Sycophancy is defined as “fawning obsequiousness. Synonyms: grovelling, servility, cringing, fawning, kowtowing, bootlicking, toadyism, slavishness.” Obviously, these ar negative terms. Being a sycophant is a negative thing. Being a sycophant is the worst form of lying to yourself, because a sycophant denies his or her fundamental perception of reality and subordinates it to what he or she thinks the boss wants reality to be. It is not merely subordinating yourself to the boss. It is subordinating your mind and soul to the boss. And there are few bosses (as in “there are none”) for whom this is worth the cost.
This is a difficult topic, because there is a fine line between good and bad here. Companies promote people into management that they trust and they can work with, as well as people who are competent. Trust is established by mutual agreement on issues or even facts. Merely agreeing with your boss is not sycophancy, if the boss’s ideas are good and you have independently investigated and come to this conclusion. Working together means that you are cooperative, but not necessarily subservient. However, it also means that you don’t question everything the boss says. A little contrariness is fine. This mix is good, because these people become trusted advisors to the people above them.
This breaks down when the people above value flattery and grovelling over autonomy and independence. For someone to be really valuable to an organization, they should be generating new ideas, and improving the company and the mission. This almost always requires someone to have the courage to speak out and offer new or alternative ideas. But if upper management perceives feedback as criticism, they will lean toward those people who only flatter them.
Another occasion for this to occur is if newly promoted management are not trained properly. Unless they train themselves, they tend to copy the person whose position they just assumed, who is usually now right above them on the corporate ladder. This reinforces to that person that what they did was “correct” and that any deviation is wrong. In situations like this, that person most likely wasn’t trained properly either, so this becomes cyclic.
Management - especially middle management - has responsibilities up and down the ladder. I always say that a good middle manager has two faces: one facing up to top management and one facing down to the team that implements the work. This up/down is not a quality judgment, but is rather a reflection of the manager’s relative position on the corporate structure. The responsibility facing down is to explain the vision or mission or project laid out by upper management, and to implement it using the resources and personnel that are available. The responsibility facing up is to give feedback on the implementation and to advocate for the people on his or her team.
In the sycophant atmosphere, there is no “responsibility up.” These managers are merely enforcers of the policies and decisions that upper management have come to. The manager in this position is not learning to manage people, but only to push through an agenda. No independence. No creativity. No backbone. So whether this manager wants to or not, he or she becomes a sycophant because his or her bosses will not allow any other type of feedback or independent action. This manager is stunted in his or her growth, and frustrated in any aspirations of making a change.
The answer is this is to maintain your integrity. You don’t have to disagree with every initiative or every proposal to be independent. That’s just being annoying. But going to the other extreme and agreeing with every idea is being a sycophant. Maintaining your integrity allows you to voice principled disagreement and principled support.

Author's Bio: 

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