That promotion you were hoping for just went to the guy in the department next to yours. He is nowhere near as qualified as you are, and you're pretty sure his I.Q. places him just below the plant you have sitting on your shelf on the office intelligence scale.
How could this have happened?
No, wait – you know exactly how it happened.
Marvin is the best suck-up on the fourth floor. He's made pandering to the boss an art form. There are rumors he's contemplating teaching "Kiss Up 101" at the local community college.
You push the pile of reports you should be doing late into the night into your brief case. They can wait. You're dealing with a larger question: Why stay here if you're not willing to play the game required to move ahead?
If you're feeling, or have in the past felt, these emotions, you're not alone. Office and company politics didn't just start. They have been going on for years, and probably have been around since well before the Industrial Revolution. As long as workplace politics remain relevant, the sycophants, toadies, and suck-ups will have a home.
A little context might help you formulate a plan on what to do and how to do it:
Suck-ups can only thrive when there are leaders who act as hosts. Like the suckerfish that attaches to a shark and remains connected for the rest of its life, so too do the human equivalents depend on a carrier for passage.
Enlightened leaders spot suck-ups from a mile away. They know the tendencies, and they know the behaviors.
Those who thrive in their careers recognize that attaching their lifeline to a single source is a long-term recipe for disaster. The management team changes, the company restructures, and the parasite dwindles away and dies.
Okay, that makes some sense – but the real question is, "How do I succeed without becoming a suckerfish myself?"
Below are six things you can do to greatly increase your chances of career success. No suck-up can beat them.
1. Build a Proven Record of Performance
Success begets success. All the media and backroom maneuvering in the world can't overcome results.
2. Build Quality Relationships With the Real Influencers in Your Company
No, not the superficial and self-serving kind of relationships, but the meaningful, collaborative kind. Successful employees understand the power of positive networking. Expand on these relationships every day.
3. Stay Above the Political Fray as Best You Can
This doesn't mean you become the career equivalent of Switzerland. An apolitical position is – in and of itself – a political position. Rather, this simply means that emotions and pettiness can reign supreme on the job site. Professionalism often doesn't.
4. Find a Mentor
One who is respected, knowledgeable, and can offer perspective on how your business works. Their value is greater than gold.
5. Treat Everyone You Meet With Dignity and Respect
Everyone. If you want to spot a classic suck-up, watch how they act around the supervisor versus the guy who vacuums the hallway. The very best work under a simple code: Every person I meet I treat as an equal, not a superior or inferior.
6. Accept the Imperfection of the World Around You
The world will never be completely fair. It will never be a meritocracy. Lose that idealistic view. Move on with your life. Focus on what you can control, rather than on the eccentricities of others.
Is it possible to succeed without becoming a suck-up at work? Of course it is. Building a truly significant career demands a lot more than learning how to grovel – it demands learning how to lead. Great companies know that.
Can you change Marvin from the fourth floor? No – but then again, without the Marvins of the world, truly transformative employees would never be noticed or admired.
Tim Cole is the founder and CEO of The Compass Alliance. His book, The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career, is an Amazon best-seller.