Stroking the boss can help or hurt career

May 04, 1992|By Derek Reveron | Derek Reveron,Knight-Ridder News Service

Some call it stroking, buttering up or, at its worst, brown nosing. Experts call it ingratiating graciously.

It's making your boss feel good about you, getting on his or her good side.

Some people set out to do it. Others believe it is contrived and demeaning. Why, they ask, should they have to pander to advance?

Because, experts say, companies are political organizations. Butter up with subtlety and grace and you can command respect and advancement. Do it overtly and clumsily, and it can paint you as an obsequious twerp, although it still can advance your career.

Overall, the key is to "treat your boss as you would any of your friends," said William Frank, president of the Curtiss Group, a Broward County, Fla., executive search firm. Specific tips:

* Address the boss with courtesy and respect.

* Do errands. If your boss asks you to run an errand, do it. If you don't know whether an errand is appropriate, do it anyway.

* Be complimentary. "It never hurts to be complimentary. It never hurts to say: 'That's a good idea. I never thought of that,'" said Peter Roulhac, vice president of community programs for First Union National Bank of Florida.

If the compliment is not sincere, say nothing. Bosses have a nose for the contrived.

* Be deferential. In "Winning Office Politics," author Andrew DuBrin offers some "deferent statements that might appeal to a boss's sense of authority without making you appear obsequious."

Examples:

"Yes, sir (or ma'am), that sounds like a good idea."

"OK, coach. What do I do now?"

Bill Cullom, president of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, knows a thing or two about those who want to get on the boss' good side. He spends most of each working day with people he describes as "very serious about getting ahead."

What works, he said, is "anticipation management." Know what your boss needs before he or she does and provide it when he or she requires it.

It gives bosses more of what they value most -- time to be productive.

Not all bosses can be buttered up. "That kind of thing turns me off," said Norman Cohan, president of Miami's Security Plastics.

As a vice president who has climbed the corporate ladder, Mr. Roulhac has seen both sides. He has courted the favor of his bosses. Others have sought his favor with gifts given for no particular reason, he said.

"It probably makes me think less of them," he said.

According to Barry Eigen, author of "How To Think Like a Boss and Get Ahead at Work," there are marginally talented people who get promoted by making the boss feel good about himself. But they're a minority, he said.

"There's really only one way to get a meaningful promotion, and that's when your boss values your talent and skills and not bowing and scraping," Mr. Eigen said.

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