Confirmed: The strategic importance of brown-nosing bosses for your career

Follow the leader.
Follow the leader.
Image: Reuters/Gleb Garanich
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You always knew that sucking up to your boss was a smart career move. Now the management gurus at McKinsey have confirmed it.

In a study of senior marketing executives, ”mobilizing their bosses,”—McKinsey’s phrase for managing up— as well as their peers in the company, was more than twice as important to career success as managing subordinates.

The authors don’t discount the importance of business performance, but say it’s not enough. To climb the ladder to the top, effective leaders must curry favor with their superiors by demonstrating they understand the CEO’s agenda and are carrying it out. “A key determinant of success was taking on the big issues, those in sync with the CEO’s agenda, and contributing to the company’s overall performance,” according to the study.

Whether carrying the boss’s water seems odious or admirable probably depends on your perspective, and how obsequious the behavior. No one likes a toady, and a shrewd boss can suss out if they’re being manipulated.

McKinsey surveyed 1,200 senior marketing executives in 71 countries to compile the report, and supplemented it with data from thousands of additional performance reviews.

Aspiring CEOs also need to work on relationships with their peers, by “walking the halls,” being a role model, and having a story that motivates and inspires them. “If you want to build a ‘movement’ within the company, lead from the front with an inspiring story to win the hearts and minds of colleagues.”

For many managers, this advice may feel baldly cynical and provoke anxiety, or mild nausea. But if it all sounds perfectly reasonable, or if it’s what you’re doing already, congratulations: You may be well on your way to the executive suite.