Why HR should never suck-up to the CEO

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Sucking-up to the CEO may seem like an effective approach but one industry expert has warned of some adverse side-effects which could easily limit an HR professional’s promising career.

“The notion of ‘sucking up’ to the CEO is a timeless strategy and the reality is it can be – to a degree at least – effective,” says Tim Cole, founder and CEO of The Compass Alliance. “But there is a rate limiter for the individual who attaches career ascension to buttering up the ‘alpha.’”

According to Cole – who recently penned ‘The Compass Solution, A Guide to Winning Your Career’ – sucking-up may help you gain superficial favour with senior execs but many of them will quickly spot your game.

“More intuitive leaders recognise the gamesmanship and can quickly sort out the character actors from the individuals of character,” Cole tells HRD. “There is a substantial difference there.”

Even if senior leaders don’t see through the sycophancy, Cole says HR professionals could still find themselves in deep water.

“I’ve seen a great many who followed a ‘suck-up’ strategy – right to the point that they assumed a position of authority they were ill prepared for,” Cole tells HRD.

Finally, Cole says HR leaders could quickly harm their own working relationships if they’re treating their boss one way while acting differently around others.

“[That behaviour] often erodes more important peer relationships,” warns Cole. “There’s an age-old axiom that basically suggests that if you act differently around your supervisor your co-workers will eventually begin to act differently around you.”

Of course there will always be occasions when a CEO is swayed by sycophants and yes-men but Cole says those who fall into this trap will struggle to achieve real organisational influence.

“I have seldom seen a sycophant/kiss-up/toadie gain lasting respect – and without the respect of peers the chances of becoming a person of influence decline dramatically,” he tells HRD.

“Your better tack is to work on building your own track record of accomplishment, developing a reputation for quality input, and constantly challenging yourself and others to offer independent thought.”


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