“You are a worm who thought himself a serpent just because you slither.
But your power was not real, Pliny.
It was all a dream. Time now to wake.”
So. I would guess that most of us have run across a slitherer in business <let alone Life>.
A business slitherer?
One of those people who seem to slither in and around and as close to the edge of what is legal, ethical or right but never seems to cross any particular line far enough that someone can say unequivocally they have done something criminally wrong.
A slitherer slithers through all the same things most of us in business and in life do, but does it in a way that seems corrupt <although it may not be>, seems illegal <although it may not be>, seems unethical <although it may not be> and seems inappropriate <although it may not be too everyone>.
That is the characteristic of one who slithers through Life.
“Seems” taints everything they do and, well, everything we do. A slitherer figures out a way to be held to a slightly different standard which ‘seems’ wrong, but no one can point to any real specific, provable, criminally wrong behavior.
Now. It always helps everyone to have someone defend you and, somehow, the one who slithers through business almost always has supporters. Those supporters mostly rally around the quasi-indefensible behavior because a slitherer is a proven survivor. And, yes, in a world in which surviving attrition may actually be a key to success … a persistent survivor can be viewed as an attractive ship to tie your line to <even if it is a ship of dubious lineage>.
But maybe the worst thing about someone who slithers their way to whatever success they gain is the team that ends up surrounding them.
Although I am no real prize for any boss, I would never work for a slitherer – my ethical and moral compass steers me too far away from any “seems wrong” behavior to make a position like that viable for me — or, I imagine, for a slitherer boss.
“Round and round they went with their snakes, snakily…”
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
My point on that is slitherers seek slitherers. It is a weird type of loyalty. It isn’t really loyalty to the person it is more loyalty to the fact you can behave in a way that ‘seems’ inappropriate on occasion but ‘seems’ okay to your boss <if not even applauded>.
We do not fire people for being seemingly unethical behavior or seemingly clueless behavior or seemingly inappropriate behavior. Appearance of behavior just makes people feel uncomfortable but it is typically not a fireable offense … it is just offensive.
And, yet, a slitherer thrives in the seemingly offensive behavior. They thrive because as their heinous behavior shrinks them, in some ways, it also grows their ability to slither around the edges of true illegal, true criminal, true unethical to do what they want to do the way they want to do it.
To be clear. A good day for a slitherer is different than a good day for most of the rest of us.
Good to them is a “win”, or some version of successful outcome, done ‘their way’ of which no one can point to any specific wrong doing or completely unethical behavior <which, by the way, to them, is a type of success in and of itself>. Their ‘good win’ doesn’t have to actually contain any of what most of us would consider ‘good’ to be considered success.
To be clear. Most good organizations foster a culture which tends to expel slitherers. Good cultures which foster moral & ethical behavior tend to avoid slithering close to any lines and therefore tend to treat slitherers as a virus to the organization itself.
I do worry, on occasion, that the good slitherers <which is actually an oxymoron> survive in any organization and are constantly trying to infect the organization itself <and, given the right circumstances, actually can take over an organization>.
I wrote this today because it has been sitting in my draft folder for a long time as an organizational behavior business piece and now I can point out that our president is a slitherer.
He slithers through all the same things most of us in business and in life do but he does it in a way that seems corrupt <although it may not be>, seems illegal <although it may not be>, seems unethical <although it may not be> and seems inappropriate <although it may not be too everyone>.
Just watch. Trump will slither his way in and out of any seemingly illegal, corrupt, unethical event he places himself in. That is what a good slitherer does. And, yes, good slitherer is an oxymoron, but, in a way, President Trump is also.
Just know that we have a slitherer as a President.
originally posted June 2017