October 11, 2011 Leadership, Thought Provoking

The deceptive nature of flattery

The most common form of manipulation comes packaged in the form of flattery – it’s also the most dangerous. The veils of most “hidden” agendas are also
typically cloaked in flattery.  I have worked with many senior leaders who fall into this web and begin to really believe that anyone who disagrees with them or their idea is wrong, mostly because insincere flattery has fed their ego to no return.

The deceptive nature of flattery is that it becomes most powerful when it is given 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.

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 understand that
flattery has the power to influence, corrupt, undermine and deceive – they wield flattery as a lethal weapon against the undiscerning.

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 naive, the needy, the impressionable or the ego-centric view flattery as genuine praise. Discerning people understand flattery may be
disingenuous, or 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.

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.

Personally, I prefer sincerity to flattery. 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?

Well I realized things really haven’t really changed all too much as I read this quote from a letter written in 1520 by Martin Luther to Pope Leo: “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 pretense, we escape by attributing bitterness, impatience, intemperance, to our adversaries.”  Interesting, isn’t it.