Nothing is more frustrating than working for a boss who has clear favorites and you are not one of them. You work your butt off but your contributions get minimized. For example, you can suggest something during a meeting and get no response. The favorite employee later says the same thing and the boss damn near stands up and applauds. In other situations, the favorite employee is never held accountable to the same degree as others are, which creates resentment and frustration.
Most bosses try their best to be fair and balanced, but subconsciously they have their favorite employees. It has happened to me before. When I left one job, I had people tell me they could never understand what I saw in that person when no one else either trusted or thought much of her. I started thinking, “What caused me to be blind to that behavior and why didn’t anyone mention it to me before?” Well, the answer to the second part of the question is easy: Once you reach the executive level, none of your direct reports will “Speak truth to power” and tell you that you are playing favorites because they don’t know how you will react. They also don’t want to end up on the favorite’s sh*t list and have to watch their back all of the time. The answer to the first part of the question is harder; reason being, there is some type of emotional connection that causes leaders to play favorites. In my case, we had similar backgrounds, even though we were not of the same race, religion, and sex; however, we had both come from humble backgrounds.
I've found the most effective way to tell if you are suffering from the "Favorite employee" syndrome is to have a trusted HR partner sit in on your staff meetings and participate in talent reviews. That person’s key role is to speak truth to power and tell you if she sees it happening. For example, going back to the example of the boss’s favorite saying what you previously did, the HR partner will interject and say, “What John just said is very similar to what Betty previously said. Betty, Can you add to it?” In addition, during performance reviews, the HR partner will also ask, “Why are you giving John a higher or the same rating as Betty when she had better results?”
In summary, leaders will experience times in which they play favorites, overlooking their faults and exaggerating their strengths. When leaders do, it creates dysfunction and lowers productivity. Worst yet, it causes good people to become demoralize and leave. The only way leaders will know when they are playing favorites is to have someone who will see what they can’t. That person has to be willing to speak truth to power. Be that person.