Friday, July 24, 2009

Sucking Up

The minute you gain a little power and authority you start attracting suck-ups. Call them flatterers, sycophants, or toadies... the picture is the same. You earned it; they want to enjoy it.

They will fawn over you, whisper how great you are, and always defend you. You will be sorely tempted to believe that they mean it. And, even if they don't mean it, you will tell yourself that they are right.

Suck-ups make you feel good about yourself. They massage your ego. Unfortunately, if you are an executive they contribute little to your enterprise, be it your company, your country, or your life.

Sucking up is not limited to the world of business or to the business of power. Anyone involved in the game of love and romance has had some experience with sucking up. Sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally.

In the dating world it is called seduction.

As long as you have something that someone else wants, especially something that they cannot afford or do not merit, you will be the target of flatterers and sycophants.

The classical example is La Fontaine's fable of the fox and the crow. Link here.

Yesterday Marshall Goldsmith wrote a post about sucking up in the corporate world. Addressing a group of business executives he observed that while everyone hates a suck-up, the world is still filled with them. Could it be, he averred, that we inadvertently foster flattery, and that we do not even know when we do it. Link here.

Goldsmith defined a suck-up as someone who offers unconditional love, who is always happy to see us, and who never talks back. Where did he find these qualities? They were offered by a group of executives who were asked to describe what they most liked about their dogs.

Goldsmith believes that since we all respond positively to these qualities when we receive them from our pets, we are also likely to respond favorably to them when we receive them from higher mammalian forms.

Of course, we should always be careful not to stretch an analogy to the point of deformity. When a dog loves you, is always happy to see you, and never talks back, he is not really sucking up. He is simply acting like a dog.

If a human being exhibited the same qualities with the same consistency we might become suspicious. We certainly appreciate dog-like behavior in dogs, but we are normally less likely to succumb to its charm when we see it in human beings.

A really good suck-up can do one thing that no dog can ever do. He will be able to tell you exactly what you want to hear. More than that, a good suck-up will become the person you want him to be. Fido has never imagined such a thing.

A good suck-up is Protean in his ability to become whomever you want him to be. A good flatterer is a great thespian, a great actor, to the point where he does not even realize that he is in character.

After all, this is the basis for seduction.

Finally, suck-ups prey on vulnerabilities. They offer the mirage of an oasis to the person who is dying of thirst. Loss of confidence makes us all vulnerable to flattery. The way to protect ourselves is to base our confidence on real achievement, not on the cheers of the crowd.

The moment you discover you have been dealing with a suck-up resembles the moment when the emperor discovers that his new clothes are a mirage, and that he is the last to know the truth.

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