Mastering the Fine Art of Frog-kissing
Frog Kissing is not the same as butt-kissing.
Butt-kissing, of course, refers to a social ritual in which we have all participated, namely the exaggerated praising and attending to a person of superior social or organizational rank, in the hope that he will favor us in some way. Butt-kissing is the price that many powerful people demand, unfortunately, from those in their presence, and that is a plain fact of life. Machiavelli himself engaged routinely in the extensive butt-kissing demanded by the rich and powerful of his time. Consider a couple of sentences from his Dedication in The Prince. “Desiring therefore to present myself to your Magnificence with some testimony of my devotion towards you ...” “And if your Magnificence from the summit of your greatness will sometimes turn your eyes to these lower regions, you will see how unmeritedly I suffer a great and continued malignity of fortune.” That is butt-kissing.
Frog Kissing, on the other hand, is a wholesome and productive behavior. Frog kissing, of course, is a metaphor that refers to the old fairy tale in which a handsome prince is transformed by some evil magician or witch into a frog. The kiss of a beautiful princess breaks the spell, the prince is transformed back into himself, and wedding bells are usually ringing by the end of the story.
A Machiavellian Fairy Tale: The System Manager and the Frog
A brilliant system manager (the Handsome Prince) was told by Human Resources that a certain programmer (the Frog) had been hired and that the programmer would report directly to the system manager. During the interview process, the system manager had recommended hiring a different applicant - one who had a great resume and many fine letters of recommendation. However, for reasons that were never explained, HR had chosen to hire this young programmer straight out of college instead. The system manager knew that the new employee was the nephew of the VP of Marketing, and he suspected that the influence of the VP was the reason for the hiring decision. The system manager was annoyed that he was being stuck with this trainee-newbie rather than an experienced programmer. He was also annoyed because he would never be able to fire the newbie because of his uncle.
At first, the brilliant system manager figured that he would give the newbie a cubicle in the janitor’s closet and restrict him to the most trivial of assignments. Perhaps he would eventually resign.
Then, the brilliant system manager recalled what he had read in Chapter V of The Modern Prince, and he realized that he should try to “Kiss the Frog.” He called the newbie in to his office for a get-acquainted chat. After putting the newbie at ease the Brilliant System Manager came to the point.
“Let me tell you something that I don’t usually reveal to a new employee, Sebastian. You were not my first choice for this job. However, after you were selected, I took a second look at your resume and your letter of application. I also spoke to the people who voted for you instead of the candidate I initially preferred. I now suspect that my original assessment of you was too hasty. On second thought, I have come to believe that you can become one of the most professional and successful programmers in this office - if that is what you want. I have decided to give you as much support and encouragement as I can, and it is my prediction that you will prove to me that my second thought was the correct one. (The Magic Kiss)
“I have selected one of our very best people, Yusef Salim, as a mentor for you, to help you for the first few months. Today, you are going to have lunch with Yusef and me. I want to get you two acquainted and the three of us will select an initial project for you; something that Yusef is familiar with so he can supervise you.”
And the Brilliant System Manager was true to his word. And lo, the newbie was so excited by the Brilliant System Manager’s support and encouragement that he was transformed (over time, of course) into a superb employee! And behold, the newbie was a newbie no more! He was transformed into a Programmer - a man worthy of that honored title - working long hours into the night, neglecting his pretty young wife and their baby, working every holiday except Christmas and Thanksgiving, taking vacation days only to get free time to catch up on his work, banging out COBOL code six or seven days a week, living on Dr. Pepper and Cheetos.
And it was all thanks to the Magic Kiss of the Brilliant System Manager.
And the whole programming team rejoiced, so that they wrote structured and efficient programs long into the night. And no bug was ever found in Sebastian’s code. And the President of the company smiled on their efforts and gave them all Certificates of Appreciation.
And all was well in the cubicles in the basement of the company, for ever and ever ...
Sometimes you must work with a person who is not initially to your liking. If you “kiss the frog” by working closely and enthusiastically with the person, you may be able to improve his performance to your benefit. Use your interpersonal skills to enable the person to become more of what you want him to be, at least as far as the task at hand is concerned.
It is not wise to let him know by your rolling eyes, strained facial expressions, and cold tone that you do not enjoy working with him. The task will suffer. Most humans warm to warmth. Most humans want to be liked.
A frog is cold blooded, but a Magic Kiss sometimes turns a frog into a more lovable, warm-blooded creature. If, after kissing the frog, he remains a cold, wet, disgusting frog then you have lost nothing. He was a frog to begin with. Wipe your lips and say to yourself, “Well, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, I guess.”