Phil Never Loses

Published Mensa M-Anation Feb 2020

The other day, talking to Mark Gorkin who specializes in burn-out recovery and teamwork, I realized I too have a few stories that deal with work. Here’s one with a boss’s trait worth knowing about.


Three card players, gambling.

My boss, Phil, used to brag, “I’ve never lost an argument at work.  Whether it’s about which teams get assigned a project by the Big Boss or what I rate you at, I never lose those arguments.  Not like Dan, that loser.”  At first, I thought this is laudable.  I’m working for somebody who will get me promoted quickly as long as I do as I knew I could. 

Yet after reviews that March, I only got a middling rating.   The next year was a bit better, but I was still a programmer, not an analyst.  The year after that I moved up to very good, but you had to be outstanding to be promoted.

That year I joined the IT bowling league and got a chance to meet other members of the staff, including Dan.  During the holiday season, Dan asked me if I’d like to work for him.  I said, “Let me talk it over with Phil.”   He said, “I don’t want Phil.  I want somebody who works.  Make up your own mind.” 

Taking stock, I had to admit I was going nowhere with Phil.  A couple of my buddies had already made analyst.  I was as good as them.  So I said, “Sure, Dan.  I’d like to work with you.”

There was some back and forth maneuvering before it became final, including Phil saying, “You’re giving up a sure, steady job with me.  You’ll be starting over at the bottom with Dan, the loser.”

When the announcement was made that I was going to Dan, it came with a promotion to analyst!

The first day at my new position, I told Dan what a pleasant surprise the promotion had been to me.  Phil had said I’d be starting over at the bottom.

Dan laughed.  “If I’d know you listened so much to Phil, I’m not sure I’d want you on my team.”

I asked him what he meant.

“Look,” he said, “I liked the way you attacked the pins at bowling.  I asked around and got good reports on you. I didn’t ask Phil, but he found out and came to me, said you were a good programmer, but he wouldn’t swear you were a superstar.”

My eyebrows must have shot up then, for Dan added, “Don’t you know why Phil never loses an argument?”  He didn’t wait for me to reply, but went on.  “Because he never proposes anything that might lose.  Like you,” Dan pointed with his finger, “he wouldn’t rate you outstanding, because some other manager might argue against it, trying to get their own star programmer that rating.  Honestly,” he shook his head slowly, “haven’t you wondered why this year is the first time you’ve been rated very good?”

“But Phil says …”

“Ignore what Phil says from now on.”  Dan stood up and looked over the cubicles towards Phil’s cube.

“I know what Phil says about me.  I’m a loser.  My ideas get shot down. Some do, but not all of them.  I rate my people as I see them.  If I get overruled, at least I’ve stood up for what I believe in.”

My boss, Phil, used to brag, “I’ve never lost an argument at work.? Whether it’s about which teams get assigned a project by the Big Boss or how I rate you, I never lose.? Not like Dan, that loser.”? At first, I thought this is laudable.? I’m working for somebody who will get me promoted quickly as long as I do as I knew I could.?

Yet after reviews that March, I only got a middling rating.   The next year was a bit better, but I was still a programmer, not an analyst.  The year after that I moved up to very good, but you had to be outstanding to be promoted.

That year I joined the IT bowling league and got a chance to meet other members of the staff, including Dan.? During the holiday season, Dan asked me if I’d like to work for him.? I said, “Let me talk it over with Phil.”? ?He said, “I don’t want Phil.? I want somebody who works.? Make up your own mind.”?

Taking stock, I had to admit I was going nowhere with Phil.? A couple of my buddies had already made analyst.? I was as good as them.? So I said, “Sure, Dan.? I’d like to work with you.”

There was some back and forth maneuvering before it became final, including Phil saying, “You’re giving up a sure, steady job with me.? You’ll be starting over at the bottom with Dan, the loser.”

When the announcement was made that I was going to Dan, it came with a promotion to analyst!

The first day at my new position, I told Dan what a pleasant surprise the promotion had been to me.? Phil had said I’d be starting over at the bottom.

Dan laughed.? “If I’d know you listened so much to Phil, I’m not sure I’d want you on my team.”

I asked him what he meant.

“Look,” he said, “I liked the way you attacked the pins at bowling.? I asked around and got good reports on you. I didn’t ask Phil, but he found out and came to me, said you were a good programmer, but he wouldn’t swear you were a superstar.”

My eyebrows must have shot up then, for Dan added, “Don’t you know why Phil never loses an argument?”? He didn’t wait for me to reply, but went on.? “Because he never proposes anything that might lose.? Like you,” Dan pointed with his finger, “he wouldn’t rate you outstanding, because some other manager might argue against it, trying to get their own star programmer that rating.? Honestly,” he shook his head slowly, “haven’t you wondered why this year is the first time you’ve been rated very good?”

“But Phil says …”

“Ignore what Phil says from now on.”? Dan stood up and looked over the cubicles towards Phil’s cube.

“I know what Phil says about me.  I’m a loser.  My ideas get shot down. Some do, but not all of them.  I rate my people as I see them.  If I get overruled, at least I’ve stood up for what I believe in.”


Image: Tricheurs by Mathieu Le Nain. 17th Century. WikiCommons. Public Domain

  1 comment for “Phil Never Loses

  1. June 17, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Powerful story, Bob, clear, concise. I’d like to hear more of what you personally took from the experience. Maybe a Part II’

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