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2 Mar 2015

Seducing Leaders in Five Steps

Sycophants are very good at seducing leaders. This often brings leaders down.

Some are very good at seducing leaders with praise. This can move leaders from reality and bring them down.

The power of leadership makes leaders more exposed to certain types of influences. They allow those with less power to protect themselves. They can use leaders for their own ends. The path to seducing leaders is flattery.

Research Behind Seducing Leaders

The Network Effect” (The Economist, January 17, 2015 edition) cites “academic research has found that people’s susceptibility to flattery is without limit and beyond satire.” B.J. Fogg and Clifford Nass found that praise from computers works just as well as that from humans.

Andrew O’Connell (“Why Flattery is Effective” [Harvard Business Review, March 2010] cites works that show this works even when they know it is insincere. The praise from computers worked even though people knew it was only a canned response.

Five Steps to Seducing Leaders

Seducing leaders has five basic steps:

  1. Be happy and positive.
  2. State commonalities.
  3. Praise lavishly.
  4. Give in to their points.
  5. Ask for their help.

Open with happy and positive remarks. People are very swayed by things they have in common with others. There is no end to praise. As O’Connell writes, it works even though they might think it is insincere. Since leaders tend to be confident, they will see praise as the truth.

To avoid detection though, feign an opposing view. Come around to their side slowly. Tap into that expertise by asking for their help. People like to help those who praise them. It feeds the source of their identity.

Expert Seducers of Leaders

In common terms, we refer to people who are good at this as “brown nosers,” “yes-men,” “suck ups,” and many others. The real name is sycophant. Its origin is Greek. They were those who brought lame suits against powerful people.

There is a key point behind this word. Sycophants bring down leaders. They move leaders away from reality. Leaders make worse decisions as a result. They exert their power less well. Since leaders have more power, they cannot be overpowered. Praise is a Trojan horse.

Safe Leaders

Some leaders are safer than others are. They are those who are humbler, more realistic and less confident. They are often more competent. We do not like them though. They are too nutritious. We like the fatty, sugary ones better.

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