I was never the type of person who behaves obsequiously, or who will take credit for things that I haven’t done to impress the boss. To be clear, using the Urban Dictionary, a “suck up” is: “One who acts affectionately toward another so as to excel, usually because he cannot do so on his own merits.” We’ve all met the people who don’t have any talent other than how to compliment the boss and position themselves so that they appear to have been instrumental in some successful endeavor when they actually did much of nothing. From my public school years to college to the workplace, I continue to encounter people whose incompetence is only exceeded by their shameless self-promotion. I have worked with people who probably could do well if they decided to put some effort into work, instead of trying to take credit for good things happening and positioning themselves as influential and productive, when they were about as productive and influential as wallpaper.
We all remember in school the student who sucked up to the teacher and got out of doing unpleasant things or grades that they didn’t earn. I recall a college class that was separated into groups the very first day and the groups voted for leaders, and then some “leaders” showed up at the second or third day of class and insisted that they would be the leaders. When the group said the vote had been taken and the leaders chosen, they resorted to having the professor insist that they be the leaders in spite of a vote. They were padding their resumes with things that they didn’t earn, and claiming leadership that they imposed on people, rather than what people had agreed upon. The sad thing is suck ups take these “credentials” as evidence of their “leadership qualities” and gain management positions in organizations after college. While the purpose of the resume is put things in favorable light, the suck ups have padded their resumes so thick that they could jump off the Chrysler building with it and land unharmed.
Recently, I have been involved with a group that wants to come up with a new product, except that they aren’t creative or industrious. The key elements in this situation that are bringing back memories as a suck-up situation are: lack of focus, changing criteria, hollow praising of work, and asking questions that have already been answered, but questioning details that are largely irrelevant. The “inventors” of the group switched paths quickly, mostly because they really didn’t have any practical ideas. I pulled them out of the pit that they were in, just like so many times before; I defined their product, I explained why it was not effective as configured, and gave them a much more useful and marketable application. I don’t want to sound as if I am boasting, but I didn’t need the group for any of those things, and from their efforts, all they accomplished was ambiguity and balloon juice. Suck ups suck at analytical thinking or creativity; the only thing they are creative and analytical with is promoting themselves.
Who else has padded their resume with questionable accomplishments remains to be seen. You can usually identify the suck ups fairly quickly when they make sure to “volunteer” with the group, and then take the easiest tasks, and will be the first to find an excuse to leave the work to other people. The suck ups will change positions numerous times, so that they are always on the winning side, and they will be sure to take credit. You can identify the suck ups because they will attempt to position themselves as crucial to the success of whatever task is before them. Changing positions, or even changing teams is common trait of the suck ups. When the people who actually devised whatever the product or solution aren’t around, the suck ups will start explaining their brilliance and hard work that made the product or solution possible, when, in fact, they had nothing to do with it other than standing around trying to make themselves look important.
Another characteristic is for the suck up to add something extraneous to the finished product that they can claim is theirs. You will have an excellent product, but the suck up will insist on adding something that doesn’t really do anything but they can put their name on and can be their “claim to fame.” The same goes for written documents and presentations, where the suck up insists upon adding some part to the document that isn’t necessary but they can claim that they wrote it.
I would love to make suggestions on how to avoid the suck ups. First, you must identify them. Suck ups are charismatic, but very shallow. Suck ups come off as your friend, and are instantly likable, but only temporarily; they are your friend only as long as you can do something for them. When you can no longer help a suck up, they won’t have time for you. Suck ups will avoid anything that doesn’t get them noticed; they have to be recognized so that they can feed their always hungry ego. It isn’t that the suck up wants to be in front of the camera, they have to be in front of the camera, whether they are good in front of the camera or not.
When you try to impede or disrupt the suck up, they will resist or retaliate in passive-aggressive ways, and, keep in mind, that nothing is too low for a suck up to go. The suck up will resort to almost anything; they don’t care whose hard work they are claiming as their own, or how long the poor schlep worked on the accomplishment the suck up claimed as theirs. Hard work and sacrifice are for the chumps that suck ups use as stepping stones. Beware of criticism to the suck up’s boss, because they’ve been sucking up to their boss, and criticism will likely reflect poorly on you, not them. Even with unchallengeable, irrefutable evidence of the suck up taking credit for your work, the suck up has been talking you down, doing anything they can to make themselves look better than you. The easiest way for a suck up to build themselves up is by tearing other people down, and this is a defining characteristic of the suck up. One of the things to remember is that suck ups are excellent at self-promotion and placing blame on others. When the suck up gives you instructions that you know will not work, but the suck up got the job by, of course, sucking up to the boss, be careful about letting their poor decisions fail. Chances are that when you do exactly what the suck up says and the plan fails, they will direct as much blame as they possibly can at you, in order to preserve themselves.
The best defense against the suck up is document, document, document. Who was at the meetings, who did the work, who made the suggestions, who proposed the solutions, who solved the problems. Surgically remove the suck ups with documentation. When confronted with documentation, the suck up will resort to lying and insisting that the documentation is wrong. The suck up might even try to forge documents or insist that documentation be stopped “for the good of the team.” Suck ups try to characterize their self-promotion as good for everyone, when their only interest is themselves; they are skilled liars and manipulators. They breed and thrive on conflicts that they initiate in order to promote themselves. Recognition has, up to now, been limited. Now that you know how to identify them, take the appropriate measures to eradicate them. Stop letting them play you for a chump. American business needs to compete in the global market, and suck ups are holding us down. It is time to storm the Bastille. Liberty, equality, and no suck ups in the way.