"Just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they're not after you." Joseph Heller, Catch 22.
...Or that you don't have enemies, as one of my former bosses used to say.
We all face opposition to our ideas, efforts, and agendas in day-to-day business activities. Usually our opponents are easy to identify, and conduct much of their maneuvers out in the open. With a little ingenuity and effort, they can often be counteracted.
Sometimes, however, there are hidden opponents acting against you. An unknown enemy strikes using unexpected tactics, delivered through unsuspected agents, and clandestinely undermines you. And the worst part: Considerable damage can be done before you are even aware there is anything wrong.
I've seen this done many times, and I've also been a victim.
One of my direct reports once crossed a corporate staffer. I'm not ever sure he knew exactly he'd done to create such hostility, and I was never privy to details of the initial offense, but whatever happened was enough to produce an enemy. Rather than confronting my subordinate, however, the staff member conducted an undercover campaign to discredit him. I became aware something was going on when she remarked to me: "Kevin seems remarkably unknowledgeable about accounting and finance for so senior a manager."
I'd seen nothing to indicate the weakness, and defended my employee. But I could tell there was more to this than met the eye. I later learned that the same comment had been repeated to the company's CEO and CFO, and given the corporate culture, the two of them poked and prodded at every opportunity to see if my subordinate would trip up and make a mistake, thus proving the staffer right. I knew it was only a matter of time before some weakness was uncovered and exploited – regardless of its significance or relevance to doing his job effectively.
Besides defending the subordinate, the only other thing I could do was to let him know (confidentially) the source of the hostility. That gave him the opportunity to address whatever problem existed between the two of them, and ultimately stopped the witch hunt. It is important to note that without being able to identify the enemy force, my subordinate would have never been able to end his persecution. Ultimately, it would have likely cost him his job.
In the situation where I was a victim of an unknown enemy, my opponent was not quite as clever. He was a subordinate several layers down in the organization who seemed to get his jollies by starting outrageous rumors -- some of them targeted at me. Nevertheless, the situation had potential to be quite damaging to my reputation, and initially I was frustrated at not being able to identify the person responsible.
I did some serious investigating and eventually one of my allies in the company pinpointed the source of the rumors. All it took was for him to realize I knew he was behind the gossip to get it to stop. He eliminated any temptation I might have felt to retaliate by quitting a few weeks later.
In both instances, and many more I've experienced/observed over the years, fighting back against an unknown opponent was proved to be impossible. That is why the first thing you must do once you realize you have an unidentified enemy is to do everything possible to discover their identity. Once you've got your enemy in your sights, you can develop a reasonable strategy to end their assault and repair any damage.
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Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS