Photo of a man's hand holding a compass out to the sea during sunset

5 Examples of When Being a Suck-Up Ends Badly

Discover why you should never 'sell your soul' for a paycheck, and the consequences for those who manipulate people with false flattery.

We spend lots of time trying to understand the attributes of successful employees. What are the essential skills required to motivate teams and drive transformation? Much of the conversation is on what to hire for and how to go about mitigating the cost of a wrong hire.

Let’s turn this conversation on its head. Employees are often grateful to land a job. But buyer beware because this gratitude can get in the way of not applying the right level of rigor and discipline when it comes to assessing whether the hiring manager is right for you.

Behavior sometimes gets skewed because of the self-imposed pressure or motivation to get ahead. Leaders are in a position of influence and power, and we expect them to adhere to what we believe is right and true. Yet sometimes leaders might fall short of embodying a good value set.

For instance, there are times when the powers that be might make you feel boxed into a corner, hence running the risk of being a yes person or sucking up to them. In the spirit of what you believe is required to get ahead, you might compromise yourself.

Be careful, as selling your soul always leads to significant regrets. It will backfire. It never works out, ever.

Here are a few examples:

Being Silenced

One of my clients got told she was too noisy and was required to speak less. When I spoke to her executive, it was clear he was asking her not to have a voice. She started to defer to him, outwardly agreed with everything he said, and took his direction.

As a result, she got promoted. Her win, however, was short-lived because the executive asked her to continue supporting him. The angst of living against her core values backfired. She knew she made a mistake. No amount of compensation or title was worth going against her good judgement.

Erosion of Team Dynamics

A team I was advising wanted to challenge their boss and raise some concerns. Their chosen spokesperson ran scared and lost his nerve. When speaking to their manager, he minimized his own and the teams’ concerns.

Going forward, this team member lost the respect and cooperation of his peers. It was impossible to earn back any integrity. He was no longer a trusted team member.

Saddled With Extra Work

An employee who continually runs ragged by agreeing to every boss’s demand loses the ability to say no and set boundaries. You end up accepting assignments that are either beyond your ability or your capacity.

Overworking or failing to achieve your objectives is often the result. You will suffer a personal cost as an absentee partner and family member.

Losing the Respect of Your Manager

Great managers want their direct reports to challenge and offer a diversity of views. The objective is to create healthy debate and drive for best in class solutions.

If you believe that winning the day is tantamount to agreeing with your boss, you run the risk of not being able to negotiate for what you need or what is in the best interests of the company. Your team will most probably view you as a sell-out.

Will the Real You Please Stand Up

Trying to please and be liked means that you run the risk of consistently altering your views. Most employees have more than one boss or at least some different stakeholders.

By frequently changing your position, you create resentment. Divided loyalties emerge, and you are now perceived as being void of any independent thinking.


One of my colleagues whom I deeply admire recently stated: “I must always speak my truth.” What she means is that you must always be authentic and genuine to what you believe is right. People often compromise themselves or their guiding principles when they feel pressured or motivated to be fake.

Moreover, as you own your career, managing up requires you to collaborate and find creative ways to compromise or accommodate divergent views. We need to flex and be fluid in how we make decisions and achieve common ground.

In conclusion, sucking up is different from being savvy. If you are prone to false flattery, you create a severe liability for yourself. The price you pay for compromising your value set hurts your self-esteem, your pride and your currency with others.


Cindy Wahler, PhD, C.Psych. is a leadership consultant specializing in executive coaching and talent management.

She can be contacted at [email protected].  

Richtopia menu background (mobile)