How Far Should You Follow Your Boss?

By Susan Kreimer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, February 10, 2008

Karen Wright feels a connection with her boss.

In 1991, she started as a receptionist at a firm led by Kimberle Levin, an entrepreneur who has founded several technology companies. She had little tech experience other than some college courses, and along came a fabulous mentor.

"Our industry was in its infancy at the time, so I grew up in the industry," said Wright, 44.

Eventually, the two of them moved on to other ventures. But in 2003, Levin called Wright and asked her to join Teknuko, a technology infrastructure firm she was launching in the Philadelphia suburbs.

"When I got the call, I didn't hesitate. I put in my notice the same day she called," said Wright, now the director of support services at Teknuko. "I was very excited to embark on the next phase."

Many a worker has followed a former boss to another company. But is it the right move for you?

The answer has a lot to do with the kind of rapport the two of you have. Such a change may be a step forward if the boss believes in a prot¿g¿'s potential and hopes to bring that person along for the climb up the career ladder. However, career experts caution that relationships can change rapidly in a new corporate culture.

Over the years, Shelly Goldman has seen many supervisors bring on devoted employees from other organizations. "It can be lonely at the top, and having someone you trust is a benefit that cannot be undervalued," said Goldman, president of a career coaching and recruiting firm in Reston.

And from an employee's standpoint, the mentoring and career-grooming continues. "Generally, the employee feels they are important, their ideas matter, and they have a greater sense of control over their professional lives," she said.

In addition, such relationships tend to "thrive outside the office, and the boss and employee will be each other's confidant," Goldman said. "They may finish each other's sentences, guess and anticipate what each of them need, and are like the proverbial 'hand in a glove.' "

Wright said a shared philosophy about corporate culture unites her and Levin, also 44. "We actually complement each other." She described her boss as a visionary and herself as a behind-the-scenes guru. "I used to kid her that she would dream it up, and I would implement it."

But Wright cautions that following even your best superior isn't always wise. "Before you make the decision, you have to make sure you and your boss are compatible," she said. Ask yourself, "If I take our relationship outside of this particular environment, would it stand the test?"

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