Is kissing up to your boss really a bad thing? And who is the judge of what’s kissing up versus simply doing a good job. Kind of reminds me of high school where the best students were ridiculed for taking school seriously. Well, your job is serious. And so is creating a good relationship with your boss.
That said, we all know people who take “boss pleasing” to a whole new level. One that makes even the best of us roll our eyes. But how much of the eye-rolling is about the boss-pleaser and how much is really about the person doing the judging?
Coworker’s judgement can backfire
This post was inspired by an email I got from someone I’ll call Tim who says anyone who works to please the boss is nothing but a butt-kisser. Here’s a secret: With that perspective and attitude, Tim is going to have a lot of trouble in the work world. There’s more to kissing up to your boss than meets the … uh … eye.
And his problem isn’t that he won’t kiss his boss’ butt. But because he has his attitude on backward and his perspective topsy-turvy. Basically, he’s cutting off his nose to spite his boss’ face. Well, you know what I mean. Does someone else kissing up to your boss mean you get to stay distant and sullen because the boss likes a coworker more than you?
Uh oh … I can almost feel his temper rising as he reads my words: How dare I accuse HIM of being the one with the problem! “The problem is with my boss, not me!” he might say. What gives me the right to blame him for anything, especially a stupid boss?
Well here’s the deal … I’m not blaming him. For anything. It’s a useless thing to worry about. My focus is how does Tim make the job better for himself. That’s really important to understand. It’s not about what Tim is doing wrong. It’s about what he can do right to help himself. That’s working smart.
Kissing up to boss in beholder’s eye
A boss may be stupid, and that’s something we have to learn to deal with one way or another. But that needs to be separated from how Tim decides to act at work. He doesn’t help himself by getting stuck in an idea of what things should be. He has to figure out how to best handle the reality.
Even if a person can’t control the circumstances, he can decide to play it smart. Confusing smart working habits with kissing up to your boss will only get in the way of Tim getting ahead in the long run.
How you act in your job — and more importantly REACT at the job — has huge implications for the way you handle things at work in general. No matter who the boss is.
Working smart means not letting your temper or ego get in the way of doing things to help yourself get along better at work — and that includes getting along with your boss as best as possible. Any boss.
“She’s blaming me again!”
No, Tim. Not blaming you. Taking responsibility to make things better for yourself is NOT the same as accepting the blame for what’s wrong. You can’t fix a bad boss. And you can’t undo everything that’s wrong in a screwed-up workplace. None of that is your fault.
But you can figure out what you can do under the current circumstances to help yourself get the work done as best as possible. And if that includes doing things that please your boss, that’s really ok. It’s about what’s good for you, not whether he’s getting his way.
Sometimes our emotions take over and we get caught up in thinking small like “if I do what he wants that’s kissing up.” So what? If you do what he wants and that also happens to be the smart way to operate in a work environment, then why should that be a problem?
Remember bigger picture
High schoolers worry about things like someone sucking up to the teacher. Grown-ups do what’s good for them — no matter what it’s called. And what’s good for you is to do the best you can to do a good job and work within the rules of the job — and please your boss as best as possible.
I know that sounds awfully school marmish, but come on … the company pays your salary. You aren’t doing them a favor. It’s a simple social contract: They pay you. You do the job in a way that they appreciate. You get along well with your co-workers and boss. You get more rewards. That’s not sucking up. That’s smart.
From Tim’s statement, there’s a good chance he’s letting small stuff get in the way of the bigger picture. Good work habits lead to better rewards either in this job or the next. Hmm …. that almost sounds like a religious belief. Well, it does take faith — in yourself!
Slight detour about self-esteem
So much of how we react boils down to self-esteem issues. A person who feels good about themselves doesn’t get thrown off balance by all the jibs and jabs as much as someone who maybe hasn’t had the chance to build up self esteem yet.
And a high-self esteem person is usually less tied in to all those external diversions and more willing to just check their attitude at the door and dig in to do their best no matter where they are. And that eventually pays off for them.
But someone who gets thrown by everything around them and reacts by whining and complaining about everyone else — even if at times he has good points — gets him nowhere except a ticket to misery and maybe a cubicle next to the copy machine.
Self esteem doesn’t happen overnight.
For all too many with less than supportive childhoods (or whatever the reason), building self esteem can be an uphill battle. But it can be done. And one way is by doing well at your job and working to win over co-workers and your boss.
The more ways you find to make things better for yourself and the more successes you get under your belt, the better you start to feel about yourself — and the less you feel like an outsider. And the less you feel tossed around by each slight or by someone else’s stupid behavior.
As you build a solid work reputation and a good support system around you (as well as within yourself), you’ll find yourself feeling less thrown by those instances when someone gives you a hard time. Even a boss. And even someone kissing up to your boss!
And now some pros & cons
I am a great believer in doing whatever you can to make your job work better for YOU. That includes doing things that please your boss. That does NOT include making yourself feel like you are giving up your dignity or demeaning yourself in any way.
But building a better relationship with your boss and finding ways to bring success to the whole team is working smart — it’s not kissing butt. And it’s not demeaning. If you confuse the two you’re the one who loses out in the long run. In fact, you may be sabotaging yourself by demeaning the very behavior that could get you to enjoy work more. Really. I know from my own personal experience.
Even if you still feel strongly that you are right, take a moment to read some of my other posts. And try to think why at least some of it might actually make sense. As opposed to simply labeling it all as butt-kissing and therefore negating the ideas themselves. You’re throwing the baby out with the bath water!
Not every idea will work in every situation. But these are some tried and true approaches that have helped a lot of people. And, of course, if you are in a truly horrible situation with an abusive boss, well raise it to a higher level or get legal help if needed — or whatever you need to do.
Not just about current job
Remember, the way you handle things now will follow you around. Not just in this job, but the next and the next and the next. So try to work in a way that sets the stage for success rather than failure.
Handle things with as much dignity and professionalism as you can — and a sense of humor whenever possible. And of course perspective. Sometimes just looking at things from someone else’s point of view might help you come up with a better solution than seething in anger and thoughts of getting even.
The words “I’ll show them!” if said in anger is high school — or more appropriately elementary school. But “I’ll show them!” can also be a positive statement. Thinking about ways you can do a better job and hopefully get noticed by people other than just your boss, is a big step toward success.
Either now, or as part of the resume you are building for the future. You never know where your reputation will get you. But I can assure you a positive one with real evidence of things you did well will get you further than one where you were always miserable or the one who stuck out like a sore thumb.
That’s not about blaming. That’s just working smart. And don’t worry, it gets easier. 🙂
[Post updated in 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
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