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The Trojan Candidate

Trojanhorse"I can't tell who I'm running against sometimes."

OK, I think I've figured out why I don't like Barack Obama.  If you recall, before the Iowa Caucuses, I mentioned that he looked and sounded really presidential, but there was just something about him that my gut said, "No way!"

Well, if his "you're likeable enough" comment to Hillary during the New Hampshire debate didn't turn my stomach, last night's South Carolina "whine with cheese" certainly did.  Mind you, I'm not arguing against the validity of the comment.  The Clinton machine is at top speed.  Both Hillary and Bill are creating a full-court press after being blindsided by Obama three weeks ago.  And, as is unfortunately normal in politics, facts and records are being distorted to make Barack look bad.

But come on... Obama is complaining about a "home court advantage" that he knew existed between the Clintons before he got into this race.  Hillary is the closest thing to an incumbent in this election, so for him to level that kind of comment seems petty at best.

But this post isn't really about national politics.  I'm using it to demonstrate a phenomenon of office politics... something I like to call the "Trojan Horse/Sacrificial Lamb" approach.  It's the office politics approach to using a hit man, and it is especially common with bullies in the work place.  Why dirty your own hands when you can get somebody else to do it?  I used to work for a consulting firm that was notorious for hiding the accountability of attacks among it's owners/management staff.  If you think you might be the victim of this approach, here are some things to look out for:

  • Relationship with "attacker" - does this person have a valid reason to attack you?  Have they ever?
  • "Attacker's" relationships - does this person have relationships with people whom you consider opponents?  How close are the relationships?
  • Logic - Does the attack make sense?  Did you do something (inadvertently or on purpose) to warrant the attack?
  • Outcome - What do you stand to lose and what does your attacker stand to gain?

If you think the attacker may be working on somebody else's behalf, don't fall into the shoot the messenger mode.  That is probably the outcome the mastermind is after.  You two go on the attack of each other while the master-mind rises above the fray.  This kind of relationship requires you to do a little more investigating.  Keep calm about the attack.  If you cannot stay calm while the attack is going on, try to gain some time before you engage the attacker.  Ask a lot of questions to gain understanding.  Ask the right kinds of questions, and the "Trojan Horse" generally tips his hand.  Talk to other people who may be involved in the conflict to gain a more objective view.

Remember:  your goal initially may not be to survive the attack as much as it is to figure out who or what is really behind the attack.  This should be the case regardless of whether your attacker is acting alone or on behalf of another.  After all, one of the key steps of office politics is to understand the players, their motives, and the environment.

I do have to give Obama credit for one thing last night:  he called their strategy for what it was (even if his wording and approach could have used some finesse).

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Comments

Rush Nigut

Sorry, but I couldn't disagree with you more about Obama.

I will agree that the debate format is not his strength but he is a brillant orator that has the ability to inspire. He holds his own in debates though and I certainly didn't see anything in his performance last night that was a crushing blow to his campaign.

Considering the fact that he has faced a constant barrage of criticism from the former President he has stood up remarkably well.

What I think is interesting is how you related this situation to office politics. I think you give some really great insight. But to continue with your hypothetical, how would you handle it if we are talking about a very powerful (and popular) executive who is on the attack. How would you handle it if you were the office worker under attack?

Timothy Johnson

Rush - I agree that Obama has good oration skills, but I don't think he held up as well as you give him credit for last night. Again, a lot of my issue with Barack goes back to gut feel... I've just not liked him since day 1... completely intuitive and without basis... my gut just isn't there with the guy. Maybe that clouded my perception of him during the debate last night, but in reading some of the banter today, I wasn't the only one who felt that way.

To get to your question. If the executive is popular, then there may be some basis to the attack. However, I've found that "popular" executives don't attack. They challenge. They call for accountability. But they don't attack. If an executive crosses the line of bad behavior, I will let them know that I don't appreciate the tone. If it means I lose a client, that's fine. I have zero tolerance for adults who can't act like adults. I have had to deliver the difficult message to executives in the past, and some times they apologize; some times it means the end of the relationship. Powerful executives (i.e., bullies) will attack. As I said in my post, though, I will listen and start asking questions. I'm not above reproach, and if I screwed something up, I will apologize and try to make it right.

Rush Nigut

RE: Office politics. That is an interesting viewpoint and thanks for sharing the additional insight.

RE: National politics. As far as your gut, I am a big believer that you must trust your gut. We agree on that. It's just kind of funny that Hillary Clinton turns my stomach for apparently the same reasons that Barack Obama turns yours. When she supposedly found her "voice" I just wasn't convinced it was actually hers. The change theme, the young people behind the podium in her New Hampshire victory speech, all of it was stealing a page from Obama's playbook. It seemed to me to be politics as usual and playing to polls rather than sticking with her true convictions. But as John Edwards said in his book "Four Trials", reasonable people can differ.

Thanks for the opportunity to banter.

Rush

Timothy Johnson

Banter is always great, Rush, and we've known each other long enough to "disagree agreeably."

To be honest, I'm not that huge of a Hillary fan either. The winner of this election has the same dubious honor as being told that they're in the top 1% of the bottom third of the class.

The entire candidate field is less than inspiring (rhetoric and oration skills notwithstanding)

Eric Peterson

Tim & Rush,
It was nice to see your friendly disagreement on national politics. I have always been turned off to politics, because I felt "political talks" just always turned into pissing matches and caused huge disagreements (especially when brought up around the dinner table). However, this go around I have made a conscious effort to dive in and really pay attention to the candidates and their ideas. I am bound and determined to cast a vote for who I think is the best candidate, as opposed to my previous votes, which were from an uneducated citizen that didn't really care who was president! (I know........It was a pretty pathetic thing)! After the last 8 years I've realized that the President really DOES matter.....(I'll let you infer from there).

On to Office Politics: I thought you had some great tips Tim. Thank you. I will be paying close attention to these as I deal with coworkers at my work! One thing I'm wondering though: Can you give me some tips on distinguishing between "challenging and accountability" and "attacking?" I think there are far too many people that come under a challenging executive, and label it wrong by calling it an attack! Their perception of what is going on is inaccurate. Or, maybe it goes back to our lengthy discussion with April and Wade, and it's really about their choosing to be "attacked," instead of "challenged" and "held accountable."

PS - Good luck with your Creativity class. I really wanted to take that class, but I just "CAN'T" give up my bowling night!! I know.......it's all about priorities. In all seriousness though, I am really looking to dive into my creativity in the workplace, so if you have classroom activities/projects that can be brought to the real world, I would love to hear about them (and maybe try them out on my own - without receiving a grade)!

Timothy Johnson

Eric - good for you on the national politics. I'm paying attention to the elections, but primarily for entertainment purposes. As I mentioned to Rush, none of the candidates are appealing to me immensely.

For your question, there are a lot of variables. The first and obvious is body language and vocal tone. Add into that the relational history between the parties and the incident in question. Those should give you a lot of clues for which camp the exchange falls into.

Part of it does fall into what we talked about on April Groves' blog a couple of months ago. I've called people into accountability and they went off crying that they'd been attacked. There was one person with whom I used to serve on a volunteer board who was notorious for crying wolf.

We'll miss you in the class. Bowling vs. Creativity... sheesh, dude, I should feel attacked for losing out to smelly shoes, loud noises, and bad polyester. :)

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