The Sociopathic Success of Suck ups

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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. 


George N Romey Added Mar 17, 2017 - 3:03pm
Jeff when these people attain power, which they easily do because they are brown nosers, they cause all kind of conflict.  They have zero interpersonal and leadership skills.  They lead by fear and coercion. They may be feared by they are not respect and made fun of behind their backs.  Since they often have little going for them personally so they love to drive up drama at the workplace because it makes them feel special and important.
They also cannot give out compliments and they fear and abhor a subordinate being recognized for their accomplishments.  In fact, the only people they attract are other brown nosers looking to use them to promote their self interests.  
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2017 - 3:18pm
Yup George, you've dealt with them too! They cause all kinds of problems and love it when everyone is fighting. We need to eliminate them from the global economy. Feel free to add any advice on how to  remove them from any position of authority and get them out of the business environment. We have important work to do, and they're just causing problems.
Michael B. Added Mar 17, 2017 - 3:31pm
Good one Jeff. It never ceases to amaze me how these people operate, and they are incredibly narcissistic and sociopathic. Some of them are remarkably skillful at leeching off of others and stealing their ideas, and often the bosses rose in a similar manner, so you're faced with a collection of very like-minded people. It goes both ways; the suck-ass boss will credit another suck-ass with doing something despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I've seen it many times, and have occasionally been a victim of it.
Cliff M. Added Mar 17, 2017 - 3:53pm
We used to call them "On the Knob". Most of them are baggage.To shine the light on them just put them in an isolated situation where their results will speak for themselves.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2017 - 3:54pm
Yes, Michael, birds of a feather stick together. The boss sees those slimy qualities in the up-and-coming underling and encourages it. We get more of it because some people nurture these disgusting characteristics.
Dino Manalis Added Mar 17, 2017 - 4:12pm
They suck!
George N Romey Added Mar 17, 2017 - 4:25pm
Jeff and Cliff they seem to be the norm today in business.
Leroy Added Mar 17, 2017 - 5:32pm
My current boss was a suck up.  That's how he got his position.  He talks a good game, but that is it--talk.  His number 2 in command is a suck up.  I don't blame the number 2 suck up.  He's not such a bad guy.  He just wants to get ahead.  But, I know if will throw me under the bus in a heartbeat if it advances his career.  He's positioned himself where he does no real work.  He delegates like he is the boss.  In department meetings, he is always upfront and asking questions.  He doesn't know anything about anything.   Of course, neither does my boss.  That's where things are moving.  Those in power are really clueless.  Those that actually do the work share the credit with them.  I've had managers in the past that made contributions and were actually active in helping in clearing the path so I could do my job.   As in most any job, knowing what needs to be done is key.  Doing it is easy. Today, no.  They are as useless know.  I know my days are numbered.  I'm a relic of the past.  I no longer fit in such an environment.  I was asked if I would consider a management position.  My response wasn't no; it was hell no.  I am not interested in selling my soul.
How does a suck up recognize he is a suck up?  Are you a suck up?  The question is not aimed at anyone in particular.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 17, 2017 - 6:35pm
Been there, Leroy. I used to explain things to them so they would understand. No more. If you make more money than I do, you had better know what you're doing, because I'm not warning you of poor decisions. Leroy, let them bury themselves, and don't dig them out. The time has come, let them kill themselves. They're like time bombs ticking away. Just don't be near when they detonate. I'm done with bosses that don't know anything and make huge salaries. I'm not tossing any lifejackets anymore.  My last Millenneal boss didn't know jack about what he was managing. I'll never teach bosses like that again. If it is illegal, he'll find out when he gets called on the carpet for it.
Leroy Added Mar 18, 2017 - 10:51am
Well, Jeff, that seems to be what we are recruiting today.  We want managers who can manage contractors and who can squeeze as much as they can out of existing employees, even if it is unethical.  They have to be willing to sell their soul.  The idea is that we can do everything by contract.  We don't need anyone internally who understands the process.  Contractors can do it just as well.  Maybe.  But we are notoriously secret and only share what needs to be known, and not always that.
I can't argue with the facts.  Since the beancounters took over, we are much more profitable.  Why not continue along this path?  The proverbial crap hits the fan occasionally, but we continue on to make more money.  I think we will eventually become like so many other companies and become a brand only.  We will sell the name and anyone can make whatever they want and make money off the brand name.
George N Romey Added Mar 18, 2017 - 11:11am
Contractors are used so benefits do not need to be paid and they can be told not to show up tomorrow without the need for severance or paying unemployment insurance.  People are no longer an asset, they are a cost.  And a cost to be cut wherever and whenever possible, or not possible. The sociopaths get off on this because they have no sense of empathy for human beings.  It's why they are ruling the world.
Leroy Added Mar 18, 2017 - 11:37am
"The sociopaths get off on this because they have no sense of empathy for human beings.  It's why they are ruling the world. "
I have to agree with you, George.  In bad economic times is when the silliest company directives are issued.  You discover which managers have sold their souls.  One such directive was that you had to report all traffic violations to your manager.  Although I haven't had one since I was 17, I basically said, "Up yours!"  Some managers gleefully tried to enforce the directive.  Others, the ones I respected, refused.  They refused to sell their soul to the company store.   Even if you are not a sociopath, you have to behave like one these days.  You have to be able to tell your employees they suck at 3 things.  Objectives are supposed to be that, objective.  You are judge by what you accomplished.  Not so anymore.  You have frequent feedback so you are supposed to know what's coming and what you need to do to correct your course.  The way it actually happens, you get to the end of the year and the manager expects you to have done more than what is in the objectives.  It's a game.  A manager isn't allowed to say you were perfect and accomplished all your objectives.
George N Romey Added Mar 18, 2017 - 12:08pm
Leroy we have gone from being a nation that produced products of value to a nation providing low value services, of course based upon a business model of low wages.  So who leads these kind of Mickey Mouse types of companies, the sociopaths that convince themselves of the bs business model.  People with brains and integrity see it for what it is and won't take the job seriously.  Only the cheerleader types get ahead because they will whore themselves to the ends of the Earth.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 18, 2017 - 12:44pm
GE had an evaluation program where the manager had to separate staff into three tiers of performance no matter what. The bottom 10%, and there always had to be a bottom 10%, were warned and eventually dismissed of they didn't improve, no matter how well they were doing. It was called a "forced distribution" or some management slogan that they invent and consider sacred. It was going to be 10% turnover no matter what, no matter how good things were going. This is "modern management."
George N Romey Added Mar 18, 2017 - 1:07pm
Jeff the company that pioneered that program was Enron. The ultimate in sociopath suckups.
John Minehan Added Mar 18, 2017 - 1:15pm
The key to being a successful leader or manager is having subordinates who succeed.
Cliff M. Added Mar 19, 2017 - 7:35pm
The Other Side, You probably sleep good at night.
Jeff Jackson Added Mar 19, 2017 - 8:57pm
One of the caveats I tell people who I work with as well as bosses: I was raised evangelical Christian. Don't ask me for an honest opinion unless you really want brutal honesty. I'm not a good liar. I'm not going to tell you it was great if it sucked. The other thing is, if you really handed me a pile of crap and then come back when it's over with and say "It really wasn't that bad" unless the next time you want to do it yourself.  I despise people who pass off the hard work and then try to convince you it wasn't that bad after you struggle through it. Just as bad the people who give you the hard tasks and then criticize your work. I have a tendency to "get real" with people like that, and I have found it makes you unpopular with the suck ups. And yes, Cliff, I sleep well at night. To The Other Side, keep the faith, brother.