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What Can the Parable of the Fox and the Wolf Can Teach Us About Betrayal At Work?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 13

So far, in this chapter, I’ve described two types of untrustworthy people:  The Scorpion who will “steamroller people” in pursuit of his personal vision, and The Fox, who manipulates others to get ahead.  One of the prime targets of the fox is the wolf, as illustrated in the parable of the wolf and fox [i]

One day, the fox suggests to the wolf that he should go help a village prepare a festive meal. Yet as soon as the wolf arrived, the villagers drove him off with clubs and stones.  The wolf returned to the fox ready to kill, but he allowed the fox to explain himself.

The fox explained that the wolf’s father betrayed the villagers’ trust by eating everything (and everyone) after they had prepared a meal together some years before.  Imagine the stunned look on the wolf’s furry face. 

The fox continued. “If you are hungry, I will bring you to a place where you can eat your fill.”   The wolf followed the fox to a well, attributing that flutter in his gut to hunger.  A rope with a bucket on each end was suspended from a pulley.  The fox, without hesitation, jumped into one bucket and dropped into the well, saying  “This is where the great feast is hidden.”

The fox pointed to a reflection of the moon in the water.   “Look at that wheel of cheese!” At the fox’s instruction, the wolf climbed into the remaining bucket at the top of the well, which simultaneously lowered the wolf into the well and raised the fox to the surface.  So enthralled was the wolf that he did not immediately recognize his folly.  “Where is the food?  What have you done to me?”  As he departed, the fox left the wolf with this explanation “The righteous is delivered out of his trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.”

The fox in this story presents a chilling combination of cruelty and persuasiveness. Though the wolf was lucky to have survived the encounter with the villagers.  Yet he allows himself to get betrayed again, this time at the cost of his life.  In my opinion, the wolf made a fatal error when he chose to talk to the fox.  The wolf should either have killed the fox outright, or walked away. A wolf’s strength is action, a fox’s strength is talking.

So what would happen if the Wolf were CEO?

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[i] Book of Legends Sefer Ha-Aggadah  Legends from the Talmud and Midrash Edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky. 245:194

What Should You Do If Working For a Scorpion?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust In The Workplace Post 9

The Scorpion is motivated by an overarching vision or idea about how the world should be, and doesn’t let reality get in the way.  (Steve Jobs, who I classify as a Scorpion, believed that he didn’t need to get surgery for his cancer.)  While the vision itself may be very positive and something you agree with, the welfare of individual people takes second place to that vision. A Scorpion (and everyone who follows them) can be very successful if his or her idea happens to be correct. But even if the Scorpion is correct, they are difficult to deal with.  And remember the fable of the scorpion and the frog: the scorpion’s nature can lead them to act against their own self interest, as well as the interests of their allies.

Many people react to a scorpion with a combination of anger, frustration, and fear. Some work frantically trying to ‘please’ the scorpion. Others fight the scorpion, which can be even more work than trying to appease the scorpion.  It is not uncommon for a Scorpion to develop a following of very loyal, devoted people. It is hard to remain neutral when dealing with a Scorpion, and few people understand that the Scorpion does not care about consensus.

If your goal is a people-first lifestyle, in my experience, the only safe way to deal with a Scorpion is exit, either yours or theirs. (See this post on The Rule of Self-Preservation for the background.) If a Scorpion is in a position of power, try to move to a part of the company outside their influence. If you have more power than the Scorpion, actively try to limit their power.  If a Scorpion is a peer, keep all interactions transactional, document everything, and do not give them any ammunition to use against you.

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Is a Scorpion At Work Evil, or Just Inflexible?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 8

Let me be clear about one thing: the Scorpion is not evil, just inflexible.  I use Scorpion as a description of a type of behavior to help me figure out a person’s motivation, and then to devise a strategy to deal with him or her.  A Scorpion is someone who believes something so strongly they can’t help but act in a certain way.  And once you understand that your co-worker is a Scorpion, it becomes relatively straightforward to predict how they will react to a situation.

Here, a Silicon Valley Vice President describes what I call a Scorpion:

“People get an evangelical zeal for the cause they are trying to support.  [They] almost won’t let anything get in their way and will steamroller people to drive for the particular thing they believe in.  When you get individuals like that, the battles get certainly very political and end up being very personal as a result, even though the individuals are often quite mild [outside of work].”

[For example,] “when I first got to know him{the CEO] in interviews and semi-socially, he could be a very genial, very humorous individual.  But then as you began to hold views that were different from his own about how the technology should evolve or [be] rolled out, he would pigeonhole you into being you’re either with him or against him.  You couldn’t disagree with him in any way.

Another VP describes the same CEO in a similar way.

“An innocuous statement suggesting another technology as a possible solution was taken like a ‘dagger to the heart.’  Moreover, if you presented market data that contradicted his vision for the next step in the technology, his answer was always ‘you don’t believe.’  That lets someone else step up and say ‘well I believe.’”

In the next post: how to deal with a Scorpion.

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What Is The Lesson About Work From the Fable of the Scorpion and the Frog?

Chapter 4: How To Trust At Work – The Scorpion, the Fox, or the Wolf  Part 7

I classify Vijay’s nemesis, the scientist, as a Scorpion.  (See the table at the end of the last post for more). “Scorpion” is taken from the following fable of the Scorpion and the Frog.

The scorpion asks the frog to bear him across the river on his back.  “You must think me a fool,” cries the frog.  “You’ll sting me and I’ll die.” “Never fear,” replies the scorpion.  “If I sting you, we both will drown.”  The frog relents, and takes the scorpion on his back.  Halfway across the river, he feels a burning pain and the onset of paralysis.  “Why?” he croaks just before going under. “I couldn’t help it,” replies the scorpion.  “It’s my nature.[i]” 

The Scorpion at work has a single-minded vision of the world.  Just as the scorpion in the story can’t help itself when it stings the frog, the Scorpion at work can’t do anything other than act according to their vision, even when it is potentially self-defeating.  When you work with a Scorpion, your happiness or needs are not on his or her radar.  Chances are, sooner or later you will be stung.

Vijay’s Dr. Scorpion believed that her collaboration with the academic was the key to success for the product.  Without regard for budget, regulations, or protocol, she made it happen.  When things started to go awry, Dr. Scorpion took a significant risk, a bluff that seemed to disregard potential consequences for herself or Vijay.  She could have taken a conciliatory tack, blaming the inventory issue on a misunderstanding or honest mistake. Of course this would have required that she admit that she made a mistake, something Scorpions are loth to do in part because they rarely, if ever, think they have made a mistake.  Instead, she gave dishonest answers and let Vijay take the consequences.

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[i] John Malkovich refers to the fable at the end of the movie Dangerous Liaisons as he betrays the love of his life.  For more, see what Wikipedia has to say.

Is She A Scorpion, a Fox, or a Wolf? A New Paradigm For Who To Trust At Work

Busting Your Corporate Idol Chapter 4 Part 6

In last week’s posts, we met Vijay, the Indian mench who complied with an innocent-sounding request and lost his job as a result. From the perspective of many years later, Vijay told me if he had it to do over again, he would have been able to avoid the situation completely. Vijay learned by experience, and now has a story in his head that helps him make better decisions about who to trust.

I heard many similar stories doing interviews for the book. I started seeing patterns; certain types of people kept coming up. I soon found myself characterizing them according to animals from fables and parables.

Fables and parables have survived thousands of years because they communicate true insights about people, morality, and values. I call the people in the workplace who have a disproportionate impact on trust decisions the Scorpion, the Fox, and the Wolf.  The three categories are drawn from the parable of the Fox and the Wolf, and the fable of the Scorpion and the Frog, both of which are easy-to-remember stories that teach important lessons about misplaced trust.  If you can understand where someone fits in the “SFW” framework, you will have an insight into their priorities and perhaps their underlying values.

The Fox, Scorpion and Wolf behave in a predictable way that reflects their underlying priorities, and by proxy their value system.  Do they put people first?  Do they put the company first?  Do they put themselves first?  If you know someone’s priorities, it becomes much easier predict what they will do, and give you a leg up as you decide whether to trust them or not.  Next post we’ll take a fresh look at Vijay’s nemesis the scientist.  Based on the table below, which animal is she?

Motivated by Strength Weakness Suggested Approach
Scorpion Strict set of ideas Execution & vision Inflexible, polarizing Avoid or exit situation
Fox Self advancement Talking, motivating Poor execution Force them to do more, talk less
Wolf Getting it done for self, company, ideas Execution, relationships Too trusting Cooperate, partner

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