Everyone wants to be valued by their boss, but there’s evidence that people who work for "easy graders" – managers more willing to rate their reports highly – view themselves better and are even valued more highly by their colleagues.

Behavioural statisticians Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman studied managers at a large multinational company. They compared those who consistently rated their reports higher-than-average with those who consistently rated theirs lower.

The difference was stark: 51.4% of those working for the negative-rating managers, the harder graders, were rated as being merely "competent". Only 18% of the people working for the easy graders received the same rating.

The authors say they could see the effect of these ratings when they spoke to the teams involved. “The people who’d received more positive ratings felt lifted up and supported. And that vote of confidence made them more optimistic about future improvement. Conversely, subordinates rated by the consistently tougher managers were confused or discouraged – often both. They felt they were not valued or trusted, and that it was impossible to succeed.”

What surprised the researchers, though, was how the perceptions carried through to colleagues. Peers, subordinates and other associates all rated the leadership skills of the employees working for the low-rating managers lower than those working for the high-raters. The gap was not nearly as great, as you can see in the chart below, but it was consistent and significant.


Zenger and Folkman say their report suggests that biases and rankings from managers become self-fulfilling, influencing subordinates’ behaviour to the extent that others ultimately see the same thing.