Do I Have to Suck Up to My Boss to Get Promoted?

Dear Work Coach,

I read your blog and it makes an interesting read. I am looking for some answers. I hope you can help me.

I have been working for more than 3 yrs in my company. I joined from a fresher level to go on to become one of the leads (though not on papers). Just a year and half back I was transferred from my dept and moved to another dept. I was doing pretty great there and was pinning on my appraisals for a promotion, which did not happen and as the process was closing down, there was no point on creating a scene about it.

In my new dept. I let my boss know that I would like to lead a team (as this was something that I was doing in my earlier role). He told me he would make sure that he would do that. The first six months I worked from an associate level trying to understand the process. After I understood the process completely, I was moved into a different team. I had a talk with the Manager again. Told him my concern, as I was aware that this could be one of the ploys of keeping me at an associate level itself. He assured me again.

Somehow after some months things picked up, as I had a talk with him again and I was been given other responsibilities. I had a lot on my plate and still managed to meet my deadlines and stay afloat. As I am of a reserved and an introvert nature, I kept my communication open with others. I used to keep my communication with my manager to minimum as he has a tendency to go hay-wire.

Due to my nature, people get the wrong feeling that I am arrogant. I guess my boss thought that too. I got a feeling that he did not like me. As I found myself being targeted by people for my mistakes, sometimes even when it was not on my end.

Funny thing is when it was made by others, some would be pushed under the carpet or simply ignored. Though I was doing good with my work, these things put me on a lot of stress. My direct supervisor was an asshole who would keep poking his nose in anyone’s work and used to play mind games. He was next in line to become the manager as my boss was given other responsibilities

He did made my life hell. During the appraisal process I kind of got the hint that I was not going to be promoted. So I decided to quit my job. The next thing I know there were negotiations for me staying back, and also talks of me getting promoted. Though I liked what I did, the only thing I got back was negative feedback and the positive feedback never came even when I handled certain situations very well. On the other hand, individuals who had better rapport with the manager got promoted without much responsibilities on their shoulders. I left it anyway as I knew that they should have thought about it earlier.

What I want to know that in today’s work life should one suck up to their bosses to get promoted and is there no importance of individuals who are hard working and at the same time don’t make a fuss about it and don’t play office politics. Its funny that the ones who suck to their bosses to get promoted are ready to leave their job when they get a better opportunity. This is a trend that I have seen many a times. Still the managers make the wrong choice.

Please let me know on how one’s should be able to work in today’s work environment without getting dirty in office politics and sucking to their bosses if that’s possible.

It would be great if you could help out.



Hi Y!

Wow. I’m so sorry you had to go through all that. And thanks for asking a great question I think many people wonder about.

When you ask about whether we really need to suck up to a boss to get ahead, the basic answer is NO. Many people get ahead without sucking up. And of course some people do suck up and get ahead. But if that’s all they have to offer, they eventually get stopped in their tracks.

My answer includes the idea that what one person calls sucking up may not be sucking up at all. It may simply be doing the job as they believe a job should be done – and finding a way to create a good working relationship with their boss. Just because a person agrees with a boss or gains the boss’s favor by communicating regularly with them, doesn’t necessarily make them a suck up. But I know it feels that way sometimes.

I am reminded of one of the most important things I’ve ever learned:

If you wait for others to change their behavior, you’ll never get anywhere in business.

I don’t think a person needs to “suck up” to get ahead…but I do think they need to learn to work with the boss they have. What some people call sucking up, may actually be a person who knows how to work with that particular boss. Good people skills will serve you the rest of your working career – and that includes learning to make the most out of almost any boss. (Some really are beyond help.) And there’s always the chance of another boss just like the old one wherever you go…so you might as well practice where you are.

It’s a little hard to explain, but it’s a perspective thing. If you think of it as sucking up, then you will always feel like you’re compromising who you are. But if you learn to effectively manage your work relationships, you’ll sail ahead faster than you ever done before. (By the way…I’m introverted too. So I know how that feels. But even an introvert can learn new tricks.)

Is it really sucking up or is it working smart?

I recently read something that Doug Conant, the CEO of Campbell’s Soup Company said in an interview:

Very few people are fired because they can’t do an ROI or use the tools you learn (in graduate business school). Where people inevitably run into trouble is their ability to manage expectations and relationships and effectively communicate.

You’ve already been at a higher level, so I know you must have many of the necessary skills to move ahead. But one of the greatest skills is figuring out how to learn from the feedback you’re getting and adjust your behavior accordingly if needed.

It’s NOT compromising who you are to learn to compromise – and to learn how to work with almost any boss.

I hope it’s ok to ask this. Just curious: Although you have many talents, is there possibly something you could have learned from being told that you come off arrogant? Even though you say it’s your nature, I’ll bet there are many people at the head of companies who have been called arrogant…but somewhere along the way they also learned how to communicate effectively and manage relationships well. We often learn best from situations that are problematic or look like failures. Smooth sailing teaches very little.

I’ve worked with an IT area for many years, and one of the most talented young men I’ve ever worked with was seen as arrogant. But he couldn’t see it. And for quite a few years it got in the way of his getting promoted, despite his leading several projects to success. And then at the suggestion of his boss, he reluctantly went to a class for managers that helped him learn people skills he never had. Since then, he’s been promoted twice in three years. He’s still the same person, but he has finesse now – and certain people smarts he never realized were missing. And he sees the difference in the way people relate to him now.

Of course, some jobs and some bosses are just impossible, and you could turn yourself upside down and never get promoted! So you were right not to continue where you were treated so badly. But I’ve found in my life, even in situations that were wrong for me, there often is a powerful lesson to take away with me. Maybe that’s true for you, maybe not. Just wanted to share my thoughts in case they help.

So what’s my conclusion? Do you have to suck up? Is it all dark and evil out there?

I agree that it’s best to stay away from office politics if possible. But like it or not, your boss is in charge. (Most of my career, btw, I didn’t like it; but I’ve learned the hard way that even I wind up enjoying the job more when I’m not so wedded to being right all the time. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

So the truth is…most of the time it’s not sucking up…it’s just doing your job. Creating a solid work relationship where you show respect and do your best is not sucking up. If we always think of it as sucking up, we’ll just come up against brick walls again and again in our careers!

Can you disagree with your boss? Absolutely! But there are ways to communicate an opinion and still show respect. (And there are times to know when to let things go.)

I think it feels better inside and outside when we learn to look at the people we work with and see more than just the flaws. Everyone has something unique to offer. That’s not just bullshit…although it took me a long time to learn that. And since you’re looking to be a leader, a good leader finds the nugget inside – even inside a person you can’t stand.

And in the end, let’s face it…your boss has a right to go in a direction you don’t agree with. And quite honestly, working as part of the whole team (as opposed to being an outsider) is a lot more fun and rewarding.

Just my 2 1/2 cents. Feel free to disagree with me. Different opinions welcome here. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ronnie Ann


About the authorโ€ฆ

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. A great question, Ronnie Ann, and an excellent, thoughtful response.

    Y, I have to say, when I started reading your letter, I was totally in your camp. But by the end, I began to feel that perhaps what your colleagues perceived as arrogance was, well, arrogance. But if you truly believe that you’re not arrogant, maybe you need to work on the symptoms that cause others to think you are.

    I work in advertising. One of my art directors years ago used to complain about never being included in client meetings. That was because in internal meetings, she would sit with her arms folded and not utter a peep unless directly questioned, and then would mutter the briefest answer possible. On the rare occasions we tried bringing her to client meetings, she was exactly the same. Our paths crossed again sometime later at another agency. She still acted the same in internal meetings and still didn’t get invited to client meetings.

    Sure, the place you work isn’t perfect. No place is. But meeting people halfway can make it better. And by the way, effusively complimenting your boss’s tie and then showing up the next day in the same tie is sucking up. Being a real part of the team is not.

  2. Hi Ronnie,

    I completely agree with you that having a good relationship with your boss does not meaning sucking up to your boss. Though we have exceptions.

    I understood that and tried to do that, the funny thing is the guy who was to become my boss, I used to have a lot of interactions with him. He is a real pain though.

    I have another question that I wanted to ask how do introvert people move up in a organisation and

    how should one handle stress when the only
    thing one gets is negative feedback and no positive feedback even though they are doing a good job and the difference is for everyone to see. How should they keep themselves motivated to stay on.

    @ Terry

    By arrogant I meant that people tend to misunderstand people to be arrogant when they talk little. I take my time to know people.

  3. Hi Y!

    To answer all those questions properly would take a book! Also, that’s the kind of thing a work coach helps a client discover for himself or herself since each person is just a little different.

    I will give you a hint that there is almost always something a person can learn to do to help change the way people perceive them. But in some cases, an opinion may have been established that is hard to shake. In such a case, it may be best to simply learn from it and then start fresh elsewhere.

    As for shyness…I found that taking classes in acting and improv helped a lot. It gives you practice and a different sense of your boundaries. There are also things like public speaking classes to help a person get beyond their inner shell and create a shell with a greater radius. ๐Ÿ™‚ Here in the United States (and elsewhere I believe) we have Toastmaster’s Clubs for free. Many shy people have gone there and been amazed at how much confidence they gained. I think they also help with leadership skills and teamwork. You might want to try them.

    I wish you luck, Y. You have a lot of good skills. Don’t be afraid to reach out and add some more. We always have room to grow. I do it every day. Or so I hope. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Ronnie Ann

  4. Dear Ronnie,

    Hope all is well with you….I am back again seeking your advice. I am still working in the same job, the one I found about 2 and half months ago – and honestly, though it’s been difficult, things began to move to a more positive direction (slowly but surely)….well untill yesterday. I have 13 vacation days that I had to exploit till the end of this year and so my boss always asked me when I am planning to take them because she was always concerned that our vacations would overlap – which she didn’t want (since there are some things that only she and I take care of). Right from the beginning I always told her the same that I’ll take my vacation in the mid October – and she was always happy about that, saying that she was planning to take hers in August and September, and so she did. She was back from her vacation this week and my husband and I started planning ours for 16th of October to fly to our country and visit our parents and friends. Since it was the first time in this company that I’m planning a vacation I wasn’t exactly sure of the procedure but found out that through Intranet I can ask for days that I want to take and then it is sent directly to my boss. So I did and when I haven’t heard anything negative from my boss on the same date we booked our flight. The thing is that we were luvcky because these were last 2 tickets and so we had to decide on the spot whether we are taking them or not. And I was pretty sure that my vacation was probably approved and I gave a green light to my husband to buy the tickets.
    The next day when I came into the office I saw an email from my boss asking me if i could take my vacation earlier because she also planned hers on the same days. i wroe her back saying hat unfortunately we already bought the tickets and she of course became furious saying how could I possibly buy tickets without her actually approving my vacation. I of course instantly realize the mistake I made and appologized a number of times, but she was really mad. We had a private talk about this matter and she said that as far as she is concerned I have no respect for the company policies and it puts in question my entire behaviour towards the company etc. She absolutely didn’t want to hear anything I had to say and said that I should try to cancel my flight or reschedule it. I said that I’ll try, knowing all the same that it won’t be possible because it’s a charter flight. So now on Monday I’ll have to tell her that changing the flight is not an option and loosing all the money by not flying is….well also not an option. Also, because my husband also has already taken his vacation for these days. I really am at loss – since I don’t want my vacation to cost me this job but I cannot give up the tickets also. Also, is it ok for a boss to plan her vacations and me to plan mine only around hers (because she wants me or her always to be present in the office).

    Anyways, would appreciate your thoughts on the issue.

    looking forward to your infinite wisdom


  5. I feel really stupid ….and there is no one really to blame buy myself for this mess. I just hope I’ll come out of it with as little damage as possible

  6. Oh Trish!

    I’m happy to see you again, of course, but am sorry it’s about something so sticky.

    First, let me congratulate you on working through things and making a go of the new job. I’m proud of you for that.

    Now, this is the hard part. You know I always do my best to support you, but in this case, you are right in thinking you didn’t handle things well.

    When there is a formal company process like this one, you have to wait for approval before taking a vacation. No matter how many people might like to point to the boss being at fault, the problem in this case, as you readily admit, is that you couldn’t wait. (Ring a bell?)

    I think these kinds of things can be great in-your-face lessons that will help you for the rest of your life. So please don’t be down on yourself. I’ve made stupendously stupid mistakes throughout my life. Sigh. I still do. ๐Ÿ™‚

    But now YOU have to make things right.

    Please sit down again with your boss (hopefully she’s cooled down a bit) and let her know you goofed up badly and want to see if she can help you (shows you respect her) find a solution. Tell her you see where you went wrong and want to come up with a way that works for her. Let her know you tried to change the date and couldn’t do it without a major financial loss.

    By the way…have you really tried? Never assume anything in these cases. Maybe you and your husband can change dates if you pay a partial penalty – better than losing it all or worse yet your job! Ask for help. You might be able to go to your boss and tell her you made it work after all!

    Now, if you had a boss who never let you take vacations and/or there was no internal process, then I’d tell you your boss was completely wrong. Should she have been more aware since you informed her along the way? Probably. Do I think she could show a little more sympathy and try to arrange things around the mistake? Sure.

    But she’s still the boss and you screwed up and looking for her part in this mess won’t help you any.

    Do your best to make this work. Let her know you respect her and the company’s policies and that you will do your best to follow procedures from now on. And ask her again, if you weren’t able to fix things on your won, to please help you work this out this time. If she does, bring her back a lovely gift!!

    But if you can’t get out of the trip and your boss won’t let you take vacation, then you have some tough decisions to make.

    Good luck Trish. Please let us know what happens.

    Ronnie Ann

  7. Ohh Ronie!

    Thank you so much for your advice.

    We did try to reschedule the flight – but the answer was cristal clear (charter flights – are unchangeable and there is absolutely nothing that can be done). But perhaps if I sit down with her and ask her to help me out this time – it would soothe her a bit and trigger some sympathy.

  8. Good luck, Trish. Hope it works. I can’t think of anything else to suggest. I’m rooting for you!

    Ronnie Ann

  9. Ohh Ronie!

    Thank you so much for your advice.

    We did try to reschedule the flight – but the answer was cristal clear (charter flights – are unchangeable and there is absolutely nothing that can be done).
    But perhaps if I sit down with her and ask her to help me out this time – it would soothe her a bit and trigger some sympathy.
    God I am just praying that she’d come around….if she’ll give me her blessing for the trip I’ll definitely bring her something….but if not….I don’t even want to think about it.

    In any case I am very grateful for you being here….


  10. After all we’ve been through together? You know I’m hoping things work out! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Ronnie Ann

  11. Hi Ronnie,

    My vacation was approved!!!! After a nerve wrecking day of anticipation to a deadly talk about my vacation – when the time has finally arrived, my boss was smiling I could hardly belive that. I actually prepared a speach and said though I couldn’t reschedule the flight I am willing to check my emails on my vacation and, so that any emergencies would not be left unannswered if she is also not present in the office. She, to my greatest surprise said that it was ok and she has her blackberry and that I should enjoy my vacation and I deserve a little rest…..I was speachless – it’s like she was miraculously transformed. At the end i said that I insist on helping her during the time we both will be away so she is not swamped by emails and if she needs I’ll be accessible. She clearly liked that. At the end I told her that she simply made my day – which she certainly did!
    It must be your positive vibes…..

  12. God ! I just looked at my post and it seems my spelling went also awry….I am really excited


  13. Oh TRISH!

    I have a huge smile on my face. Wuhoooo!

    My positive vibes??? Au contraire, ma chere amie. It is all coming from YOU – and from a boss who turns out to be a good person after all.

    And by the way, your offer and the way you handled it was perfect!

    So happy for you. Congratulations. Enjoy your vacation. You earned it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Ronnie Ann

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