Kissing Ass Doesn’t Win You Influence. Challenging Thoughts and Ideas Does.

I read Tyler Hurst’sYou can not circle jerk your way to success” and it struck a chord with some thoughts I had been having, but never explored because writing is such a horrible medium for me.  I think that a lot of people like the “echo chamber” because it is safe, but more importantly there is a life meme that seems to be floating around that states to influence people you need to kiss their ass.  While brown nosing may get you some where it certainly isn’t to a place of influence.

Here are some problems I see with “sucking up”:

  • It doesn’t make you or the person you are sucking up to any better.
  • It tricks the person you are sucking up to into believe they are something they are not.
  • It removes the friction/tension/conflict necessary to be truly innovative.
  • It is often done in the name of collaboration.  Collaboration is not sucking up.  Collaboration is freely sharing ideas, not necessarily agreeing on them.
  • It tries to remove competition.  Competition when done properly can be quite healthy.
  • It is often masked as “Encouragement”, but generally is little more than lying.
  • It hurts your credibility and reduces trust, both critical to influence.
  • It is the worst way to show our esteem for someone.
  • It puts the focus on “you” instead of what is important.. “Look at me.. and what I’ve done…”
  • It builds false confidence.

The upsides are:

  • It will temporarily make you feel much more liked and accepted.

Ultimately kissing ass causes you to lose your self respect, the respect of your peers and ultimately leaves you ashamed and wanting.  It is just a sign that you feel vulnerable and are susceptible to the decisions of others rather your own thoughts and ideas.

Instead I would suggest that you challenge the status quo.  Push people in their ideas and thoughts.  Not out of anger or jealousy but out of the love of humanity.

“When we all think a like no one is thinking.” — Walter Lipman

Here are some problems I see with “challenging people’s thoughts/ideas”:

  • It will make you less liked
  • It forces you to deal with being lonely
  • It can be done in ways that are constructive in name alone

The upsides are:

  • It allows both parties to build confidence knowing they have learned to defend their thoughts.
  • It puts the focus on the problems, not the people.
  • It is the best way to show someone you care.  No one really wants a bunch of “yes” men.
  • It helps your credibility and improves trust if you work towards solutions together.
  • It encourages healthy forms of competition.
  • It provides the necessary part of the innovation formula.
  • It grounds people in reality and makes them appreciate hard won breakthroughs.
  • It makes all parties better.

“Every act of creativity is first of all an act of destruction.” — Picasso

Criticism only comes when you do somethingDoing something is a risk. We are only moving forward when we put ourselves at risk.  So like Tyler I encourage everyone to flee from the safety of your echo chamber and cling to those that will challenge your thoughts and your ideas.  If you aren’t creating new thoughts and ideas then I challenge you to start.  Start moving yourself and others around you, forward.

Simply put if you really want to influence people you MUST engage them.  Blindly following them or placating to their every whim is not engagement.  Find that person or group that demands excellence from you and immerse yourself.

8 thoughts on “Kissing Ass Doesn’t Win You Influence. Challenging Thoughts and Ideas Does.

  1. You can either be a sheep or a wolf:-)

  2. The painting from @gapingvoid rings pretty true in my book.

  3. I really enjoyed this post.

  4. TLDR version of this is: Yes, kissing ass does get you ahead. Challenge people civilly when you actually have something worth saying.


    Interesting post. Unfortunately, sucking up can and does get you ahead. Social media is rife with examples of this and if you have been watching the evolution of some of the major players in social you will see the formula at work.

    Kissing ass DOES buy you influence. It buys you shout outs, followers, and all sorts of other mentions online (blogs, articles, etc).

    Is it good to do? Well, it depends on the person I guess. Personally, i’d rather take the long way around. I don’t really begrudge people who go this route. It is the easiest/most effective way to get your name out there. Work smarter, not harder, right?

    Then there is the point about challenging people and their ideas. If you can do it _civilly_ thats one thing. If you come across as a total asshole/douche bag, thats another. Here too there are more than a few examples of people who think that by heckling a speaker at a conference they are scoring points. It just doesn’t work that way. The people who do that are small and by and large DON’T have any ideas. Listen to what they say and you will see.

  5. Nice post.

    Civil challenges are necessary. Also, remember that a dead (i.e. fired) change agent can’t help the company. Push the boundaries but not so far or so much that you are “killed.” Win one step in your direction THEN push for the next step.

    Find the book “Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas” by Mary Manns and Linda Rising. Worth it’s weight in iPods if you ware working to change something in an organization somewhere!

  6. Lots of good points in this post. I just want to draw attention the importance of the CIVILITY in the “civil challenges” everybody’s talking about. I think that too often people over-correct from being ass kissers into being douchebags, and that’s JUST as unproductive. Lots of people talk about being “straight shooters” and being “brutally honest” but really they’re just too socially inept to have any tact. Communicating a conflicting idea in a NON-OFFENSIVE and NON-INSULTING way is not only important, but very difficult at times.

  7. WOW………….this whole site is very impressive. What an smart dude son-in-law you are ! We old fashioned 80 yr. olds are amazed. Thanks for showing a part of you we never knew.