Suzanne – November 1978
Suzanne realised that she had made a mistake soon after she commenced her new job at the Home Office. She found that the junior colleague, who had applied for and been rejected for her position, was more than capable of registering his malcontent. Michael Peterson was a nightmare. His insubordination was so subtle that she sometimes even doubted herself that it was a fact and began to question whether she was being paranoid.
Peterson was a suave good-looking man in his early thirties Suzanne estimated. His manner was persuasive and he was popular with his female colleagues; a factor that he used to his advantage. Suzanne saw that he was very adept at taking credit for other’s efforts and foisting his own mistakes onto sub-ordinates. She suspected that he deliberately made mistakes that reflected badly on her as head of the department.
For the first time in her life Suzanne began to dislike going to work. Suzanne was well aware of the processes that were available to her in the form of disciplinary procedures but she doubted their efficacy in her favour. He was a clever adversary who was obviously brutal in his self-interest. He had not for a moment tried to get along with his new boss. Gradually he was persuading junior colleagues to take his side in the undeclared war on Suzanne. None of them would disregard Suzanne’s instructions entirely but she caught them double checking with Peterson who was in effect her deputy.
Suzanne debated with herself about mentioning her concerns to Mr Reynolds. She felt however that running to him with problems might weaken her position even further. Her friend and mentor would have been her natural recourse for support but Henry Lewis had retired not long after she had moved departments. He would now be sunning himself in Florida in the company of his sister she reflected with regret.
For the first time Suzanne questioned her own ability and wondered if she was too young for the responsibilities that the post carried. Her adversary, for that is how she had started to consider Peterson, was six or seven years her senior. That he was using his superior politicking to the detriment of her department and to the Home Office as a whole seemed academic at times. The point was he was winning.
Suzanne was aware that she was letting her emotions get in the way of her intellect. One Friday afternoon when she was desperate to get out of the office for the weekend, a feeling that until now had been completely foreign to her, she overheard Peterson countermand a particular request she had made to a team member. She was inwardly seething but remembered her father’s training of never to act in anger. Something had to be done. If she crumpled under the pressure of one colleague’s aggressive behaviour she would never be able to achieve her ambitions in the Civil Service. She decided on action. She would find a way to discredit Peterson so that he would have to leave the service in ignominy not her.
Over the weekend Suzanne applied her brains to the situation, trying to divorce her emotions entirely. Her problem had been that she was too nice. She had always been able to manage people with openness and honesty. This tactic was useless in this situation. When she had tried to engage Peterson in this way he had reacted with barely disguised contempt, which had almost made her lose her temper. Exactly what he hoped for in all probability: to make her look unprofessional and hysterical.
She remembered her conversation with Henry Lewis. He had mentioned an internal candidate who was ‘very keen but not considered quite right for the position.’ Suzanne had read Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ when she was at Oxford without any premonition that it may be of use one day. She was also a more than competent chess player, a skill which would help her to keep a few steps ahead of the game. She needed to think strategically and put a plan together. Suzanne began to warm to her task.
She tapped on her father’s door and poked her head around,
‘Dad, have you got ‘The Art of War’ on your shelves, I can’t find it?’ Jack pulled himself up from his desk chair by the window where he had been reading,
‘I haven’t seen it lately but that doesn’t mean that it’s not here.’ He poked along the bookshelves, straightening up some of the volumes as he looked, ‘What do you want it for?’ He asked, mildly.
‘Well it’s for a, er, a sort of strategy that I’m putting together for work.’
‘Ah! Didn’t know the Home Office went in for ancient warfare’ he remarked, dryly, ‘here it is!’ He pulled out an old worn leather volume and handed it to his daughter with a smile. ‘Perhaps you’d like to tell me about this strategy of yours over a glass of wine a bit later on? I’ve had one or two experiences of warfare in the workplace.’ Suzanne smiled with relief; silly she should have thought of consulting her father,
‘That would be great thanks Dad; how about before dinner, when I’m doing the cooking?’
Suzanne spent the afternoon dipping into Sun Tzu’s ancient treatise and considering how she could transfer the simple principles to her problem. As she read Suzanne became aware that all her actions so far had been defensive and predictable. Next week she would have the benefit of surprise, as her opponent would not be expecting her to go on the attack. The plan would have to be perfect as if it misfired it could hurt others and her own career. She would give him the rope to hang himself but it would have to be achieved in a controlled way so that no real damage could be done to the reputation of the department.
With a nascent plan forming in her mind Suzanne decided it was time for pre dinner drinks. She clattered down the stairs from her eyrie feeling lighter of heart than she had in weeks. She called her father as she passed his study and he joined her soon after, busying himself with pouring wine and laying the table as Suzanne chopped and stirred.
‘So tell me’ he invited, sitting at the kitchen table, looking expectantly at Suzanne’s back. She turned and smiled affectionately at him,
‘I’ll just finish this sauce and put it in the oven,’ ‘It’ was lasagne, a favourite of Jack’s, ‘and then I’ll sit down and drink my wine and tell you about it.’ When Suzanne had finished her tale of woe, which Jack listened to intently without interruption, he rebuked her gently for not having confided her worry before.
‘I thought there was something up Annie; you can always tell me you know. A trouble shared is a troubled halved and all that.’
‘I’m sorry Dad, I thought it was me not coping with the job and I thought you might be disappointed in me.’ Jack shook his head, ‘Silly child, not like you at all.’ He reached over and squeezed her hand affectionately. ‘Now what’s this plan you’re cooking up?’
Over dinner father and daughter discussed the plan that would put a stop to Peterson’s operations. Jack suggested a few enhancements but on the whole Suzanne’s plan seemed to be flawless. All it needed now was the careful preparation of various protagonists before the trap was sprung.
Suzanne – November 1978