You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency: Your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s-paws to disguise your involvement.
First of all, let us quickly explain two interesting concepts used in this law: paragon and ‘cats-paws’. A paragon is a perfect example. A shining example or even a very good example of a person or concept. A cats-paw, on the other hand, refers to an interesting story where the monkey holds the cat’s hand in order to get edible nuts from a fire. So, the cat’s paw gets burnt, while the monkey who actually ate the food has clean hands.
These two definitions set the tone for Law 26 of the 48 Laws of Power
In the context of the entrepreneur or small business owner, have a frontman. Call him an assistant, a PA, an SA, your GM or COO or even your logistics or protocol man. It matters little. What does matter is that there must be someone who does the dirty work. The legwork. A fall guy who can shield you from over exposure.
What this person does if effectively used, is to help maintain your reputation and personal brand. So if you need to deal with corrupt officials in a government agency for instance, the ‘PR’ is instituted by the assistant. You come in if at all only when it is necessary to meet the big man. And so as much as possible, you are able to maintain a clean persona.
”But our own is always different”
Of course, as with most other concepts in business and management, we in Nigeria have been able to turn things upside down. And so, a quick scan of the business terrain in Lagos for example, strongly suggests the opposite. It is the businessmen and women who in fact get their hands dirty deliberately, that seem to succeed. Those who show to the world that they are ready to ‘play ball’ and ‘carry everybody along’ invariably get ahead. Far ahead of others in fact.
And the reason is simple – the people who are in positions of authority in many institutions both public and private rose through the ranks on the back of corruption. Now, the frontman is either an errand boy or a henchman who simply threatens greater repercussions from his even sterner boss if the ‘right thing’ is not done.
So, should entrepreneurs in Lagos then shelve the advice of Law 26? No. The tide is turning albeit slowly. The business environment in the country is being sanitized. This year alone, Governor Ambode has sacked at least three top government officials. And there are rumours of more sacks to come, at the very highest level of his cabinet. It may not be ‘business as usual’ going forward.
The economics of reputation; reputation for the right things
And it is now more than ever that reputations will start to count.This week, Tony Elumelu was awarded the Africa investor Person of the Year in New York. This is a master of personal branding on whom little if any mud can be found. From a previous generation, Mr. Felix ohiwerei of nierian Breweries also gained national accolade from managing a clean reputation throughout his career.
These are the examples of business people and entrepreneurs who repeatedly show that an investment in personal branding can pay huge dividends.
They understand the economics of reputation and have exercised that knowledge to full effect. Yet, to come through the Nigerian system, it is inconceivable that they didn’t have to bend the rules on many occasions. So how did they do it? Typically, through efficient and loyal lieutenants. Men and women who would literally lay their own reputations on the line for the ‘boss’.
But the story ends with a caveat – the loyalist who must do the dirty work on their principal’s behalf must be very well remunerated. They must be well paid. One, for helping to keep the boss’ nose clean sometimes at great personal cost, and two because they are privy to some of your dirtiest secrets.
Nothing damages a reputation more than the expose of an aggrieved insider.