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Dealing With Self-Promoters at Work? Be a Savvy Boss

Dealing With Self-Promoters at Work? Be a Savvy Boss

Don’t Be Duped by Shameless Self-Promotion

Nobody likes a braggart, so why are attention hogs and show-offs often first in line for promotions, funding, and plum assignments?

Part of the problem is with you, the boss. Bosses, team leaders, and project managers are on the receiving end of information about who is doing the work and who has the right skills. Leaders need to be able to sort through the noise to get an accurate picture of individual talent and how the team functions.

Many of the problems that result from over-eager self-promoters can be avoided if you’re skilled at separating the facts from the hype and acting accordingly.

To deal with self-promoters at work, you must be a shrewd evaluator who can balance openness to influence with discernment.

How to Recognize Whether You’re a Savvy Boss

As noted in our book The Truth About Sucking Up: How Authentic Self-Promotion Benefits You and Your Organization, bosses tend to fall into 4 categories, based on the way they perceive and evaluate the promotional efforts of others.

1. The Clueless. This kind of boss is neither open to being influenced nor very discerning. You might be clueless if:

  • You don’t ask enough questions or do your homework regarding people.
  • You take information at face value.
  • You don’t differentiate between the difficulty of work and levels of success.
  • You have little or no knowledge about work outside your expertise or function.

Clueless bosses are not aware of the role self-promotion plays in their workplace. They tend to believe the hype and overlook hard workers. As a result, their direct reports feel undervalued and unmotivated, because their work is not recognized or rewarded. Over time, cluelessness erodes your credibility and, in the big picture, the organization is truly ignorant of the talent it possesses.

2. The Gullible. A boss who’s gullible is one who’s highly open to influence, but low on discernment. Typically, a gullible boss is ambitious, maybe overly ambitious. The desire for recognition and success makes gullible bosses susceptible to anyone or any information that makes them look good or feel good about themselves. You might be gullible if:

  • You don’t dig any deeper if you receive the message you want to hear.
  • You’re easily dazzled by people or projects that have “sparkle” or are high-profile.
  • You avoid people you consider to be downers.
  • You’re strongly driven by a need to feel good about yourself.

With a gullible boss at the helm, many hardworking, effective employees don’t get recognized. Incompetent people are rewarded and the wrong people get promoted since the gullible are dazzled by those who suck up to them. Many employees are alienated, demoralized, and frustrated by seeing the suck-ups get the rewards.

3. The Skeptical. This kind of boss isn’t very open to influence but is highly discerning. The skeptic hears information with a very discriminating ear. You might be a skeptic if:

  • You value integrity and capability above all. You are highly skeptical of self-promotion.
  • You’re naturally suspicious and have a difficult time taking people at face value.
  • You process information through a complex system of filters (Why are you telling me this? What’s your motivation? What’s in it for you?) before you accept it and act on it.

The skeptic’s impact on the organization is two-fold. On the plus side, when skeptics get behind someone or something, you can be confident of its value. But this positive attribute has a negative side as well. Skeptics may overlook a person or information that doesn’t make it through their filters. They may be seen as too negative and at times not very approachable.

4. The Savvy. A savvy boss strikes an effective balance of being open to influence and discerning of information. You might be a savvy boss if:

  • You’re highly competent in your line of work.
  • You’re confident without being arrogant.
  • You’re very self-aware. You’re clear about your knowledge and skills, but also clear about what you don’t know.
  • You’re not threatened. You aren’t afraid to admit when you don’t know something and are comfortable deferring to others.
  • You’re eager for ideas. You welcome the contributions that others make, even when they challenge your views or question you.
  • You’re direct and forthcoming. You expect others to be so as well — playing games isn’t your style.

Savvy bosses call people out, reward, and give credit where it’s due, which is a key driver of employee engagement and motivation. They encourage genuine communication about people’s skills and their work. This supports their ability to put the right people in the right places, helps with employee morale, and gives the organization credibility.

If you’re a savvy boss, coach others, and keep doing what you’re doing to deal with self-promoters at work. If not, it’s time to open your eyes to the reality of self-promotion — both the good and the bad.

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Help your organization’s leaders become savvy bosses who understand how to deal with self-promoters at work. Upskill your people with a customized learning journey using our research-backed modules. Available leadership topics include Authenticity, Communication, Conflict Management, Emotional Intelligence, Listening to Understand, Psychological Safety, Self-Awareness, and more.


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February 9, 2017
Leading Effectively Staff
About the Author(s)
Leading Effectively Staff
This article was written by our Leading Effectively staff, who analyze our decades of pioneering, expert research and experiences in the field to share content that will help leaders at every level. Subscribe to our emails to get the latest research-based leadership articles and insights sent straight to your inbox.

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