[syc·o·phant – ˈsikəˌfant,ˈsikəfənt/ noun. A person who acts obsequiously toward someone important in order to gain an advantage. See: ingratiating, fawning, servile, groveling, subservient, cringing, humble-acting, hypocritical, insincere, gushing, effusive, glib, smooth, slick, slippery, oily, greasy, smarmy, slimy, parasitic, non-authentic, false, fake.
In ancient Greece, sykophantēs meant “slanderer.” It derives from two other Greek words, sykon (meaning “fig”) and phainein (meaning “to show or reveal”). … Another possible source is a sense of the word fig meaning “a gesture or sign of contempt” (as thrusting a thumb between two fingers). — Merriam-Webster]
The code for human being resides deep inside us — the most vital synthesis of DNA — the program for our human brilliance. It is perhaps the core program we emerge to run at birth, by Nature, with nurture. And yet, since the code is within us, why do so few of us manifest and sustain our human brilliance long enough for our unique and singular genius to characterize our lives? Isn’t this one of the core questions for human civilization? Consider the profound potential for leaders, teams, and nations everywhere?
For many people, somewhere between birth and death comes the distraction of insecurity so compelling that the notion of inner greatness is reduced to embarrassment and disbelief, preempting the shear consideration of personal brilliance. Thereafter, our response to the suggestion of our brilliance prompts self-consciousness, confusion or denial. Some, regarding their own status to be permanently doubtful, choose — like remora sharksuckers— to adhere to another’s status strategically.
The availability of the full potential of each member of the team totals toward greatness — and the opposite is also true. In “public spaces” we are given ample opportunities to gaze into the magnificence of human brilliance in teams that offer windows for witnessing — in sports, the arts, and the political theater. They serve as labs for learning. As we watch the public plays, we compare the characters and types to our less public workplaces. Yet, to make a constructive difference, an effort is required.
The remarkable character on the team effectiveness stage today is the sycophant. We are living in the age of sycophantic delusion.
It is all too common to witness the proliferation and absurd persistence of the subculture of sycophants who take “sucking up” to new lows daily. If it weren’t for the severe opportunity cost, it still would be sad, or silly, or extreme in other ways, as a parody of achieving behavior. A spoof on loyalty, teamwork and respectability.
For most of humanity in so-called modern cultures, the pre-disposal about our personal insufficiency grows like killer weeds to block out the sun of special hope and distinction. Whole industries are sustained by this. People willingly inhabit workspace cultures of discouragement and disengagement – better to belong somewhere, have some job, be abused, be disrespected, than to temporarily have no job. If you read this with doubt, perhaps you haven’t understood the substantiating data reporting the high percentage of employees who are disengaged in the workspace. Everyone would be pleased to manifest their creative brilliance, but as consulting firm Bain & Company reports, “We found that less than 15% of people we surveyed would answer that their job inspired them.”
Sychophants come in a variety of personal needs. Some hide their insecurity better than others, but most are convincing thespians. Each of them has resigned from personal greatness, adopting instead a strategy of proximate greatness. How sad.
There is the A-sycophant, who may be convinced of the greatness of the nominal leader, and acts with absolute conviction about the ethical and spiritual superiority of that leader. What these sycophants say and how they configure it is a testament not to truth, but to rigorous support of literally anything the nominal leader does. The A-sycophant devotes creativity to instantly embellish and promote the leader’s absurdity. They bend failure to “success.” Their aim is to keep company with the persona of authority, regardless of the breach. We have seen such sycophants as Vice President, Press Secretaries, and Counselor to the President, to name a few in public view. In contrast, we have the Secretary of Defense.
There is the B-sycophant, who is terrified by threats of consequence for disloyalty to the nominal leader — even while his or her job obligates to thousands of voting constituents. At times we see such sycophants’ discomfort with the naked grossness of the nominal leader, yet they persevere to find words of praise as cameras record their cowardly compliance. We have seen such sycophants in the role of Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman. In contrast, we have the senior Senator from Arizona.
Then, there are the common C-sycophants, silent and in the shadows seeking obscurity. Determined to not give the nominal leader an excuse for reprisal, vindictive spew or torrid tweet. This is the common mold of the C-sycophant, for most don invisibility cloaks, hoping to not be noticed, or interviewed, or grouped with the A or the B-sycophants — for added fear of loss of anonymity. Fear is their motivation, and survival is their goal. They do not gaze into mirrors.
The sycophants are all self-absorbed. Some are florid narcissists. Most are sociopathic in their behavior. If there is a salaciousness to being political, the sycophants would teach the class.
Clearly, real leaders do not need sycophants, and I have often seen real leaders dismiss sycophants out of principal or points of virtue (completely confusing the sycophants, too). Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis toughly eschews sycophants, feeling that judgment is best tested with those who clearly speak truth to power. Pope Francis lives in a world of symbolism and ceremony but favors humility and significant acts over the political protocol. Real leaders offer no stage for sycophants to play. Their credo is the worthy mission or the relevant core human values, not the man or woman’s vanity, fame or fortune.
Sometimes things must get increasingly mediocre and then turn really bad — a despairing decline which forecasts catastrophe — before we acknowledge the desperate state of things, the new norm of dysfunction. This is where we stand today, as factors limiting human brilliance preside so profoundly in the workspace as to disrupt us, anger us, inconvenience us, and prompt long-appropriate revulsion. It is now a global problem.
We profit from increasing signs of social willingness to finally change stupefying workplace culture conditions sustained under the authority of benumbing nominal leaders who bred and slopped their sycophants like litters of tiny political swine.
Increasingly, we are witnessing the Feminine Devine rising to defeat repressive new norms. Wisdom’s betting this is not a “bubble.”
I believe the new year can offer us hope: That real leaders will act clearly and decisively for various worthy missions and universal core human values. And that the C-sycophants will pivot accordingly to emerge as brilliant leaders, so aligned.
Your natural human brilliance is crucially important. Set the example. What can you do to make it manifest more each day?
Stay tuned …