Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

Who To Trust At Work?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work – the Scorpion, the Fox, or the Wolf? Part 1.

When I was younger, my future wife and I decided to hike off the trail between two mountain lakes in the high country of Yosemite National Park.  It didn’t seem like a big deal before we started.   That morning after breakfast, I asked the waiter where we should hike, and he suggested an informal path down a mile or so of dry creek bed.  The course looked pretty simple from the starting point, and I could see the destination off in the distance.  After an hour of navigating rocky descents, climbing over downed trees, running from bees and freaking out over bear tracks, there was nothing to see but trees in every direction. If it had not been for my fiancée’s good sense of direction, we might still be out there.  The waiter didn’t mean any harm, but I should have known better.  Then again, I was in my twenties.

At work too, an innocent-sounding request or suggestion can send you down a dangerous path, especially if you don’t think through the potential consequences to yourself. Like most of us who work in the Biotech industry in the San Francisco Bay Area, “Vijay” is a transplant, bringing his skills and knowledge to a new land of milk and honey.  The land is beautiful, the weather mild, and the spirit is among the most entrepreneurial in the world.  The newcomers are willing to brave the occasional earthquake for the opportunity to work at earthshaking companies.

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You might also like: Learn How the Experts Characterize a “Bad Apple” At Work

Meet The Earnest Newcomer. Was This You?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Post  2

While Silicon Valley is best known for their technology companies – Google, Yahoo, Apple, Hewlett Packard, Intel, and Facebook to name a few, the Bay Area is also home to some of the most cutting edge biotechnology and medical device companies.  These companies include Genentech, maker of blockbuster anti-cancer treatments; Giliad, leader in HIV treatments and Applied Biosystems (now Life Technologies) that invented the technology that sequenced the human genome. The best, brightest, and most ambitious come from all over the world to make their fortune, and to make a difference.

It is to this world that “Vijay” arrived in the late 1990s with his wife, small children, and a Masters in Biology from a leading Indian university.  Vijay is about five eight, a bit stout, and an interesting mix of focused intensity and social sensibilities.  The job at a small biotechnology company was a great match for his skills.  His attention to detail and meticulous record keeping were integral within the regulatory environment, and his “can do” attitude earned him a place on several key projects.  Vijay’s performance reviews were laudatory, and his boss didn’t hesitate to pull him into important meetings.  The science was interesting, the work rewarding and it all “felt like an adventure.” Life was good for the first eighteen months, with a promising career and plenty of time to spend at home with his wife and small children.

But that changed unexpectedly after he complied with a small, innocent sounding request.

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When Something Goes Wrong At Work, Who Has Vijay’s Back?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work?  Part 3

Vijay did not think much of it when the lead scientist asked him to change the method used to track the inventory of a new product under development.  The scientist was the expert, and Vijay rushed the change order through document control in accordance with the governing regulations.  It wasn’t until the scientist requested a second change that Vijay grew uncomfortable.  He discovered a discrepancy in the amount of actual product in inventory versus the amount in the records.  The apparent shortfall would have been further exacerbated by a second change in the inventory calculation method, and in fact could be traced to the first change, the one with his name on it.

Vijay’s first reaction was fear – will I be asked to pay for the missing product?  As Vijay learned more about what really happened, his second reaction was surprise – the scientist had been sending the product from inventory to an academic collaborator, didn’t have the budget to pay for it, and appeared to be requesting these changes to cover her tracks.  And after Vijay went to his manager for help, his third reaction was shock – his manager did not believe him.  The manager made Vijay check again and again, and then left him on his own to meet with the vice presidents of manufacturing and quality.  Leaving a novice to sort out something like this with the VPs is like having a teenager report teacher misconduct, and then explain it to the principal and superintendent without parental support.

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Who Gets Terminated When the Investigation Is Over?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust In the Workplace Part 4

Vijay’s told me that his manager and both vice presidents were friendly and supportive as they investigated the inventory discrepancy.  “I was called to present my data.  I thought we were working as a team to find a solution. … The scientist was panicking.  She was always asking me what was happening.  It was an ISO regulated place, [meaning that any change to manufacturing must be documented in a very specific way, and made available to auditors upon request].  You need to follow the paperwork, and [the scientist] didn’t have the paperwork.  She was afraid she would lose her job.”

The scientist looked over Vijay’s records in great detail.  But whenever other people were around “she would give totally different answers.” Vijay was extremely stressed. “I was by myself.  I asked my manager to go to the meetings, but she was always ‘too busy,’ saying that I could handle it myself.  Even though she said she would support me 100% on this issue, she never did come with me. It was the beginning of my career [but] I always followed the process and documented everything.  I think they knew the scientist had made a mistake, but from a corporate point of view she was more valuable.”

Without someone to rescue him from the trees, Vijay was let go in the next round of layoffs, the only person terminated in his group.  “They were trying to protect themselves from being sued for wrongful termination, and didn’t want to give me all the pieces of the puzzle.  I needed a good reference, and they gave me a good package.  They helped me find another job quickly.  To this day, I wish I had not been put in that situation.”

I asked Vijay what he would have done differently today from a perspective of ten years out.  “I would have prevented myself from getting in that situation in the first place.”

Bingo. Once the situation starts, it is often very stressful, and difficult to resolve. And what was Vijay’s big mistake?  Trust.  He trusted a person operating under a different value system.

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Is There a Disadvantage To Always Cooperating At Work?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 5

Vijay is a “mench” – (a Yiddish word that means “a good person)” who was not supported for doing the right thing. Is Vijay’s story the exception or the rule?  In my opinion the exception, but common enough that most people can relate.

I came across a fascinating study by Dr. Craig Parks which indicated that selfless people at work may be disliked by their colleagues almost as much as the slackers[i]. Why would this be the case?  Research Fellow Paul Nunes explains the result on the Harvard Business Review blog as follows: people at work dislike people who deviate from “normal motivations.”[ii]

“One can’t offer a bonus for harder work, because money doesn’t seem to matter. Can’t punish with extra or unpleasant tasks because this person takes those on willingly for no apparent reasons. A bit of chaos ensues, with this person being considered complicated–or complicating–at best. I think employees most resent having to come up with new ways of influencing these workers because the traditional ones don’t work.”

The discussion on the HBR blog is fascinating, with strong resonance from several posters, who felt this finding “explain[s] perfectly” the resentment they feel from coworkers.  The mismatch in motivations comes from a mismatch in the underlying values, between an individual’s “personal principles” and the culture and values of the corporation.

I found another study that suggested that people who follow the Golden Rule at work may be at a disadvantage. Men who are less agreeable earn 18.3% more than men who are more agreeable, with disagreeable women earning 5.4% more than agreeable women.[iii]  Vijay’s story is certainly consistent with this finding – the less trustworthy person continued to earn a salary, while the person who was helpful was out of a job.

Next week: using fables to identify the trustworthy

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[i] The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members From the Group.  Craig D. Parks, Asako B. Stone. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Volume 99, Issue 2, August 2010, Pages 303-310

[ii] Quote from Paul Nunes, an Executive Research Fellow at the Accenture Institute for High Performance, commenting on the article Your Most Helpful Colleague (Don’t You Hate Him?) by Craig Parks cited October 25, 2011

[iii] Do Nice Guys and Gals Really Finish Last?  The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income.  Timothy Judge, Beth Livingston, Charlice Hurst.  Journal of Personal and Social Psychology In Press–JPSPInPress.pdf; October 24, 2011.  Note: agreeableness is a term in social psychology that refers to “trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness.”


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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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 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 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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Have You Ever Felt Like a Crow To Someone Else’s Fox?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work?  Part 10

The last few posts have described the Scorpion, the first of three personality types that can help you evaluate a coworkers priorities and values.  I define a Fox as someone who is motivated primarily by self-advancement, and who particular gift of convincing people to act in a certain way.  Or to put it less kindly, a Fox is a manipulator.  I picked the name based on the fox in Aesop’s fable “The Fox and the Crow.”[i]

A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree. “Good-day, Mistress Crow,” he cried. “How well you are looking to-day: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds.” The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox. “That will do,” said he. “That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future: Do not trust flatterers.”

A Fox is the type of person who can convince you that “black is white.”  The Fox in the office can be charming or critical, but is always a master of “upward management.”  Often, a Fox on the rise has a protector in a more senior role in the company.  In the next post, we’ll look at a few true stories of the Fox in action.

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Were You Ever Betrayed In the Office? Chances Are It Was a Fox That Did It

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 11

In the last post, I used Aesop’s fable The Fox and The Crow to define a Fox at work as someone who gets by on flattery. Now compare Aesop’s fox with the following true stories.

Story 1: “Jack,” a Director at a national telecommunications company, laments not recognizing that his colleague as a Fox.

“My colleague and I were in contention for a promotion.  She went overboard to be my buddy and friend, to be helpful.  At the same time she was damning me with faint praise all over the company.  ‘Jack is really good at what he does.  Jack is a really good leader, meets project deadlines but….’  That was her technique.  It planted enough doubt about me that I wasn’t selected.  One of my reports who was close to someone in this other woman’s department told me about how she did it, how long she did it, how many people she did it with.  That was my experience with betrayal.  I thought she was my buddy.”

Story 2: “Liz,” a Senior Manager in the software industry describes her friend “Susie” who got ahead at her expense.  “She [Susie] would present my stuff and her stuff, but would never tell them I generated it.  She was very sweet about it, saying things like ‘I didn’t mean it that way.’  But she did.  She accelerated her career that way.  She got a lot of visibility by indirectly taking credit for other people’s work.  I don’t know how she made it work.  She was very charming and managed her bosses well.” 

Now that you have some idea how to recognize the spoor of the Fox, in the next post, I will offer strategies for how to deal with one.  What is your experience with betrayal, and how have you tried to prevent it from happening again?

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How To Deal With a Manipulator At Work

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 12

In the last post, I shared stories of people who had negative experiences dealing with a Fox.  While a Fox can talk you into anything, the great weakness of the Fox is execution.  If you don’t do the job for him, he can’t get it done by herself.   I asked Liz how she dealt with Susie, who was taking credit for her work.

“When someone gets a promotion before me, I don’t mind, no sour grapes.  But when they lied and cheated and misrepresented themselves, I have more of an issue.  You get to a point where it’s not benefiting me to get all riled up about it.  At a certain level you will be found out.  [If you choose to live that way], you will be the one looking over your shoulder waiting to see who would stab you.”

For the record, Susie was eventually demoted and later let go.   Liz was promoted several times, and went on to run a group of more than fifty people.

Another Senior Marketing Manager shared the following with me, which led me to a strategy for dealing with a Fox. Sometimes “the guy who takes the hit is the guy trying to execute on unrealistic, jackass plans.  Two to three rounds [of layoffs] later, it eventually it gets figured out and cleaned up. In the meantime there is a wake.”

So my takeaways from both stories:

1. It can be more stressful to be the fox than to deal with a fox, because a fox is always worried about being exposed or disempowered.  So don’t worry too much about them “getting away with it.”  You wouldn’t want to live that life.

2. A fox survives by manipulating others.  Once you understand a fox, they lose their power over you, and you have a decent chance of outlasting them.

Often the person being manipulated  by a Fox is a Wolf, which I will begin to illustrate in the next post with the parable of The Fox and The Wolf.

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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 Happens If You Have a Wolf As CEO?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 14

In the last post, I shared the story of the Fox and the Wolf as the third way to classify people according to their values at work.  The Wolf is a pack animal, who is strong, can get things done, but can be a tad too trusting.  Let me introduce you to one.

“Harold T. Lobo” comes across as smart, confident and open, even about his cockiness that has faded, but not disappeared as he approaches sixty.  Harry has the pedigree to back it up: a thirty-year history that includes a stint at McKinsey and management positions at a string of successful companies.   Unlike some who have come out of consulting, Harry is an effective operational manager who understands what it takes to get things done, and how to set the tone in the organizations he leads.  Harry describes his motivations:

“In a simple nutshell, it’s about making a difference to whatever organization I am in, and feeling that I am being challenged to learn new things all the time. I’ve seen too many people who get to the top of their pyramid and then go into takeover mode.  [They think] ‘I don’t need to learn any more and I know it all.’  But I find myself always learning.”

As the CEO in two different organizations, Harry was quite cognizant of the values he wished to instill in the organization.  The first part rests on good business practice, setting clear goals and following through.  The second part, he explains, is “how you treat people.  I try to treat people how I’d like to be treated myself.”  According to Harry, most important are “the incredibly small things that give signals about your values.”  For example, he abolished his dedicated parking space.  In addition, he arrived early and made coffee for everyone.  Although he didn’t realize it till later, this sent a huge signal.

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Is a CEO Who Is Reluctant To Lay People Off Being Too Nice?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Post 15

In the last post, we met Harold T Lobo, a CEO who abolished his parking space and made coffee every morning for the office.  But make no mistake, Harry set a high bar for performance.  According to people who worked for him, Harry was direct, and could be intimidating.  But he was always professional and never personal.  So I was surprised to hear Harry say that some people thought him too nice.

“On several occasions in my career when in a CEO role, the board took a view that I was being too soft on employees in terms of cost reduction.  Part of the role of a non-executive [board member] is to be much more ruthless and much more cold minded in terms of cost reduction, reducing heads.  As a manager you know these people day to day, and you’re the one who will be sitting opposite the desk telling them they haven’t got a job any more.  There were occasions [where they thought] I should be taking a stronger, more disciplinary stance with individuals.  I spend more time trying to see things from their point of view.  I have met very few individuals, I can count them on one hand, where they are out to deliberately put themselves ahead or to sabotage other people.  Usually it is different views about what is best for the company.”

This last passage is telling in several ways.  First of all, we can see the tension between Harry’s personal values, and the value system being pushed by the directors, to focus on numbers and not people.  Second, Harry’s belief that very few people are deliberately trying to “put themselves ahead” is consistent with a wolf’s propensity to be too trusting. Harry thinks that people just have “different views about what is best for the company.”  As we discussed earlier, not everyone shares Harry’s values about treating others fairly. In addition, “what’s best for the company” tends to frame issues in a way that inherently puts “what’s best for people” as a lower priority, which is a characteristic of corporate idolatry.

While Harry has a Wolf’s bias towards too much trust, he did not get to be CEO without developing methods to identify a Fox, and deal with him effectively.

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Should a CEO Fire Someone For Being Manipulative?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust Work? Part 16

In the last few posts, I have been writing about Harold T. Lobo, a CEO who makes coffee for his employees, and is considered too nice by some board members because he is reluctant to lay people off.  But that doesn’t mean that Harry won’t dismiss an employee if he thinks it is warranted.  Harry shared with me a story about a time he identified a fox in his organization, and how he then dealt with him.

When Harry started as CEO in his current organization, he was quite deliberate in how he evaluated the people, and was careful not to make quick decisions.  Harry described a vice president who initially looked like a star.  “Everything was presented very slickly and efficiently.  But as I talked to people around the [company], I found that he was managing communication both upwards in the organization and downwards in a very manipulative way, so that he retained a lot of power by being the communications broker.  I took action there to actually part company with the individual.”

Note that unlike the wolf in the parable of the fox and the wolf, Harry did not have a probation period, or give the fox a chance to gain the upper hand. In the parable, even after he knows the fox is up to no good, the wolf allows himself to be manipulated a second time, at the cost of his life.

What do you think would have happened if Harry had gone to the VP to discuss the situation and ask for a change in behavior?

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How Do Scorpions, Foxes, and Wolves At Work Relate To Idolatry?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 17

The chapter primarily describes a way to categorize people into Scorpions, Foxes, and Wolves to help you determine another persons motivations and by proxy their values.

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
Wolf Getting it done for self, company, ideas Execution, relationships Too trusting Cooperate, partner

So what does all this have to do with idolatry?  As a reminder, I’ve defined corporate idolatry as the adoption of a value system that puts the company ahead of all else, including your family and your own well being.  And as we saw in Chapter 2, idolatry is defined by actions that do not put people first, and is something one can adopt for personal gain or by mistake.  So really, the SFW system is something to help you determine the degree to which a colleague is following people-first values, and if they are not, trusting them could lead to an increased risk of corporate idolatry.

Lets review some of the stories – Vijay early in his career was misled by a scorpion to submit an incorrect method for tracking inventory, which eventually cost him his job. Had Vijay recognized that it was a Scorpion was making the request, he would have been much less likely to comply and could have avoided the issue.  Plus, Vijay mistakenly thought the company had a value system that would reward people for doing the right thing, when in fact it kept the dishonest person.

We met Liz and Jack who did not recognize the spoor of a Fox, which had negative career consequences, and Harry who did identify a fox and proactively removed him from the organization.  Of course understanding the values of the people you work with is only part of the issue.  In the next post, we’ll meet Jill, someone who masters a fox but remains in a difficult situation.

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What If Successfully Managing Workplace Politics Doesn’t Bring Balance?

Chapter 4: Who To Trust At Work Part 18 (Conclusion)

This chapter I’ve shared stories that illustrate how the people at work can contribution to corporate idolatry.  But as the following story illustrates, even the best of people, working for the most admirable of Wolves, are subject to strong influence from both circumstances and the workplace culture.

One senior product manager we’ll call “Jill” had a Fox manager who pushed and pushed in private to get the product out, and then publically pointed the finger at her when disaster struck.  According to Jill, after leading the team for a year “it felt crappy to sit in the room, and watch everyone look to my boss to find a solution.  They acted like I wasn’t there.  But later in the meeting there came this moment when my manager gave me a look that seemed to say ‘what do I do next?’  I looked him in the eye, and although I knew exactly what needed to be done, I said nothing.” And the outcome?  The Fox manager was soon moved to a backwater of the company, while Jill delivered a solution and recovered her reputation.

After that time, Jill was able to manage the politics much more effectively, and while the environment wasn’t exactly supportive, it wasn’t hostile either.  But the story does not end there, because Jill was still in a very poor situation.

Jill’s competition released a product that the customers liked better, and her marketing programs and sales pep talks were not going to change that.  Circumstances were beyond Jill’s control, but she pushed herself to the edge of ruin in a futile effort to regain market leadership.

Jill believed that her heroic efforts could result in a major change in the marketplace.  Psychologists call this the “Illusion of Control.”  I call it another face of idolatry.

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