Don’t Confuse Serving up with Sucking up

"I don't suck up; I don't care who the person is or what their title is." Although this statement may be true, that no one should really ever kiss up to higher levels, the mindset of the person saying it is flawed. Serving up is what great professionals and leaders do to accommodate their clients, organizations and coworkers. Don’t let those unwilling to serve change your personal mission of serving others.

The Issue

One reason someone may make this statement is because they didn’t achieve some desired outcome. For example, you may recognize a familiar comment, "The only reason he got the job is because he’s a "Yes Man." To put it bluntly and broadly: no one likes a kiss up, not even those that are being kissed up to. In most cases, however, it's not "Yes Man" behavior that creates a problem--it's the lack of understanding of the difference between sucking up and serving up. To forge a path toward career success, one must serve up, and do it with great humility and a great desire to achieve.

The Confusion

The quintessential "kiss up" is someone who uses flattery to win someone over. This behavior is visible from miles away and those who use it very rarely achieve long-term success, mainly because it demonstrates a frightening lack of self-awareness. These actions are born out of manipulation and arrogance which lack genuine intent--the goal of sucking up is entirely self-serving.

Contrarily, serving up is an act of accommodation that stems from the desire to provide a sterling level of service. It is the idea that when you truly make yourself an asset to those around you, whether it's a client, your immediate superior or a coworker, you move toward success together.

Serving up; "The Story"

A regional manager with a large finance firm was attending his company's annual conference. There were hundreds of attendees from all across the country--including some of the corporate heavyweights slated to deliver presentations.  

During this event, one of the company VPs was delivering a speech and he started having some problems with his microphone. Within seconds his direct report jumped up out of his seat in the back of the room, ran to the AV team and began searching for a solution to get the Vice President a new mic so he could continue to focus on his speech. Right at that time one of the regional manager's peers leaned in and whispered,  "Look at that lackey, running off to fetch another microphone.” He continued his trash talking, "Man, if my VP’s mic does not work, he can find another one on his own; it's not my responsibility to follow behind him."

He did not understand the difference between sucking up and serving up.

Consequently, the regional manager that jumped up and served his boss has grown his career tremendously; he has started his own company, is achieving great success and is now making three times the annual income he was 15 years ago--and his career is continuing to grow. His peer, on the other hand, changed bosses several times over the course of the next few years. His career trajectory plateaued, but in spite of his lack of upward momentum he has continued to complain about others and insist he deserves more. Sadly this peer, like most bitter professionals, probably has all the skill and knowledge needed to accomplish great things, but lacks the desire and humility to serve up to success.

The Lesson

If you are in a situation where you’re being pegged as a "Yes Man" or a "kiss up," ask yourself this, "Am I sucking up or serving up? Are my words and actions coming from a genuine place or are they insincere?" If you are serving up, which means working hard and pleasing those in your life that matter--keep doing it. Know that those who would call you a "suck up" or a "Yes Man" are just jealous (and most likely bitter) of how you help those around you. Be gracious and be respectful to those in authority positions, not from a position of weakness, rather in a position of power, so that one day when you’re in that power position the people that follow you will have the same respect for you. 

In business today, no matter if you work for a major corporation or you own your own small consulting firm, you're paid to help people and the more people you help the more success you will achieve. So serve and help those you call your boss, customer or peer, and no matter your current title or position, it will not be your last as you grow and flourish. Servants are leaders that understand their value and the humility to live it. 

Nathan Jamail, president of the Jamail Development Group, and author of the best-selling Playbook Series, is a motivational speaker, entrepreneur and corporate coach. As a former Executive Director, life insurance sales professional and business owner of several small businesses, Nathan travels the country helping individuals and organizations achieve maximum success. Nathan has worked with thousands of leaders in creating a coaching culture. Get your copy of Nathan Jamail’s most recent book released by Penguin Publishers, “The Leadership Playbook” at