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When Managers “Kiss Up and Kick Down”
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When Managers “Kiss Up and Kick Down”

Researchers from WHU and KLU shine a light on the “KUKD” management style, where it comes from, and how companies can prevent it from coming into play

Fabiola H. Gerpott, Professor of Leadership at WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management, and Niels Van Quaquebeke, Professor of Leadership & Organizational Behavior at the Kuehne Logistics University recently published an article in the Journal of Management Studies analyzing a controversial and dangerous management style, which they have coined “Kiss-Up-and-Kick-Down” (KUKD). The researchers asked themselves why it is that some managers are sweet as pie to their own bosses—and monsters to their own employees.

According to the research duo, many managers, particularly those in middle management, are under constant pressure to deliver results and not find themselves “stuck in the middle.” As they try to garner favor from their own bosses to advance in their careers, they exploit their team to the fullest extent they can. In doing so, their goal is to obtain the most resources possible for themselves.

“From the point of view of these managers, such behavior has another advantage,” explains Professor Gerpott. “Not controlling themselves in front of their own employees, and taking out their emotions on them, saves them energy—energy they can then put toward positioning themselves better among the company’s decision makers.” Professor Quaquebeke put the strategy into perspective, saying, “There’s a catch. The longer you try to do this—kissing up to superiors while also kicking down your employees—the less it will work. You would have to jump to the next position or move companies as quickly as possible if you, with regards to the resources gained, hope to take the next step in your career.”

What can companies do to prevent such behavior?

The article notes that managers may think KUKD could prove useful at companies that have an “up-or-out” culture: either the manager gets promoted or seeks employment elsewhere. Organizations that employ a traditional incentive system are also good breeding grounds for this type of managerial behavior, as the focus at such firms rests on the achievements of the individual and not the team. Working from home represents an additional risk factor if the company does not take explicit care to ensure that regular communication take place across the hierarchical levels both above and below the focal managers.

The authors of the article advocate regular communication between all hierarchical levels inside of a company. And they warn that hiring managers should be on the lookout for any indications of KUKD during hiring/personnel selection phases.

To learn more about KUKD and its effects, as well as how to prevent them, one can read the full article below:

Fabiola H. Gerpott and Niels Van Quaquebeke (in press): Kiss-Up-Kick-Down to Get Ahead: A Resource Perspective on How, When, Why, and With Whom Middle Managers Use Ingratiatory and Exploitative Behaviors to Advance Their Careers, Journal of Management Studies  https://doi.org/10.1111/joms.12855

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