• Image about Marshall Goldsmith

In a recent issue of Strategy+Business magazine, author and leadership trainer Marshall Goldsmith exposed a dirty little secret of the workplace: Flattery - i.e., sucking up - works. We asked Goldsmith to share his thoughts with our brilliant, discerning readers (no sucking up intended).

By Chris Tucker

How'd you get interested in the flattery phenomenon?
I've looked at hundreds of feedback reports where people evaluate their bosses. The bosses always say they don't play favorites, but their employees say they do. Bosses respond to sucking up.

Flattery is everywhere in business, but seldom is it discussed openly.
Right. Employee evaluations always say, "reaches out across the company" or "builds synergy." Nobody ever says, "effectively fawns over higher management." Every leader says they hate suck-ups, but many of them create an environment where people learn to suck up.

It Figures 

In a survey of more than 1,000 senior managers and CEOs at major companies, University of Michigan strategy professor James Westphal and University of Texas at Austin doctoral student Ithai Stern found definitive proof that sucking up works.

Over a 12-month period, they found that managers who challenged the CEO fewer times, complimented him/her more times, and did the boss at least one personal favor were 64 percent more likely to be appointed to a board of directors where the CEO was already a director. 

Source: Fast Company 


What's the real-world effect of sucking up?
It's bad for the company. If you're a stockholder or a customer, do you want people to devote all their energy and time to playing games like this? And employees who don't suck up will get disgruntled if they see suck-ups getting ahead.

You say hollow praise makes hollow leaders. How so?
If we're not careful, we end up with shallow, superficial game playing, rather than the reality we need.

How can managers avoid this trap?
The best way to get out of the trap is to realize you can fall into it.

Do lots of people suck up to you?
No, but I'm not powerful. Why would you suck up to me? I don't control your life. The sucking up starts when you control lots of lives and money and status.

Boss Buttering 101
Office flattery may not get you everywhere, but it’s a start. Some how-to tips:

1. Master the art of deep, mesmerized eye contact. Why? Because the boss is fascinating: She deserves your undivided attention.
2. Parrot up. Repeat the big guy’s key slogans and sayings in meetings, reports, and memos.
3. Know her interests. Ask about the kids, the weekend at the lake, the latest episode of her favorite TV show.
       Wrong: “24 is so unrealistic. When do they go to the bathroom?”
       Right: “Isn’t Jack Bauer amazing? Nobody tortures like he does!”
4. Spread the butter. Don’t limit your fawning to just one manager. What if he gets shipped to Toledo?

Source: Business 2.0