Looking at the articles that have been published so far, I noticed that there is a theme that comes back at times when I talk about collaboration and support. I thought it deserved its own post.

Sucking up to the boss: a behavioural study

Luckily for everyone (but for the suck-ups themselves, I guess), it just requires a tiny bit of observation and awareness to easily identify the patterns of someone trying to impress the boss. For lack of better word, suck-ups are:

  • People who follow their manager everywhere
  • People who solely focus their attention on their manager and ignore everyone else
  • People who change their behaviour when a manager is around (any manager, as long as they are higher in the hierarchy)
  • People who retain information from others to be able to talk to management first
  • People who think shining in front of management is the most important
  • “Yes people” who would rather disappear from this Earth than challenging what their manager says
  • People who stay late at work when their manager does
  • People who go to company events if their manager does
  • People who ask for a 1:1 lunch or coffee break with their manager way too often.

The more they do it and the longer they do it, the faster they freefall in the abyss of their peers’ respect and trust.


Said no one, ever.

If you do any of the stuff above, do yourself a favour and stop straight away.

Suck-ups don’t realise how bad they hurt their reputation. What is the point in getting an express ticket to a promotion if once you get it everyone despises you and no one trusts you or wants to work with you? It’s not about slowing down your growth, it’s about making sure you get there in a way that will be the most beneficial for you. That’s what suck-ups don’t understand: they would benefit so much from not being suck-ups. Self-awareness 0 – suck-ups 1.

What you can start doing instead:

  • Set the example to your peers: be the best version of yourself but show your vulnerability too
  • Use your top performance to drive your peers’ and your team’s performance up (that means that you have to be a top performer first, obviously)
  • Be consistent with your approach: apply the high standards you have for yourself when a manager is around to all the times when he/she is absent
  • Involve your peers in projects you initiate
  • Be transparent with your peers when something is bothering you
  • Stand for what you think is right

What to do if one of your peers is a suck-up:

  • Do not despair *I repeat* do not despair: continue working as hard as you can, sharing whatever you can with your team and manager. Don’t let someone else bring your motivation down.
  • Play by the rules: don’t lower your standards because someone else in the team does.
  • Try talking to them: I know it can be quite hard to bring the topic, but do it for their sake and the sake of your team.
  • Give feedback to your manager with examples. Keep in mind that you don’t know what is going on between the manager and this employee. This might have been addressed already.

If you are a manager, do not delay the conversation and address this behaviour straight away

Because suck-ups do everything the manager wants, only their manager can really make them stop. It’s important that you address this issue as soon as possible to avoid spreading latent negativity in your team and to prevent a good employee to ruin their personal brand. It’s going to be a awkward, but it’s necessary.

How to know if someone in your team is a suck-up:

  • They are isolated from the rest of the group
  • No one engages with what they say in meetings
  • They work well but their impact is very limited
  • They stay more with you than with their peers
  • They seek your approval for everything they do
  • They cc you in all their emails
  • You receive direct feedback from your team

What you can do:

  • Talk to your employee in a 1:1 about the patterns you have seen
  • Set clear expectations on what being a top performer means to you
  • Tell them about the feedback you have received
  • Explain what they can do to improve their reputation
  • Suggest a 360 degree review to raise awareness
  • Tell the employee to spend more time with their peers
  • Repeat until the employee has changed
  • Send them this article (I’m kidding) (even though…)

Luckily for the employee, their team and their manager, this is not something irreversible. People tend to forget it and trust them again when they see their formerly suck up peer now being inclusive and involving them in their success. It requires patience and commitment, but everyone can do it.