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Why Is It Always Yes Men and Not Yes Women?

17/06/2014 15:18 BST | Updated 16/08/2014 10:59 BST

Men are either sycophants or narcissists. A fortunate few can even be both, such as the frankly scary Dominic Cummings, a close ally of Education Secretary Michael Gove and a person who is unlikely to have ever uttered the words: 'Sorry, you're right.'

Dominic has rebuked David Cameron for surrounding himself with nodding boot-lickers who, to disguise the fact that they are so 'out of their depth', habitually agree with the Prime Minister fearing that any outspokenness - which is something of a speciality of Dom's - might weaken their positions. He even calls Cameron's chief of staff, Ed Llewellyn 'a classic third-rate suck-up-kick-down sycophant presiding over a shambolic court'.

All of this pathetic posturing is just another episode in the increasingly bitter Centrist v Right-wing in-fighting that is slowly destroying the Conservative Party as it struggles for direction - and thus utterly boring.

What's fascinating, however, is Cummings' assertion that sycophancy causes weakness at the top, that it leads to a catastrophic inertia within large organisations whose strength ought to be reflected in freedom of thought.

Even Machiavelli, who knew a thing or two about leadership, wrote: 'There is no other way to guard yourself against flattery than by making men understand that telling you the truth will not offend you.'

So why are men so incapable of either telling the truth or hearing it? Why are we not able to tell someone that 'Yes, your bum does look big in that' and then appear inconsolable when told 'Maybe that t-shirt is a little tight on you now'.

Because the weakest of us want an easy life and to avoid conflict - and either narcissism or sycophancy are the key ingredients to attaining both.

We either love and admire ourselves so much - truly believe in our genius and beauty - that we're safe in the knowledge that no one else can possibly compete. Or we know that by adoring others with lush words and toe-curling flattery, we'll protect ourselves from strife.

You rarely hear the phrase Yes Women because it's men that fool themselves into believing that slavishly agreeing - a particularly demeaning form of intellectual castration - will somehow make themselves seem better people.

Think Jonathan Ross in the most absurdly ingratiating moments on his not-terribly-lamented chatshow, in which appalling films starring hapless Hollywood incompetents were so effusively praised that the host veered dangerously into Alan Partridge territory.

Or that England cricket captain Alistair Cook foolishly believed jettisoning the most talented English cricketer - Kevin Pietersen - because he dared speak his mind would make the captaincy easier and give Cook the air of authority.

I once worked with someone whose inability to countenance debate was matched only by his thirst for flattery. He surrounded himself only with people who would tell him what a fantastic job he was doing, despite being obviously out of his depth. But he came to believe in his perfection because others, desperate for promotion, convinced him of it. A perfect model of a boss who needed sycophancy to feed his narcissism and both basking in each other's favours. Until, of course, the narcissist started believing all his decisions were so wise that he no longer sought advice, leading to a moribund and resentful autocracy.

In most cases, however, such behaviour works. Flattery is a powerful tool in gaining favour and deceiving, narcissism is essential if you are to take decisions and stand by them.

Especially at home - after all what is a perfect marriage if not the ultimate blend of both? By turns, we flatter each other and think we're better than each other, we crave adulation and we dish it out liberally.

In fact the only difference between a properly functioning team at work and a good marriage is a woman's willingness to prick the male vanity bubble and tell us we're wrong.

Perhaps the ferocious Mr Cummings, happily married to an equally-opinionated woman, has missed the point. It's not that Cameron's surrounded himself with such sycophants but that there are so few instinctively honest women in his cabal that he can turn to. Over to you, Sam...