When Employees Are Praised More Than Managers

It’s standard business leadership advice to hire top-notch performers and strong team members. Yet following this advice can lead to those people being praised by upper management or the field in general. High performers may even develop a following, through conference presentations or social media branding, that outshines their managers. They may aggressively network with senior management, and become better known or better liked than their managers.

And that can be a danger because kudos to an employee or a team might provoke managerial jealousy or destructive competition. Managers are human, after all, and having a shining star on the team may sound good only in theory. Managers may come to feel in danger of being outshone, demoted, or falling off the fast track in favor of people who work for them.

They can start to sabotage their own employees in ways that are destructive to both people and the effort as a whole – to say nothing of leadership development. If this is happening to you, it’s essential to take steps to manage the situation and your emotions. A recent Harvard Business Review article recommends the following steps.

1. Compare their performance with their self-promotion. 

This step applies to a situation where an employee is promoting themselves in some way, such as networking or social media, but not actually performing up to par. In that case, some course correction may legitimately be in order. Remind them of their responsibilities to strong performance and the team, and suggest pulling in from self-promotion to concentrate on their core duties.

Stay objective if senior management praises one of your employees.

2. Remain objective.

Stay objective about the employee’s performance and your own contributions. It’s essential to manage any jealousy or self-doubt you feel. Giving in to negative feelings about your own worth vis-à-vis an employee’s worth will hurt your brand as a manager.

3. Be consistent in your policies.

If an employee is outshining you, it may be one of the unexpected results of policies you put in place. Do you encourage your direct reports to talk to upper management? Present at conferences? Participate in social media channels under their own names? If any of these resulted in a lot of praise and visibility for an employee, it’s important not to shift the policies overnight. You run the risk of looking jealous and defensive. Either realign the policies gradually or take advantage of them yourself.

4. Take a page from their book.

Ultimately, one of the best steps may be using their methods yourself. Doing so can put you out in front again or reduce any anxiety you’re feeling. Use conferences to increase your visibility. Burnish your own social media contributions. Thoughtfully assess your own relationships with senior management and take steps to improve them. Cultivate senior management mentors.

5. Don’t try to undercut your subordinates.

This approach ties in with remaining objective but takes it one step further. It may occasionally seem tempting to engage in negative campaigning. Negative campaigning never works. It will make you seem small, erode your reputation for leadership development, and fail to bring you the positive results you should be concentrating on.

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