As a young Banker, almost 10 years ago, it was my first foray into the corporate world, and little did I know that I was encountering the first specimen of what would turn out to be a special corporate species: Corporate Bootlickers therein referred to as CBs in short.
CBs are that special breed of people who don’t do any solid work, but they create an undetectable illusion of superior performance and capabilities through a range of perception management strategies. And as a result, they miraculously rise in the corporate hierarchy like helium balloons.
Hard workers but not smart
People falling in this basket are highly competent and do excellent work, but unfortunately they lack the crucial ingredient required for corporate growth: Smartness. By smartness, I mean they are not fluent communicators and lack quick thinking on their feet. They may not dress as smartly as others and often project lack of self-confidence in meetings.
They are often overlooked for promotions, thanks to getting labelled as “not managerial or leadership” type. Being the weakest in the power distribution, these people often take up the most difficult and challenging tasks and also get blamed first when things go wrong.
Overall, they form the backbone of an organisation. (When they apply for leave, everyone worries about “Who will do the work?”)
Smart Asses and don’t work
These characters are incompetent and don’t care a damn about actual work or team’s or organisational interests, and simply stay clear of any direct responsibilities. While personally not doing solid work, they relentlessly and ruthlessly delegate, and use the characters in the first basket who work but not smart to get the things done. And when it comes to credit, they don’t mind gobbling it all.
They have one great strength, which enables them to sail smoothly: Smartness. They are master communicators and manipulators, and their body language is forceful. Projecting high self-confidence outside (even if they suffer from deep insecurities inside), they always give an impression of being a “driver” or “leader”.
They are often labelled as “leadership or managerial material” and enjoy steady growth in corporate hierarchy.
Excellent workers & also work smart
Few people are both great at work and smart to the optimum level. Deservedly, they rise to the very top of the corporate hierarchy.
I am sure you’ve come across a few exceptional characters in your career who are incompetent and irresponsible, but by the sheer power of their “talking talent”, they end up becoming bosses of more competent people. How does it happen?
Ideally, in an organisation anyone not performing and contributing to the hard results should not survive, leave alone thrive. So how do CBs rise? The answer lies in one word: Perception. What we perceive is often not the whole reality.
Unlike others, CBs know a little secret, which is their ticket to comfortable ride: There is performance and then there is perception of performance. Their game plan is:
- Step 1: Surround yourself with the best performers and dump the real work on them.
- Step 2: While work is taken care of by someone else, focus squarely on managing bosses’ perceptions, which means fluent communications, forceful presence in meetings and projection of “managerial/leadership” traits.
This two-step strategy works well in typically hazy corporate environments where how you look, talk and walk often obscures what you actually do when you sit in the chair.
So can you spot a CB in the crowd?
- Hands off character: Who is like Teflon with nothing sticking to them? Who invariably stays clear of any direct responsibility for difficult, challenging work?
- Busybody: Who stays busy with trivial stuff like attending useless meetings, touring here and there(MBWA)management by walking around, emailing, shuffling some useless papers, etc. instead of doing solid work that requires focused attention?
- Exploiter: Who surrounds himself/herself with best of the people available in the office–and exploits them? They are typically like islands of incompetence in the sea of competence.
- Resource sucker: Who wants more and more resources and always remains on look out to corner more people into the department?
- Confident: Who projects dominant presence in the office?
- Informant: Who excels in “keeping the boss informed”?
- Chameleon: Who behaves nicely with bosses and clients, but ruthlessly with own subordinates?
- Extra miler: Who does nothing solid during the normal working hours, but can’t stop “going the extra mile” by staying late, working on weekends–and even plugging in from vacation?
CBs thrive until…
The CB falls off when they suddenly meet a boss who squarely focuses on “performance”–and is too smart to be swayed by “smart talk” alone.
Years later to date, in most organisations, despite elaborate appraisal systems, perception of performance (staying late, talking smartly, acting confident, etc.) is mistaken as performance.
The reality of a person’s character, competence and contribution often lies behind the smoke screen of our quick perceptions.
Ignore the smoke!