Do You Need to Kiss Up to Your Boss?

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By Peter Barron Stark | December 10th, 2012 | Leadership

The other day I was asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.

At a seminar, an employee asked me, “Do I need to kiss my boss’ butt? What if I have to choose between kissing up and doing what’s right for the organization?”

This question the employee asked is like an octopus with many tentacles because rather than answering her question with a simple answer, the question prompts more questions.

Before I walk you through the conversation I had with the employee, there’s something you must realize. Employees may not need to kiss their boss’ butt but most employees do find that, to accomplish departmental or organizational goals, it’s important to have a mutually supportive relationship with their boss. Now, this next part is critical for everyone to understand: Statistically, employees who do not have a positive or strong relationship with their boss have less job security than employees who do.

I responded to her question with a question: “What’s your boss asking of you?”

This answer could change everything. If your boss is asking for your support of a change you disagree with such as implementing new technology, then my advice would be to quit complaining and take the lead in helping your boss quickly and successfully implement the change. On the other hand, if your boss is asking you to do something immoral such as collect a bribe from vendors, lie, or treat your employees poorly, then my answer changes. I would never encourage anyone to do something that is morally wrong.

If your boss asks you do something that’s illegal or immoral, you have a few options. You could make the choice to quit your job. It’s certainly a better choice than spending each day complaining and actively undermining your boss. Second, you could involve someone who can get the immoral or illegal directives changed, such as your boss’ boss or the Human Resources Department. Keep in mind that going above your boss is a high wire maneuver. You can guarantee that your boss will not be excited when you go to others with your concerns. If you do go above your boss and your concern is not perceived to be either immoral, illegal, or out of alignment with the company’s values, then your relationship with your boss will only get worse.

The employee said her issue was not one of morality or legality. I then asked her, “Do you need this job?” If you don’t need the job and can quickly find a job somewhere else, then you can take pride in not kissing your boss’ butt and not break a sweat over losing your job. However, in this case, the employee stated that she did need the job, enjoyed working for the organization, and would be devastated if she lost her job. With the goal clearer, my advice was that she go out of her way to ensure that her boss feels supported by significantly contributing to both her boss’ goals and the department’s goals. These behaviors will most likely help her to achieve her personal goal of keeping her job.

Luckily, very few managers ask employees to do something illegal or immoral. However, there are a lot of managers who do things that are not in alignment with their company’s values. Your big challenge before you go to your boss’ boss or Human Resources is to accurately determine what the real issue is that you’re dealing with. An illegal issue? An immoral issue? An issue that is not in alignment with the company’s values? Your correct determination will most likely determine your future with the organization. In the case of the employee I spoke with, it was a software change issue that needed to be completed by the end of the year.

My advice to this particular participant? Quit complaining and make the change happen. If you can’t make that work, quit and find another job where you don’t have to make this software change.

Peter Barron Stark Companies is a nationally recognized management consulting company that specializes in employee engagement surveys, executive coaching, and leadership and employee training. For more information, please visit http://www.peterstark.com.

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