You Can’t Brown Nose Your Way to Success

Competence is one of the four keys to career and life success in my Common Sense Success System.  I also discuss it in some detail in several of my books: Straight Talk for Success; Your Success GPS; and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.  If you want to succeed you need to develop four basic, but important competencies: 1) creating positive personal impact; 2) becoming a consistently high performer; 3) dynamic communication skills; and 4) becoming interpersonally competent. 

There are four key competencies that will help you become a career and life success:

  • You have to be able to create positive personal impact.
  • You have to be become an outstanding performer.
  • You have to be a dynamic communicator – in conversation, writing and presentations.
  • You have to build strong, lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with the important people in your life.

Your boss and other leaders in your company are some of the most important people in your life.  You need to build strong relationships with them.  Yet, you have to be careful about stepping over the line.  On Wednesday of this week, USA Today had an interesting article on brown nosing.  I don’t like the connotations that come with the term “brown nosing.”  I prefer to think of it as “managing upward gone wild.”

There is a story in the article that illustrates the point about brown nosing or managing upward gone wild….

“Stanton Sloane CEO of SRA International, a company that has been on the Fortune Magazine’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For for 10 years running, said that years ago, he was in a large meeting when he told his boss that he was a genius. 

“Bad idea.  The boss’retort: ‘This was a team effort, and the credit goes to the team, not me,’ Sloane recalls.

“This anecdote shows that there are subtle ways to compliment the boss, perhaps by praising the team under their charge and by using ‘we’ instead of ‘you,’ he says.”

There are some interesting quotes from CEOs in the article…

John Spector, CEO of Imperial Sugar says, “Hollow compliments are a sign of immaturity and justification for why the brown nosing employee should not be promoted.”

Chris Kearney, CEO of SPX says, “What I want is honest, objective feedback, even if it’s difficult to hear.”

Raul Fernandez, CEO of ObjectVideo says, “There is a difference between a kiss-ass compliment and a positive comment.”

What’s a guy or gal to do?

There is a common sense solution to this dilemma.  Be authentic. 

I am big on authenticity.  As I pointed out in yesterday’s post authenticity should be a key component of your personal brand.  It should also be fundamental to all of your relationships – your boss included.  People befriend and enter into relationships with authentic people.

Brown nosing is not authentic.  People who go overboard on managing up are seldom authentic.  Authentic people provide straightforward, honest feedback to others – including their boss.  When you brown nose or go overboard on managing up, you tend to lose your authenticity.  Your feedback becomes all positive, and worse yet, self serving.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am a big believer in positive feedback.  I don’t think there is enough of it in our culture.  I also believe that even the most successful and self confident people want and like to hear positive things about themselves.  The problem comes when positive feedback turns into fawning behavior.

There is a common sense question you should ask yourself if you think you might be crossing the brown nosing line.  “Would I say the same thing to someone who is my peer or someone who works for me?”  If the answer is “yes” chances are that giving your boss that feedback is not brown nosing or going overboard on managing up.  If the answer is “no,” be careful, you may be heading into brown nosing territory. 

The common sense point here is pretty simple.  Successful people are competent in four areas: 1) creating positive personal impact, 2) performing well, 3) communicating effectively, and 4) building relationships.  As a recent USA Today article points out, relationship building with your boss can be a bit tricky.  While you want to be positive and build a strong relationship, you don’t want to come across as someone who is too aggressive in managing upward – or what the article called “brown nosing.”  On the other hand, you can’t be so afraid of being seen by your boss and coworkers as a brown noser that you never give your boss, or other leaders in your company, any positive feedback.  The best way to do this is to be authentic.  Give your boss some strokes when he or she does something that you really appreciate, or think was a truly great idea.  Don’t give him or strokes just for the sake of making him or her like you better.

That’s my take on overly aggressive managing up behavior and how to not get labeled as a brown noser.  What’s yours?  Please take a few minutes to leave a comment sharing your thoughts with us.  As always thanks for reading.


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