Friday Rant: Enemy Lists — Public vs. Private

I generally believe that most people on this planet are generally out to do good by their actions. Of course there are exceptions, many of whom are precisely those that believe they're doing the most good by their actions -- i.e., politicians who have never had a real job -- when in fact their behavior is outright destructive and, in certain cases, certifiably evil. And of course the rest of us slip up from time to time as, from telling fibs to taking temporary vacations from behavioral temperance and pursuing good deeds. In Hebrew, the word mitzvah (plural, mitzvot) can be roughly interpreted as an act of human kindness, and is certainly prescriptive for some when it comes to how to lead one's spiritual life. But for the rest of us, striving to be one who pursues and carries out good deeds should also be something to uphold in our professional and personal lives. One such good deed you might consider, however ironic, is to create a personal enemies list (not the type of the kind maintained by our disgraced ex-President, I might add).

I know, you probably think I've gone off my ironic spend rocker here. But I honestly believe that there are those in this world -- and our companies, partners and associations -- who are out to do no good, and it's best to identify these dangerous souls before they have the opportunity to rip apart or sabotage the good work of others. Now, it's important to not mistake those with self-inflated views of their own importance with those who are actually, well, evil. In fact, some of the most destructive people I've met over the years -- and occasionally worked with -- were some of the most self-deprecating in early interactions. But make no mistake about it: how one presents their ego and worldview may have nothing to do with the angel or devil that lurks beneath the surface.

I can't pretend to help you identify who is evil and who is not. But what I can tell you is that it's important to make judgment calls when it comes to some individuals, including co-workers and even senior individuals at potential or current suppliers. And rather than view these individuals as slightly distasteful or in the grey area in certain behaviors or actions, it pays to lump them into the bucket of scalawags and observe them very closely. I like what Ayn Rand wrote on the subject: "The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles."

So how best to get started on an enemies' list, and who should go on it? Here are a few ideas based on personal experience:

  • Those you know have a track record in more than one area of compromising moral values, even outside of the workplace
  • Those who tacitly or overtly have agreed to change in the past (e.g., working with a new supplier), only to, with original intent, act to sabotage the new state or relationship
  • Those who have ever taken bribes, material and otherwise, (from vendors or others, even internal stakeholders) for changing their perspective or recommending a course of action. A bribe need not be a monetary reward. Internally, it can involve a job-related benefit (e.g., a promotion or the keeping of one's job) contingent upon following a superior's recommended course of action
  • Those with a track record of being complicit -- or driving -- questionable means to justify a particular end state

I reckon that those who top your procurement enemies list are likely to somehow lack a true moral compass and do not share your value system. And there's the rub. For even those who may be strong opponents of change and/or even personal rivals, can potentially become advocates and allies (in fact, those who stand in your way at first can often become your strongest advocates and/or best allies). But for those you believe to be verifiably rotten, if you're not in a position to give them the boot, maintain vigilance and share your perceptions carefully. 'Tis far more effective to judiciously block destructive actions and gradually let out the hanging rope than to publicly sentence. We must all draw our own conclusions -- and be permitted to do so.

- Jason Busch

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