CEOs say they are experts at recognizing the brown-nosers, the Dwight Schrutes of The Office. Or, for those from the Leave It to Beaver era, think Eddie Haskell.When David D’Alessandro became CEO of John Hancock Financial Services in 1996, he felt that compliments from his subordinates were disingenuous unless he had truly accomplished something difficult. Otherwise it’s brown-nosing, says D’Alessandro, who retired from Hancock in 2004.
“A transparent sucking-up act,” says Raul Fernandez, CEO of ObjectVideo, recalling one former employee who would swing by his office most every morning with something nice to say. The man stopped doing it the day the company was sold and Fernandez was no longer boss. “There is a difference between a kiss-ass compliment and a positive comment,” Fernandez says.
“When they say, ‘Oh, Mr. Draper, it is such an honor and thrill to be in your presence,’ then I am a little put off,” says Timothy Draper, CEO of venture-capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson and on Forbes‘ list of the top 100 dealmakers. “My radar goes up.”
However, fresh research indicates that top executives may not be as good at weeding out brown-nosers as they think and that many are gullible to disingenuous ego strokes from subordinates.