A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
July 31st, 2015 by William

If You Want to Know Where the Food is–Follow the Fat People

Have you noticed that we don’t hear the term “fat cat” used much anymore? I’m surprised given the relentless modern day attack on the supposed evil people running big business and the exorbitant salaries they command. I Googled the term and got thousands of links to stories and pictures of literally cats that are fat, but no recent news article where a reporter has used the term to describe a captain of industry or politician.

The term “fat cat” was originally used in in the United States in the 1920s to describe rich political donors. The New York Times described fat cats as symbols of “a deeply corrupt campaign finance system riddled with loopholes,” or the recipients of the “perks of power,” who were able to “buy access and influence.” The term’s coinage has been attributed to Frank Kent, a writer for the Baltimore Sun whose essay “Fat Cats and Free Rides” appeared in the magazine American Mercury.

From a business perspective, it’s a slang term used to describe executives who earn unreasonably high salaries. The term conjures up the image of cats that consume more than an appropriate amount of food and become grossly overweight–food being the perfect metaphor for money. So it naturally follows that to obtain money the best place to start is with the people with the money–if you want to know where the food is–follow the fat people.

We demonize these fat cat captains of industry claiming it’s because we deplore the inequity of the salaries at the top versus those at the bottom. Personally I think it’s more personal–we really don’t like what we see when we look in the mirror. The hard truth is that most all of us have our sights set on rising up the corporate ladder and eventually being a fat cat and having enough cash to do and buy the things we want. Admittedly some may not be in it necessarily for the money. They may strive for status and power in one form or another. In this case status and power again serve as the perfect metaphor for being fat. If we’re true to ourselves we all strive to be a fat cat whether we like that term, or the people it describes.

All of us are constantly grappling with how we’re going to get to the top in the shortest possible time and reap the associated benefits. Many of us believe that the road to the top is paved with good intentions, when in fact it’s the road to hell that is paved with good intentions.

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), the Irish author, playwright and poet is credited with saying that “No good deed goes unpunished.” I’ve written about this comical reality before. Fact is it’s why there really is no meritocracy in business. Thus if you think that you can rise to the top by the merits of your actions you are sadly deluding yourself. The fact is that for most of us to get to the top we’ll need to practice a combination of good intention AND sucking up to the fat cats in power.

What’s that you say? There is no way you’d ever stoop down to ass-kissing to get ahead. “I’m not going to play that game. I’m going to be rewarded by my own merits and career achievements!” Let me be the first to welcome you and your unrealistic and short-sighted view of humankind to the modern dysfunctional workplace. The fact is if that’s how you feel all I can say is good luck in your endeavors. You’d better get comfortable at the back of the bus–the same bus you’ll one day undoubtedly end up under at the hands of your ass-kissing colleagues. You see in the real world only the cut-throat, ass kissing sycophants get to climb the ladder to the top.

Every career plan needs to have, dare I say must have, a clear understanding of how to augment good deeds, intentions and hard work with down and dirty dabbling in brownnosing and ass-kissing. Of all the hard skills that you’ll develop throughout your career only ingratiating behavior is the one that needs to be practiced and perfected if you really want to move to the top. Don’t believe me? According to research from James Westphal and Ithai Stern at the Kellogg School of Management, “being adept at ingratiating behavior was the number-one factor for getting positions at the top of the corporate ladder.”

Fact is that everyone is looking for the extra edge on the other person. If you and a co-worker are equally as valuable and skilled at your jobs and only one of you can get a promotion, who do you think your supervisor will pick? There are lots of people with the right degrees and résumés, so if you want to be the kind of employee fat cats (and sociopathic bosses) yearn for; you must find a way to stick out of the crowd. And by sticking out I mean you simply must be the person that he likes better than all the others. And why might he like one person over another? Simple–he’s human and like everyone is susceptible, and will succumb to, someone kissing his ass, flattering him, agreeing with his every idea and generally doing anything to pump up his ego. When a person’s primary goal is arriving at the upper crust, there’s no limit to what you’ll need to do to achieve that goal.

Of course this sounds unfair but it is the reality of the modern workplace. To get ahead it’s not simply a matter of sucking up. You must suck up to the right people. So who are the right people, and where do I start, you may be asking? It’s simple really–if you want to know who to suck up to just remember this simple truism: “if you want to know where the food is–follow the fat people.”

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