Have you ever had a boss who constantly needed accolades regarding their performance, ideas and the way they lead? Who had no room or tolerance for differing opinions or ways of doing things?  These “leaders” need this primarily from their peers and those that report to them.  It might feel like a daily requirement to manage the boss’s emotions, and that any actions that go against being in full agreement will put you in the work dog house.

Sycophantic behavior is often described as, “Someone who goes overboard with compliments, usually to gain some kind of advantage.” It’s the “yes people” whose over-flattery is constant…..often as a way to survive.  And a disappointing truth is that many “leaders” (and I use that term loosely in describing these type of people), require this exhausting, smoke-and-mirrors behavior, which doesn’t serve ANYONE. The false reality created doesn’t just stifle the team members who can feel confident sharing their true thoughts and opinions, but also the person in the place of power who is living in constriction and cannot grow.

Often in these cultures there evolves an assumption that disagreement equals a politically charged conversation.  In healthy cultures, this could not be further from the truth.  Disagreement equals a healthy organization, healthy egos and healthy sense of self that can chart a new path. Equating disagreement with “politically charged” can end up restricting exactly what the team and organization need; positive energy and possibility.

When a boss requires others to agree with them all the time, they are often 1) Functioning from a place of insecurity (outside-in living), 2) Not leading at all, and 3) Operating in an old system that will not fit into our new world of possibilities. The results are:

  • People forgetting how to think for themselves
  • Disengagement
  • Suffocated expression
  • Unsustainable business (lack of credibility and competitiveness in the marketplace)

A true leader embraces (and requires!) alternative points of view, disagreement, pushback and disruption, as this is the path to creativity and innovation. If an organization does not create room for dialogue and conversation in a meaningful way, not only will it not thrive, it won’t survive.

Unfortunately, people in power who require sycophantic behavior usually run from self-awareness or introspection, so it is unlikely that they will change.  If you are an employee in this situation, it may serve you to explore other paths.   Hoping that change will miraculously happen may be futile.  This culture is stunting your growth day in and day out through the suppression of the ability to fully express your true, creative nature.

If, however, you see yourself in this as the sycophantic leader, what is it costing you and the organizations in which you lead?

The days of the Great and Powerful Oz are over.   The new train for effective and powerful leadership is leaving the station. That train carries passengers that are open, vulnerable, self-confident (versus arrogant) and encourage a healthy exchange of ideas.  Leaders need to get on board or they are contributing serious risk to the health and sustainable success of their organizations through declining profitability, ability to navigate change with agility and class and the worst of all, unwanted loss of talent.  For those who are part of a sycophantic environment, the time for courage and change has come.   All aboard!