I am amazed at how many times I hear a CEO or other C-level executive claim how much they hate “suck-ups” and “ass kissers,” yet see them reward that exact behavior. EVERYONE says they hate these kinds of employees, but they are embraced and treated as favorites. How can we say one thing, yet do another?
We claim that we want independent thinkers, people who can speak their minds and express their opinions, and people who challenge us. Yet, we push those very people away, and send them a clear message that we prefer a good suck-up over a person with an opinion that differs from ours. We love to play favorites! Why do we encourage the exact behavior we ridicule?
The Dangers of Favoritism
We tend to gravitate toward subordinates who make us feel good about ourselves, seem to like us, and compliment us. We hang out with them more than other employees. We reward them more often, and with better benefits, bonuses, and promotions. We brag about them to other employees, and we are more likely to show them support and attention in public. What kind of message does this send to the other employees, particularly the ones that are more challenging to us, and disagree with us on key issues?
The more you reward a behavior, the more of it you get. If sucking up is a way to get ahead and get positive feedback, people will do more of it, and the independent thinkers who would challenge us, tend to back off and become more fawning just to stay equal with the others. We have now built a team of servile, unthinking “yes men.” Do you think that’s going to make your company more successful? Hardly!
To be a great CEO, we need to be challenged. We need to hear differing opinions so we can make informed decisions. We need people to tell us the truth, not what we want to hear. And we need to know what our subordinates actually think of us.
“Do their words and/or actions contribute to my self-esteem, or do they contribute to the success of the company?” The answer will be obvious.
If your employees are spending more time flattering you than working on important issues in your company, they are really doing you a disservice. You might feel good hearing such nice things about yourself or having consensus on every issue, but it’s doing nothing to solve problems or advance the company. The more we bask in praise, the weaker we become as leaders. We need to welcome challenge in order to strengthen ourselves. Only a weak leader is afraid to hear the truth.