Dede Drives the Discourse:


Episode 5: Snake in Sheep’s Clothing

This drive had been interesting from the get-go. I had picked up Nathan, a young aspiring private banker from a good-bye dinner party for his boss. What should have been, to some extent, a festive affair had put my passenger in a contemplative mood. Until finally, he uttered the words:

“Get them before they get you!”

Up until that point, I had barely paid much attention to my now visibly morose passenger. I looked back at him through my rear-view mirror and could still see him mouthing those words over and over again. After watching him do that for what appeared to be the fifth time, I decided to engage.

“What do you mean by those words, Nathan?”

In a moment of self-consciousness, Nathan let out a sheepish smile. He must have been unaware of what he was doing but did not seem too embarrassed that he had let me in on his thoughts.

“These were the words my boss said when I asked him what advice he would give me as a young banker. I still don’t know how to feel about them”, he said, “..but, I’m certain I know it came from a genuine place”.

“Really?”, I asked, giving him the impetus to continue. “Was your boss the good guy?”. I was acutely aware of the tendency for people to frame themselves or their loved ones as infallible victims whenever a situation resulted in an undesired outcome, and I had heard similar stories dozens of times.

“Not at all”, Nathan quipped,”Nobody who knows Jimmy, would call him a good guy. For me, he is certainly misunderstood. But aren’t we all?”

Nathan continued by describing his former boss, Jimmy, to be a happy-go-lucky, jovial character who certainly seemed to prioritise fun above competence. Jimmy also seemed to have a knack for convincing the most stubborn clients to bring their liquid assets under his management almost effortlessly.

As the head of private banking, Jimmy had enjoyed some status in society that allowed him to rub shoulders with the glitterati of Accra which was extremely important to him. However, Jimmy, an American-educated Ghanaian banker who wore his heart on his sleeve, was often described by his friends as brutally honest or as insulting and condescending behaviour from those less fond of him. Naturally, this led to enough “enemies” getting together, at least in Jimmy’s mind, to oust him from his position until he was ignominiously placed in charge of a desk as a way to encourage him to leave the institution.

Nathan continued, “You know what bothers me most? It’s the fact that I was always under the impression that work in the corporate world will mostly be about…you know… work. But there are so many more factors at play that I’m not too sure I’m comfortable with.”

“You know, when Jimmy told me this, I really was shocked. He certainly felt he should have devoted more time to dealing with his enemies or…better put…. dealing with those he knew had a vendetta against him. Obviously, in his mind, he underestimated them and perhaps felt a little too safe. He thought his work should speak for itself but even in that he believes he underestimated the role of envy”

“Can you elaborate on that?” I asked, eager to unpack and hopefully understand Nathan’s thoughts more fully.

“Well, what we sometimes fail to understand is that we encounter various types of personalities in the workplace, and so in our naivete we ascribe many of our own limitations and motivations to people before we even get to know them. For instance, it is easy to judge a leader for not taking his deputies to meetings and giving them a chance to interact with other managers until you understand how some deputies have used that same level of access to undermine their leaders and had them ousted. What is evident is that the leaders that presented such opportunities never imagined that this could be done to them and that is what led to their downfall.On the other hand, there have been stories where paranoid leaders have victimised hardworking and loyal deputies just based on their insecurities.”

Even the Bible is replete with examples of such leaders. When we look at how Saul felt about David, or how Herod was willing to kill babies just to stop the rise of the King, it is clear that even great talent can be eliminated without provocation. Or even controversially, from observing how David, as good as we all believe he is, orchestrated the death of Uriah, it is apparent that the naive notion that good things always lead to good results leaves one vulnerable.

Nathan’s last point about the examples in the Bible hit home. I had never looked at these stories from the perspective he just presented but it did seem to buttress his point. Uriah may not have been interested in being part of the “office politics”, but as long as he had something that others valued he would have been better off understanding how to “protect himself” from being a victim…and this may have been Jimmy’s point.

The Corporate world is not a safe space. It’s a bloodthirsty arena, where unsuspecting victims and unwilling martyrs are created everyday. I have no doubt that evil does not go unrecompensed and will always be vehemently opposed to taking advantage of the naive or weak, especially in the workplace. With that said, there is no excuse for “the just” to be sitting ducks in the workplace, expecting to succeed solely based on the mercy of their more vicious counterparts.

“Jimmy’s mistakes, won’t be mine”, Nathan said. “I must be aware of the traps set for me, the snakes in sheep’s clothing….

I interjected rather cheekily, “You mean wolves in sheep’s clothing…”

Nathan laughed, “No, everyone expects wolves to be in sheep’s clothing but… I’m expecting the unexpected…It could be a snake…or even a lion…or even a robot…”

It was good to see that Nathan had not allowed the conversation with Jimmy to keep him down. Somehow, I felt that the love Nathan had for Jimmy, made him see Jimmy’s forced departure from the organisation as a defeat. Nathan would indubitably find a way to keep pushing on since his success could count as vicarious victories for his mentor.


Hello, my name is Dede Nyansapo. I am an entrepreneur who also participates in Accra’s burgeoning gig economy as a driver. My love for meeting fascinating people and my curiosity about how they think usually places me in the midst of some very entertaining conversations. Invariably, these conversations lead to some key learnings that may be useful to anyone on their business journey.

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