Playing favorites

A lot of sucking up goes in an organization than most leaders would like to admit. And while most of them can’t see in themselves what they see in others, more often than not, the very same people send subtle (sometimes strong and obvious) signals to their subordinates. About what? To not criticize or share genuine feedback when asked or exaggerate praise of themselves and the organization, even when things seem to be falling apart!

If you’re thinking, “yeah, Sunil, those suckers of leaders sink organizations. I’m glad I’m better than them.” Are you? How do you know?

I love this analogy that Marshall Goldsmith shares with his leadership groups:

“How many of you own a dog that you love? In the groups, big smiles cross the executives’ faces, and they wave their hands in the air. They tell me their dogs’ names, beaming with love. Then I ask them, “At home, who gets the most attention when you get home? Is it (a) your husband, wife, or partner; (b) your kids; or (c) your dog? More than 80 per cent of the time, the winner is the dog.

I then ask the executives if they love their dogs more than their family members. The answer is always a resounding no. And my follow up question: “So why does the dog get most of your attention?”

The replies are all the same: “The dog is always happy to see me.” “She never talks back.” “He gives me unconditional love, no matter what I do.” In other words, the dog is a suck-up.”

If you haven’t been careful, in all likelihood, you have been treating people at work like your dog — suck-ups who get rewarded for not thinking and unconditionally admiring you. In a way, you’re fostering a culture of sucking up to the manager/leader. Aren’t you?

Save your response, but think — if everyone is sucking up to you, who is doing the work? And if the ones doing the work aren’t the ones sucking up to you, are you not rewarding the wrong people?

It’s important to acknowledge that this type of behaviour is standard but needs to be in check at all times, especially if you’re a leader with responsibilities that go beyond your contribution. Think of building a world-class team, products, services or organizations. Marshall recommends that you reflect on the following four questions:

1. How much do they like me?

2. How much are they like me?

3. What is their contribution to the company and its customers?

4. How much positive personal recognition do I give them?

I think #1 and 2 don’t even matter. But if we’re honest with ourselves, more often than not, there’s a strong correlation between 1,2 and 4 above than 3 and 4. Would we like to admit it? Nope. But identifying the same is an excellent start because now you know that you’ve been treating people fairly.

The question is, how comfortable are you to stop the culture of sucking up that you’ve fostered in your team/organization? If you hesitate now, chances are you might not ever rise above mediocrity.

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