The Sun Tzu Fanboy: The Master of Malicious Mediocrity

Let’s press pause for a moment, on this fine day, to dive headfirst into a universal plight: management. In this melodrama, we’ll unmask the specter lurking in the shadowy corridors of middle management, the self-styled military strategist, the obnoxious aficionado of Sun Tzu.

Sun Tzu devotees are invariably masters of malignant mediocrity. This rule, dear readers, brooks no exception.

Allow me to clarify, my insightful hypothesis doesn’t hinge on subtle psychological probes but rather a parade of persistent observations. Still, it’s unswervingly on point.

Inheritor of a style of manipulation he will forever fumble, the soy sauce samurai is all about devious designs rather than grand strategies. Regardless of his perch in the pecking order, here’s some wisdom: steer clear. Luckily, the Sun Tzu groupie is effortlessly identifiable, flashing his well-thumbed copy of The Art of War from his middling manager mancave.

Early one morning, I venture into the chic cubicle of the newly anointed HR chief of the Action department.

“Howdy, Maxime! What devilish deeds are you cooking up?”

“Morning, Reznyk. It’s Maxence, not Maxime.”

“Oops, my bad, Max.”

“I’m profiling my colleagues, taking notes on their talents and strengths. It’ll help me deploy them judiciously when duty calls. Ever heard of Sun Tzu?”

Curiously, the Sun Tzu aficionado assumes he’s the lone luminary who’s perused the ancient text. As if every manager hadn’t inevitably browsed it during their managerial coming-of-age. Guilty as charged (oh, don’t act so shocked!). I cast a casual glance at his bookshelf. Bingo. A splendid hardcover from Septentrion Publishing. Quintessential Maxence, I muse.

“Oh no, haven’t gotten around to Soussou. Who’s this Soussou?”

Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance.

“Sun Tzu was a Chinese general from the 6th century BC. He penned this little gem called The Art of War. It’s fascinating how strategic tools crafted 25 centuries ago still resonate in our corporate jungle.”

This walking fortune cookie, our Sun Tzu enthusiast, is always ready to drop prawn-cracker platitudes while daring to draw the wildest of analogies. The paddy field is the open-plan office. The formidable foe is Jean-Louis in his corner cubicle. With a dash of creativity, the general’s wisdom ¹ could help you nail a cheese soufflé or ace at Operation.

“So, you’re saying your ancient tactician would compile a monstrous Excel sheet of his underlings?”

“Ha ha. Yes, sort of. Although, they obviously lacked the modern convenience of software back then.”

“Your Soussou sure got lucky that the Imperial bureaucracy wasn’t twisted enough to concoct something like CNIL ².”

A flicker of concern flashes in Maxence’s eyes as he takes a reassuring swig of his tea.

“Did anyone mention why your predecessor got shunted to accounting?”

Maxence gulps down another mouthful of tea ³, the worry lines etching deeper.

“Adrien had a system of annotations on individual files—post-its, florid phrases, color codes. The union rep he used to sip tea with eventually ousted him. A veritable bloodbath.”

Being an ardent believer in achieving victory with minimum cost and zero combat, if possible, Maxence lacks courage. Sure, he isn’t scared of a bruise or two while roughing it out with his krav-maga ⁴ pals, but a relocation to the corporate dungeon, sandwiched between Cathy and Caroline, sends chills down his spine. He already sees himself opposite Adrien, beneath the Gods of the Stadium calendar ⁵.

One final blow, and our dragon warrior will crumble.

“Close your eyes, and imagine the Big Boss being raked over the coals on Jean-Jacques Bourdin’s morning show ⁶. Torn to shreds by the public tribunal scandalized by what the press dubs the Maxgate.”

Maxence hastily deletes his celestial spreadsheet with a few frenzied clicks.

“Tread carefully, dear Maxou, your Uncle Reznyk won’t always be around. As my sage from the East says: The only souvenirs we collect here are bloody knuckles and broken bones.”

“Lao Tzu?”

“Kung Fu Panda.”

There are those who perceive every human interaction as a military standoff, itching for escalation into a delightful duel, a crucial skirmish in a greater war. These people have a name. We call them assholes.

Stanley Bing.

¹ Also applicable to Generals de Gaulle and Napoleon Bonaparte.

² National Commission on Informatics and Liberty. An independent French body ensuring the respect of personal data confidentiality.

³ It’s noteworthy that our Sun Tzu fanboy, like all sly foxes, enjoys his tea—imported directly from his master’s homeland, no doubt. The sneaky chap even stashes fancy tea gear in his office for clandestine tea-tasting ceremonies. Snoop around, you’ll find it.

⁴ It’s striking how 95% of Sun Tzu followers indulge in a brutal martial art, presumably to armor up for head-on confrontations with their unruly underlings.

⁵ A delightful calendar featuring nude, suggestive poses from hunky rugby players. One for every month.

⁶ French journalist, radio and television presenter known for his tough interviewing style on his morning show, Bourdin Direct. He was pulled from the airwaves following accusations of sexist harassment.

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