The “Double Secret” Handbook for bad Executives Strikes Again!

Interestingly enough, I actually had a run in with a character that must have read this section of the manual. I even wrote about the incident in 160 degrees of Deviation: The Case for the Corporate Cynic. At the time, I wondered where he had picked up some of his tactics and techniques. Later, I found this chapter rolled up in an old copy of Golf Digest in his trashcan after he had left the company.

Chapter Six When You Know that They Know that You Know that They Know

It’s taken you a long time to create and build your corporate personae. You have your cronies and network of stooges in place. You’re living the high life of the company power structure. You’re even considered a sage with your own loyal following. But just when you thought you were on the fast track to the very top, some upstart seems to be causing problems. This person is sharp and independent, solves a lot of problems and is really getting noticed by your superior and others. They are even starting to gain some respect amongst your own direct reports. It seems as though your status as a powerbroker and guru is being threatened. This is not good for your feeling of self-importance.

The worst part of it all is that you sense that this individual seems to recognize that you are not as brilliant and important as you’d like others to see you. You might even get the feeling that somehow they’re “on to you.” It’s nothing that they’ve said or done. It’s more subtle and unnerving. They appear self-confident, thoughtful and knowledgeable. They ask a lot of questions and spend time analyzing issues. They don’t seem eager to simply jump into the latest wild goose chase or react to problems in a knee jerk fashion. They are more interested in working hard rather than working the system. They are disinterested in the trappings of power. They just want to get the job done. You need to quash this upstart now before they ruin things for you. Quick action is needed here and a few tips for dealing with this threat can pay off down the road.

If the interloper is a peer or someone with equal organizational status, first try playing up to them with a saccharine display of fawning. You might be able to buy the party off with some well placed but insincere compliments. Who knows, they may even be as shallow as you are. Offer to take them under your wing. Try to make them an ally – but a never an equal.

If that doesn’t work, contrive some ways to show them up, particularly in front of your superiors. Beat them to the punch with data or answers to questions in meetings, especially when high level officials are present. Interrupt and talk over them. Pretend that they aren’t even there. If they are new to the company, use corporate jargon and acronyms known only to the insiders. If they openly question what your words mean, roll your eyes and shake your head. If they were so smart, they’d know what you were talking about. The point here is to portray them as a poor unfortunate and unimportant dolt.

Enlist your army of stooges to feed you information that you can use to lob mortar shells on them during meetings. This tactic might temporarily stymie and embarrass this pest. Even if the facts or data might be untrue, some damage will be done. The truth will vindicate the enemy later – but only after the meeting. You need to show this potential threat who the real boss is.

Concentrate on finding picayunish details in memos or reports that they’ve written and exploit them by striking lines through them or circling them in red ink. Peppering these documents with giant red question marks and then circulating them around the office is another tactic that might show them up as well.

When all else fails, a few well-placed rumors or gossip might also do some damage. You have to figure a way to get this person into your hip pocket and put them in their place. It would be coup to get this individual on your side – better yet beholding to you. That would send a real message to rest of your peers and subordinates.

But if nothing seems to work, if the upstart appears not to care about or even ignores your overtures to join the fold or your attempts at embarrassment and intimidation – BE CAREFUL. They may know that you know that they know. They’ll be waiting and prepared for the next ambush. A direct confrontation will not work here. It may be time to rethink your long term goals.

PS Have you pre-paid your annual dues to the Society of Bad Executives?

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