Opinion

Flattery and Manipulation

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Flattery and Manipulation

All leaders have blind spots, and blind spots simply pose potential areas of vulnerability. However not all blind spots are created equal. Few things create areas of risk for leaders like their own sense of pride and ego. Here’s the thing –  a leader’s desire to have their ego stroked makes them vulnerable to a very seductive form of manipulation – flattery.

The most common form of manipulation comes packaged in the form of flattery – it’s also the most dangerous. The veil of most “hidden” agendas are also typically cloaked in flattery. The insidious nature of flattery is that it becomes most powerful when it is served to those who thirst for it. Leaders who place their need for adoration and acclaim above serving the needs of others are high value targets for those who would abuse the misplaced trust given to them. If you take one thing away from this post it should be this – the power that comes with a leader’s ability to positively influence others is only trumped by the power given away as they are adversely influenced by others. In the text that follows I’ll share my thoughts on what has been the silent assassin of many a leader – flattery.

The problem with the old saying that “flattery will get you everywhere” is that those with less than pure intentions not only believe it, they act on it. The lazy, the power hungry, the greedy, the gravy-trainers, the psychopaths and sociopaths all understand that flattery is not harmless. Quite to the contrary, these soothsayers understand that flattery has the power to influence, corrupt, undermine and deceive – they wield flattery as a lethal weapon against the undiscerning. Manipulation in the form of flattery is little more than a covert form of aggression.

Before I go any further it is important to understand that praise and flattery, while often used interchangeably, are not synonymous. “Praise” is most commonly defined as: the expression of favorable judgment or sincere appreciation. “Flattery” is most commonly defined as: excessive and insincere praise. The naïve, the needy, the impressionable or the ego-centric view flattery as genuine praise. Discerning people understand flattery to be disingenuous, false praise motivated by an agenda.

Here’s the thing – In times past it was a bit easier to discern authentic praise from false praise because the methods by which relationships were constructed was different. We used to build our relationships slowly and carefully based upon personal history and experience. Trust was earned over time through personal observations of a person’s character, actions and decisions. Ah, the good ole days…

In today’s digital world speed has influenced every aspect of our lives – perhaps most notably how we build our relationships and who we grant access to. If you examine the speed at which people build their friends, fans, followers, and connections on social networks, and how they market themselves and their companies using social media, you’ll find many seem to be in a race to include as many people into their spheres of influence as possible. The only barrier to entry for inclusion in most people’s networks today seems to be that they are polite. Let me be clear – I have nothing against polite behavior so long as it’s not accompanied by a hidden agenda…

How often have you received adulation from the overly effusive in the form of an email, blog comment, tweet or Facebook message from someone you hardly know, and how does that make you feel? Do you trust them? Do you trust their motives? It’s as if the currency of social networking is rapidly becoming flattery – it should be trust. I’m not interested in flattery, but sincerity. It was Socrates who said, “Think not those faithful who praise thy words & actions but those who kindly reprove thy faults.” What leaders need to become cognizant of is that flattery comes with the territory. The more influence you have, the more you’ll be prone to attract flattery. The question is, can you discern fact from fiction and can you handle it?

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther: “The ears of our generation have been made so delicate by the senseless multitude of flatterers that, as soon as we perceive anything of ours in not approved of, we cry out that we are being bitterly assailed; and when we can repel the truth by no other pretence, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries.” Things really haven’t changed too much have they?

Now it’s your turn to shower me with praise, flatter my ego, rebuke my thinking or challenge my logic – leave your comments below…

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6 Comments

    Tyler

    March 18, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Hey Mike,

    Thanks for posting. I especially liked the Martin Luther quote.

    Chris Guastaferro

    March 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Mike, what wisdom would you give to the flatterer? How should leaders confront them?

      Mike Myatt

      March 19, 2013 at 5:37 pm

      Hi Chris:

      Thanks for your questions. My advice for the flatterer is to immediately cease and desist. Rather than try to manipulate someone with rhetoric or contrivances, let sincerity and great work product do the talking. As far as how leaders react, I would suggest using it as a coaching opportunity by directly addressing the issue and letting the offender know how best to engage and communicate with you. I hope these thoughts help Chris.

    Mike Myatt

    March 20, 2013 at 10:02 am

    Good to hear – my pleasure Chris.

    Sam Chene

    April 11, 2014 at 10:57 am

    I’ve been looking and exploring this notion in my own life – lifetime, in how to be liked or make connections. But it all trickled down to a childhood where I was forced to (culturally – I’m a Chinese-American) appease to those above me – and it’s interesting that as children, we are naturally to grow and use these malignant ways to do life – in recreational, spiritual, but *especially* personal and work relations. The funny thing is, I remember -hating- any of my parents’ Chinese friends who lavished praise on those who had status in our community… so I somehow knew what was up. But I didn’t know I still did it. PS. Thanks for the funny ending, that was quite apt.

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