Email circa 2031: My dear sons, beware “The Toxic 12” – #5 The Bootlickers

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Hey sons

Sorry I’ve been so caught up recently with my book tour and talks. I’d almost forgotten about this series which I promised to get done and over to you both before 2031 gets done!

My bad.

So let me come back to it now and hopefully ramp up fast enough to finish on these diabolical dozen. Will be tough though, since I’m still barely half done.

Will plod on nonetheless!

Last time I talked about the toxic military types, remember? If not, please go read it again.

This time, I’m going to touch on a category I call “The Bootlickers”; it almost seems like a natural off-shoot of that last one don’t you think? The very name conjures up images of dirty army boots that just finished charging across a wet and muddy field, in bad need of a good “lickin’.”

Of course, such folks have also been called by other names like fawners, sycophants, backscratchers, “yes men/women”, just to name a few. Clearly a very popular group of thugs.

And they most definitely are popular in the working world. I mean, who hasn’t seen the likes of colleagues who fawn over their bosses, and genuflect to every single whim and fancy they have without anything but sweet promises and plenty of “yes” and “Amen”?!

For these folks, there are more than enough write-ups (with coping strategies to boot), such as this piece which you are welcome to take a look at.

But let me tell you a story to illustrate a less obvious and more shadier type of bootlicker.

This one you need to be most wary of.

Magazine “maze” madness

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Back when I was still teaching full-time, I had to also run an editorial team for an annual school magazine targeted at potential freshmen. I helmed that team for maybe six or seven print runs but this particular one (I think it was the fourth or fifth) was probably the most memorable for me, even today.

You see, we were doing the finishing touches of the magazine and would soon be going to print. All that was needed were a few minor edits and we would be good to go.

Unfortunately, several members of the EXCO (Executive Committee) had signalled their displeasure over a particular two-page spread inside the magazine. They said it had portrayed some of their school courses in an unfavourable light.

Now having creative differences was one thing, but it’s quite another when these dissenting views were arrived at without the benefit of having heard how the creative process birthed the ideas for those pages in the first place.

So as editor, I was naturally asked to attend a meeting with the school director to decide what to do. As the manager overseeing me and my team was away, the second-in-command or 2IC was called in (yes your dear father was pretty far down in the pecking order, even though I was the editor-in-charge).

To cut a long story short, I learnt to my great disappointment five to ten minutes into the meeting that it wasn’t a meeting for me to explain the creative process.

It was a meeting for me to submit to the decision that had already been made, not a consultation. Looking back, I realise now that I was the last to know.

The Last To Know

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You see those two pages in question were really one large picture of a maze where interested potential course applicants could follow different paths that would lead them to different endings. The paths represented questions they would typically ask to help narrow their choices; the endings were our school’s various courses.

So depending on the path picked, an applicant might reach a “dead end” (ie an unsuitable course for what they were keen on), or a choice course matching their needs.

No prize for guessing which course managers’ heckles I raised! Those that were found at the dead ends. But just to be clear, there really were no dead end courses since other paths would lead to these same ones, so really every course was a winner.

Sadly, the powers-that-be were too narrow-minded to see the bigger picture. And apparently, so was the director. He basically regurgitated the opinions of his team of disgruntled managers and asked that I change the “dead ends” so every path will lead to a “happy ending”.

In short, every course was a good course no matter which starting point or path the reader took. To hear him, you would think we were making Disney-themed cartoons, with their signature perfect endings!

“A-maz-ing, just “a-maz-ing”!

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Now your dad was all ready to give my response and explain carefully how the original idea for the picture maze ought to be viewed. In other words, I was about to define what a maze was, and wasn’t, to someone more than a decade older!

Imagine that.

But before I could say anything, the 2IC (who barely said a word during the meeting) gave me a hard, stern glance and firmly shook his head. Since we sat flanking the director one on each side, only I saw that look.

To say I was stunned was an understatement. Did he think the director wouldn’t hear my side of the story?

I was floored to say the least. To this day, I wished with all my heart I had taken a firm stand instead and had my day in court right there and then, come hell or high water.

Unfortunately, I capitulated and the moment passed. Or rather the decision was passed and I walked out of that meeting both angry with myself and the 2IC.

He must have sensed it on the way out because as we walked down the passageway that led from the meeting room, he turned and explained why he cut me off.

While I no longer remember the exact words, I remember well the feeling of rage and helplessness I felt. As far as he was concerned, this was never up for negotiations; the director had his mind made up already, and to “defend” would only put both of us in his bad books.

Best to just nod, smile and acquiesce.

Suddenly in the instant he finished speaking, I had a flash of insight: this 2IC knew how this meeting was going to go all along!

The shady Bootlicker

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Which brings me to the toxicity of this shady version of a bootlicker.

No matter how ‘in sync’ such people may have been with you through any work project undertaken (and this 2IC was, or had appeared to be up to that point) be careful.

For when it comes to bending backwards to satisfy those in power, they will immediately slide in ahead of the crowd, like a docile doe to the matriarch deer’s udders.

Even if that means leaving you in dust and bewilderment. This despite the fact that you thought they had been with you in the trenches, and will side with you when the crunch comes.

“Hack(saw) ’em!”

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I could share more examples of these shady folks so rest assured my following advice to you boys is hard won:

When you encounter bootlickers, just “hack(saw)” them! Cut off ties and keep your distance.

Overtime, these bootlickers will short-circuit their own cleverness, and end up soul-less and empty.

Sons, I need to tell you something else too.

All three of us in that meeting room were believers.

That may not seem like much to others but it meant a lot to me. Guess I always held up the hope that things would be different with believers in the workplace.

Here’s the joke: I was already in my mid 40s by then, so you would think I ought to have known better, right?

But, and this is a sad “but”, if you hold this idealistic notion as I did then, you’re setting yourselves up for disappointment. Much better to put all your trust on our Maker, not mortal (read: fallen) men.

Okay, I gotta run. Next time, I’ll talk about another toxic group: the “Name-droppers!”

Catch you guys next weekend when you’re back.

Luv ya!


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