There’s an adage in business, whatever or wherever you work, your job is to make your boss look good.  Or make your boss happy.  I’ve heard both.

If you’re not in business that might sound really odd.  And it is.  “Make your boss look good” is almost never in a job description or how you’re actually reviewed, yet many people cite it often as the real underlying reason you’re at the organization.

The truth is that adages such as this are significant reasons why some companies are run into the ground over time.

Making your boss look good is actually a very good thing too, I don’t want to disparage it of its own merit.  Much like making your direct reports look good or the company as a whole look good, it’s not a negative.  In fact, making everyone at the company look good is something we should strive for, but we can’t do so at the cost of our real goals.

The idea that your job is specifically meant to make your boss be seen favorably, however, is misguided.  It’s a remnant of organizations that depend wholly on hierarchy to accomplish tasks and completely denies the real reason a business is a business.  That reason is almost always satisfying customer wants and needs.

If we think of organizations as tiers of people, each trying to make their boss look good, people start to think of their reports as tools for their betterment.  What’s more, people will act accordingly and do whatever their boss wants primarily to make them happy, not to improve the business results or offer value to the people that pay the bills.  Dynamism within the company comes to a halt and suddenly the entirety of the organization is suffering from group think.

This internal focus eventually robs the market, in a trade off scenario company workers will take the options that seem most valuable for making their superiors look good in hopes of being promoted to similar positions (or for fear of repercussion.)  Many people may assume that there is a high correlation between what the market wants and what makes the boss look good.  That’s true to an extent, but it’s only true when the boss looks good as a DERIVATIVE of giving the market what it wants.

Company values have to be focused on the customer, not internal perceptions.