“I’m not trying to brown-nose you, but I’ve been in business a long time and have never run across anyone quite like you. You do inspire, Jules.” said Ben Whitaker (Robert De Niro) to Jules Ostin (Anne Hathaway) in the movie, The Intern, (2015).

This is one of my favorite scenes from the movie when Jules Ostin, CEO of About the Fit, feels acknowledged and recognized by her employee (a senior intern), who is almost 30 years older than her.

In reality, would this qualify as a classic case of brown-nosing?

The movie scene triggered my curiosity about why would anyone resort to brown-nosing to rise up the corporate ladder when the bitter truth is that you’re playing with fire and putting your reputation at risk.

You are ambitious.

You are hard-working.

You dream big.

You want to chase the stars.

You know what it takes to rise to the top of the career ladder.

The question is: How can you get there without brown-nosing people?

I spoke to an expert Executive and Career Coach, ACC (ICF) APC, CPC (CLI), Leadership Development Specialist at Passion Wheel Learning & Leadership Solutions and a good friend, Smriti Chandra on the effects of brown-nosing on career growth. She says…

Sometimes I come across people who use flattery as a way to get ahead in their careers. This can be detrimental in the long run as they might lack self-awareness, not receive constructive feedback and fail to capitalize on their strengths to develop further.”

Your boss, peers and other leaders in your company are the most important people in your career. You need to build strong relationships with them to meet your goals, further your projects and get constructive feedback. Therefore, in your interpersonal interactions, you have to be careful about crossing the line.  

While remote work is here to stay, it can be a bitter reality to know that out of sight and out of mind can sometimes lead to the fear of being passed over for a promotion or challenging projects that can open doors to recognition. This dominant fear leads one to the obvious route: brown-nosing or flattery to stay visible and get what you want.

Cambridge dictionary defines brown-nosing as “to try too hard to please someone, especially someone in a position of authority, in a way that other people find unpleasant”.

Now this can be a tricky position to be in. Brown-nosing at work isn’t easy. You risk your reputation by attracting gossip and are subject to being alienated in the team. There are alternate ways to be in your boss’s good books and build a credible reputation at work.  

Here’s what Smriti and I feel about building credibility at work through authentic gestures: –

1. Be curious and seek perspectives – People feel valued when you ask them for perspectives. Become a protégé and ask questions to your boss like “How did you do that with such ease?”. This dialogue opens your mind to feedback, gets you the art of mastering your craft, develop a matured outlook and perceive your boss as a mentor

2. Debate constructively – You don’t need to agree to every suggestion or opinion with your boss. Argue constructively and put forth your perspective with humility. Your higher-ups will appreciate it. Be open to being wrong in the process. We all have blind spots

3. Appreciate sincerely – Your conversation with your boss need not always be work related. As you get to know each other, offer genuine admiration for how they contribute to your growth and perspective. A little “Thank You” note can do wonders to your relationship. Be aware that there is a fine line between flattery and adoration. Either you genuinely appreciate your relationship or don’t go down that route

4. Agree on fundamental values – Make sure you both are aligned to the big picture vision and not just the checklist of items to be crossed off. Brown-nosing takes root when your values don’t align and when stretched too far, you resent your career trajectory over time

5. Allow your reputation to shine – Your credibility and reputation amplifies when you authentically follow through on expectations but also occasionally voice disagreement with an alternate perspective to the situation or problem. Your higher-ups will appreciate the genuineness in thought, maturity and fearlessness you bring to the table.

“My advice to professionals who resort to brown-nosing is that it is a short-term strategy. Career growth happens when you stand out through your attitude, performance and ability to rise others” says Smriti.

If brown-nosing is something you enjoy then be mindful enough to not go overboard by risking your reputation and all that you’ve built so far. It takes years to build credibility and seconds to squander it. It is often hard to point out when flattery crosses the line.

Be mindful!


  • Hithakshi Kotyan

    Author | People Development Specialist | Harvard Member | Positive Psychology Coach

    Hithakshi is an Author and Senior Learning Specialist with Priceline Technology, India. She has worked and consulted global organisations to drive personal and workplace excellence. The underlying themes of her programs are rooted in the areas of Career Pivots, Self-Leadership, Personal Productivity, and Well-being. She is the author of "The Future of Work In An Evolving Economy", a Member of Leaders Excellence at Harvard Square and Business Intelligence Board Member at the Chief Learning Officer Publication. Hithakshi is a Certified Instructional Designer, a Positive Psychology Coach, and a Behavioural Interpreter.