(sĭk′ə-fənt, sī′kə-)


A person who attempts to gain advantage by flattering influential people or behaving in a servile manner.

I couldn’t believe how well I was received in my new role.  With little or no experience and very little history with the brokers that were calling on me, they were already treating me as if I were a seasoned veteran and that we were old friends.  I even started to form deep relationships and interact with them the way I would good friends.  And then my boss told me something that rocked my world.

“Don’t ever forget:  It is not you, it is the money you manage.”

And he couldn’t have been more right.  In fact, while there were literally billions of reasons why they should be interested in me at the time, there wasn’t much left of most of the friendships when the money was gone.  My two decades of investment management and those thousands of hours on the phone with all those people yielded very little in the way of real relationships.  I have had contact with three of them since I left that world and only one still remains a good friend.

And you know what, that is not an indictment of any of them in the least.  In fact, I am really horrible at maintaining relationships long term.  My Enneagram 8 says that I am all about what I am all about and have extreme focus and drive toward what is right in front of me.  I also have very little in the tank for what is not.

We all have relationships purely driven by the work we do together.  Those are actually a necessary part of the way the business world works.  The brokers I dealt with were largely really great people.  They all had families to support and jobs to keep.  They aggressively pursued me and built relationships because their jobs depended on it.

But for most, it wasn’t me, it was the money I managed.

The tragedy would be in not realizing that fact.  All around us there are transactions going on…the sad part is that we don’t always understand the reality of what is being given and what is being taken.  This is a crucial mistake.

A famous CEO was told to prepare himself for his new role.  The second the title appeared on his business card, he would immediately be:

  • funnier than everyone else and his jokes would always land

  • the smartest guy in the room where his every idea was great

  • the one whose every opinion seemed to be the best

  • given less input from those he managed

The reality is that almost every company has sycophants in them.  I’ve sat in rooms with teams that didn’t agree with, like, or think the leader was very funny.  And I’ve watched them nod their heads in agreement, laugh, and act as if they really liked and enjoyed the leader.  And that is not an indictment of any of them in the least.  It is a necessary survival skill.  Darwinism at it’s best.

And you know who sets the table that way?  We do.  The only one capable of establishing that disorder or restoring order is us.  The more senior you are in your organization, the more at risk you are.  The error is not in the fact that it occurs, it is that we don’t recognize it for what it really is and adjust.

It is easy to point at the fallen pastor, the exposed politician, or the mistakes of arrogant athletes, but it is just as pervasive in the business world and it is all sourced to the same kind of root system.

Pride comes before the fall.

Sycophants come before the pride.


  • Do you have yes-men and yes-women in your company?

  • Do you know that you are not funnier, more clever, or smarter than everyone else?

  • Do you know that their honesty is the path to sustainable success?

  • Do you know that the foundation of every great organization is trust fueled by honesty?