If brown-nosing is a big part of your career strategy, you should know that it doesn't work on everyone.
Webster's dictionary defines a sycophant as "a self-seeking, servile flatterer; fawning parasite." With PR like that, you wonder why anyone in his right mind would consciously seek to be one. In my biz, which involves working with a lot of outside contractors, I see a little more of this behavior than is medically safe.
I understand it's all part of the game, and I'm always careful to put compliments in the correct perspective when they come from folks who I know are trying to butter me up to further their careers. But holy cow, it insults my intelligence. Especially when the crap is laid on so thick it would make Eddie Haskell turn away in shame. (See Figure A)Figure A
There are two main problems with the sycophant. First is that the flattery is usually insincere. I once had an employee who'd missed several article deadlines admit it was because he'd fallen head over heals in love with a woman he'd been seeing. He said he thought he'd be honest because he knew I was such an understanding person. Seriously. My response? "Yes, but that doesn't make me dumber." I resented his attempt at trying to play me.
The other problem is that most sycophants talk a good game (well, good in their minds I guess), but they will throw you under the bus in a New York minute. If someone is weasel-y enough to try to gain your favor with hokey compliments, they're very likely to go over and around your head every time they get a chance. This'll happen if they don't agree with you, or if they have some other ulterior motive. The danger with this is that, unless your manager is aware of this person's true motive, he or she may buy right into it. Then you have to listen to your boss say, "Gosh, that so-and-so is a real go-getter isn't he?" while trying not to roll your eyes out of their sockets.
Flattery is great when it's real, and it's deserved. And, while I understand that it's tough out there in the business world, if sucking up is the only gun you have in your arsenal, you've got some problems. Whatever happened to just doing the job well to begin with?
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.