Keep Your Friends Close, Your Enemies Closer

SEP 18, 2020

Everyone in the company knows this person. Let’s call him Mr. A. He loves to show off, hog the limelight, toot his own horn, and believe his own crap. Naturally, everyone finds the way he behaves distasteful and repulsive. Once, when chatting with my direct reports, I jokingly asked, “Suppose one day, you both are to report to Mr. A instead of me, what will you do?”

My employee, Mr Two-Face was the first to react. “Deborah, he is the proverbial ‘empty vessel’—loud, but hollow. I would rather quit than have Mr. A as my boss.”

A year later, with the company’s many goals accomplished, I decided to gradually switch out of my prevailing roles.

The company arranged a special meeting to announce the change in responsibilities. I will take on a new strategic position, and my direct reports would henceforth report to Mr. A instead. He-who-was-so-sure-of-quitting sat stone-faced and speechless throughout. I watched him with a smile, wondering what his next move would be, would he resign, and when.

That evening, at a function to celebrate the new organizational structure, my many colleagues took turns coming up to congratulate me on my new role. Amidst the crowd and the chatter, I noticed Mr. Two-face chatting with Mr. A, his new boss. They seemed to be having fun.

Another indicator of a two-faced character: Kissing up to the party holding power.

It must have been my keen sense of hearing. Or was it my perfect sense of timing? As I walked past them, I distinctly heard Mr. Two-face fawning, “I couldn’t be luckier to be working with you. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot under your exceptional leadership. And we will have a great time working together.” 

I was suddenly overcome with admiration. Wow. There he was—straight faced, weirdly sincere. Not that I would expect him to really resign for the sake of keeping his words from a year ago. “But why take such an extreme position then,” I thought, “and having to eat your dramatic words now?”

I guessed he could already have forgotten what he had told us. Understandable. For at that moment, Mr. Two-face was preoccupied with something infinitely more urgent: Transitioning from polishing my high-heels to his new idol’s leather boots! Umm…only, his new boss mostly wears sneakers. (I must find a chance to ask him how one polishes sneakers!)

I often say: In the workplace, success comes with ability. As long as a person achieves his ends—even if we disapprove of his means—we must admit he is gifted. Granted, Mr. Two-face is despicable. But if he is without talent, how could he have controlled his emotion, his words, his expression with such chameleon-like ease?

Corporate management boils down to two fundamental skills: recognizing talent and utilizing talent. Everyone has an area of strength, an ideal role to play. For such two-faced individuals, whose loyalty are perpetually questionable, I suggest you keep them real close. Woe if you let them wander out of sight. For they may switch sides at the blink of an eye, and you’ll end up staring up the barrel of their guns!

So, take them under your wing, so you can utilise them. Their spritely charm and adaptability can help you expand your sphere of influence and tap into the office’s sprawling grapevine. Priceless, really.

Beware of hypocrites. They are opportunists who will turn against you without guilt. Keep your relationship superficial. Never make them a true confidant.

Frankly, who doesn’t like being complimented and praised by their subordinates, especially one whose mastery of flattery is top-class? After all, they’ll make you feel invincible, like you’re at the top of the world, walking on air. Their favourite phrase? “Whatever you say, boss.” Their sweet words and siren songs can throw you off balance, lead you astray. So, if you’re reading this as a senior or a boss, know that you should not openly break up with such two-faced individuals. Just don’t get hypnotised too easily, or you may end up the victim. Enjoy those fleeting moments of adulation, no matter genuine or phoney. Then, cast them all aside…with a knowing nod and smile.

1 comment

  1. Hi Deborah / Ms. Woo, this is a very interesting story and I like your insights. I was working in America where ppl are more straight forward and office politics less prevalent. Your hair style looks so fun that I would like to have it some day… paired with round eye glasses to complete the looks of Lam Ah Jun for myself. If you plan to visit Los Angeles in the future, let me know because I have some recommendations for ya.


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