When You Should Suck Up to Your Boss

Last Updated May 6, 2011 8:31 AM EDT

I received this email today in response to my article, 5 Signs That You're The Problem:
Really Suzanne, some of the dribble I've wasted my time on here doesn't surprise me why & how you & most of the dolts I've made wealthy step on & get over . It's know wonder this country is where its at, smelly lunch? Please...Why don't you devote some time to why most everyone that gets ahead now days is a self serving a** kiss / con artist. Oh, I know, how to make a honest days work & keep your dignity / virginity. What ever happened to merit? Bla Bla Bla
Now, I edit most of the emails I publish for clarity and length and I correct minor grammatical errors (heaven knows I make enough of my own to judge people too harshly for that), but this one I left intact, with the exception of the slightly naughty word, because I don't say such words and I don't publish them either. Why? Because it's such an excellent example of someone who is the problem and does not realize it.

I will not deny that some people get ahead by sucking up. Some bosses love that sort of behavior and reward it accordingly. If your boss is someone like that and you wish to stay working for this boss then you need to do what the boss likes, i.e. suck up.

It's utterly ridiculous when you know what a boss wants you to do and you don't do it and then you complain that you didn't get the reward you wanted. Is it fair or good for business? Of course not. Companies do a lot of things that aren't good for business. One of the reasons family owned businesses struggle is that the big boss (mom or dad or both) grant jobs based on DNA rather than ability. But hey, it's their business and they can do what they want.

But, are the vast majority of successful people successful because of their ability to tell the boss how great his golf swing is, or how brilliant her email regarding graphs in power point presentations was? No. Most companies are in the business of making money. Or rather, most want to be in the business of making money. Bosses recognize that they need the best people to do that.

You can certainly get a job through your smooth talking, con artist skills, but unless you bring value, that job won't last. But, there's another problem here and that's the problem of perception. You may say, "Steve only got that job because he's a brown-noser!" but if I said, "Oh really? What does Steve do?" there's frequently a long pause while the complainer thinks of an example. Some examples that I've heard:

  • She always come in early
  • He does these really fancy presentations
  • She always laughs at the boss's jokes
  • He writes these cheesy emails every day about what work he's doing. He's just showing off.
Well, people, let me tell you, it's not a bad thing to laugh at your boss's jokes, especially if they are even remotely funny. But often times the behavior that is perceived as "sucking up" really is just doing what the boss wants and doing it well. I call it "above and beyond" behavior.

It doesn't cause you to lose your dignity or virginity (not sure how that last part applies to most jobs, but no telling what industry my email writer works in) to do your work according to your boss's preferences. If your boss values people who have a lot of face time, make sure you're in the office early. I don't think this is the best way to manage--I'm a Results Oriented Work Environment (ROWE) person myself--but if your manager likes it, you reject it at your own peril.

If your boss likes plastic presentation folders, put your presentation in a plastic folder. If your boss likes daily status updates, write a daily status update. Now, if your boss wants you to engage in illegal or immoral activity, for goodness sakes stand up for yourself and report it.

I know that some of you will rightly point out that plastic folders are so 1993 and are totally unnecessary and stupid. But, you get to make those decisions when you are the boss, and you're not going to get to be the boss if the big boss likes plastic folders and you refuse to use them.

We all make choices. There are consequences to those choices. Most jobs are rewarded based on merit. Most of the time a highly qualified person gets the promotion. If you keep seeing people who you think are worse performers than you are leap frog over you, you need to evaluate what it is that they are doing that you're not. Because you need to make a change if you want different results.

And sometimes, important business takes place and important connections are made at lunch, and yes, if you're brown-bagging it with stinky cheese and anchovy sandwiches, you might miss out.

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Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to EvilHRLady@gmail.com.

Photo by alisdair, Flicr cc 2.0