AFRICANGLOBE – In my first week at Acme, a senior executive was fired. He was literally like the movie, Gone in 60 Seconds. From what I understood he was a well-liked character who performed adequately on the job. An officious, rather pointless memo that spoke nothing of his contribution was issued from the chairman’s office. It stated the obvious, outlining the who, what, where and when but completely ignored the one thing we were all dying to know: the why. Finding out the truth was tricky because those who knew were not talking – they feared they could be next.
Like a cult, everyone closed ranks and it was business as usual. No one spoke of the executive again – not even in hushed tones. It was as if he had never existed. The limited facts I managed to glean bore an uncanny resemblance to the tale of the emperor and his new clothes.
The rogue executive, we will call him RE, had pointed out that the Chairman’s suit, which had been praised unanimously for months by everyone for its cut and colour, did not actually exist. According to him, the emperor was, and had been for some time, strutting around the office stark naked. True or not, the big mistake RE made was to point out the emperor’s nakedness while other executives were in the room. To compound his impertinence, he made his observations as if he were talking to his equal, forgetting that all men are not born equal in Nigeria. This is, after all, the country where the question, “Do you know who I am?” is frequently asked – in all seriousness – to remind the common man of his place in the hierarchy.
Apparently, a pregnant silence descended on the room after RE had spoken – no one knew quite what to do or to expect. Like the Starship Enterprise, RE had dared to go where no man had gone before – not at Acme anyway. He had publicly challenged the authority of the emperor and undermined his colossal ego, which had been gently stroked over many years by an army of sycophantic executives. These were executives skilled in the time-consuming art of obsequiousness and deference – there was little time to focus on anything else including their performance on the job. Luckily, this was not considered part of the criteria for their success at work. RE had clearly forgotten the very small print in the employment contract, the terms by which every employee at Acme had to abide. Or maybe he had simply snapped. It was rumoured he went off to start his own enterprise and is now a hugely successful entrepreneur. His run-in with the emperor had cost him his job but I envied the fact that he had held onto his integrity.
Over the next few months, I made a point of finding out how I could avoid falling into the same trap as RE. I needed a fail safe way to protect myself until such time as I was ready to jump. Here, in no particular order, are my findings:
• Where two or more executives are gathered in the emperor’s office, never tell the truth as you see it (unless of course it is in concurrence with the emperor’s own views).
• Always defer to his better judgment – in all situations. Never challenge his decision once made, because life is too short and the diesel bill (if not part of your remuneration package) needs to be paid. It is easier for you to do a graceful U-turn and quietly undo all your hard work without shedding any discernible tears of frustration.
• Do not fight his need to micro-manage you – he cannot help it. Rather feed it and keep him happy. This is easily done by positioning every situation which requires approval as a request for his strategic input, then lavishly praise him for his great mind and shrewd decision-making powers.
• Never arrive in a room after the emperor. He is the guest of honour at every occasion. If you can, take up the seat closest to the one reserved for him so you are visibly aligned. No matter how long and tedious his soliloquy (and he will always speak as only his opinion counts), always listen intently, nod copiously and if appropriate, instigate a round of applause.
At Acme, my day revolved around pleasing the emperor and I came to realize that this was the small print in the contract I had signed. Those that signed, started and then could not maintain the charade, resigned or left under similar circumstances to RE. Often, they were the performers, the ones who focused on the deliverables rather than on the politics and they would have made brilliant managers. Sadly, the system was not designed to keep them and Acme, like many other corporates, would continue to rely on the emperor to build the business.
Following RE’s departure, the emperor got to keep his new clothes as everyone rallied around to convince him that RE was actually blind and had been from birth. Ironically, Acme and the emperor were the ones who lost out. I hear RE is going for an IPO.