiring of friends and relatives.

When they do, they run the risk of alienating employees who do not have the advantage of a personal connection. And when companies offer friends and relatives first dibs on job opportunities, they miss out on a chance to promote diversity within the organization. If companies are not careful, cronyism can even wander into more dangerous territory.

Cronyism can certainly be a morale-killer in the workplace.

So when you find yourself in the position of reporting to a crony, how should you navigate this tricky landscape and keep your own spirits up? Here is what you can do:

Keep your perspective One of the biggest problems with cronyism is the lack of objectivity and transparency that comes with it. The manager will have a natural bias towards whatever his boss thinks; disagreeing may put his own job in jeopardy. Respectfully maintain your own opinion and share it when necessary. When you have doubts, look to the company strategy for clarification.

Assume all will be revealed One of the thornier aspects of your relationship with your boss is that you cannot reliably share information in confidence, because it will likely always be passed through. His boss may demand to hear all the juicy gossip about the staff, and the crony will feel pressure to comply. For that reason, choose your words carefully and assume that what you say will be repeated.

Find your own mentor You always give your best when you are at work. But if your professional growth is stalling because you do not have the close working relationship that you desire with your boss, look for a mentor in someone else. You are in charge of your own career. You need to find a different confidante, someone you can trust to help you find your way.

Reserve judgment Just because a person is a crony does not automatically mean that they are incompetent. While they may have used their connection to land the job, they may be well-qualified for the position and prove to be an effective leader given the chance. Refrain from making assumptions or engaging in gossip, which will make the situation worse. Let their actions inform yours.

Offer your support Believe it or not, the crony is in an even tougher position than you are. He must constantly fight against the preconceived notion that he did not earn his way into the job, even if he is qualified for it. That can put him on the defensive and constantly feeling the need to prove himself. Show support and enthusiasm, especially when he demonstrates some independence from his higher-up. This will likely help your boss become more confident in his leadership skills and improve your working relationship.

When you find yourself working for a crony, you may feel a sense of unfairness.

But remember, you worked hard to get where you are. You were hired on your own merit, which can be quite a feat in an organization that relies heavily on crony networks to accomplish its goals. Think about how lucky you are instead — you can perform your job to the best of your ability, unencumbered by messy relationship ties.

Have you ever worked for a crony?

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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