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Sustaining good job performance, developing your skills and cultivating productive relationships with your colleagues and your supervisors create an ideal path to success. But employees who believe they lack job security or are afraid that co-workers who curry favor with the boss might outpace them, sometimes resort to brown-nosing. Brown-nosing generally has a negative connotation. If you rationalize your actions, however, and your strategy helps you achieve success without undermining others, then perhaps brown-nosing is a worthwhile effort.
Brown-nosing doesn't involve being dishonest or sugarcoating the truth if you're genuinely interested in becoming a good worker and developing a good relationship with your boss. Most people appreciate candor, and if you explain to your boss that you're a huge fan of candor, she'll probably appreciate it more than if you display "yes-man" tendencies. During your performance appraisal meetings or private conferences with your boss, exhibit honesty and truthfulness to impress her. In return, she's likely to trust you with plum assignments and information that you can use to your benefit as you advance in your career. "Trust is more important than loyalty," according to management professor Lynda Gratton, in an April 2011 article titled, "The Shifting Definition of Worker Loyalty," in "The New York Times." Trust is about the here and now, which bosses can appreciate, instead of hoping you'll still be around 10 years from now.
Refrain from unethical behavior, and don't badmouth peers and other leaders in the company. This can turn off anyone and destroy your reputation. Importantly, even if you confide in your boss about your peers in disparagingly ways, she'll wonder if you are actually supportive of her or if you'll talk about her to others in the same manner. Demonstrate sound business principles in your dealings with customers and clients. Let your boss see how you interact and the manner in which you exhibit your business ethics and values. These are the kinds of impressive professional traits that your peers might describe as brown-nosing, but they're traits that are widely accepted in professional circles and attributes that will help you get ahead.
When the clock in your office edges close to 5 p.m., don't start packing up your belongings in a rush to leave for the day. Your boss pays you for a full day's work, and that's what you're obligated to provide, which shouldn't be confused with brown-nosing. It's simply honoring the social contract between you and your employer. Also, if you're in the middle of a project when the business day comes to a close, do as much as possible to complete your work. Leaving unfinished projects -- no matter how minor they are, such as returning a client's call or sending one last email message -- can reflect poorly on the level of commitment to your job responsibilities. A global study conducted among 20,000 employees, titled, "TNS Global Employee Commitment Segmentation," showed evidence of linkages between employee commitment and the employer's bottom line. Call it brown-nosing if you like, but showing your commitment isn't a bad thing, yet it can reap the rewards that you're seeking from your career.
Some say showing initiative is a euphemism for brown-nosing, but it doesn't have to be. Volunteer for projects and display that you're self-motivated to demonstrate that you're truly interested in accomplishing tasks that benefit the organization as well as your career. When your boss delegates work to you, your responsibilities are two-pronged: showing you can perform the work she assigns and making your boss look good. Regardless of whether supervisors and managers delegate work to their employees or do the work themselves, the supervisor or manager is ultimately responsible for the outcome or the final work product. Going a step beyond what your boss requires showcases your talent as well as dedication.
You needn't lavish your boss with gifts, because that's equivalent to bribery in some cases. But you can display the same personality traits at work that you would with anyone else you respect. Give her sincere compliments when you admire her work or ask if you can grab her a bottle of water or coffee when you're going to get one for yourself. Fetching coffee isn't a brown-noser's job -- it's a simple courtesy, especially if you have developed a collegial relationship with your boss, which is what brown-nosing is really all about.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.
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