Scary Monsters Lurking in Your Workplace

By the time you read this, Halloween will have come and gone. You probably feel safe from the frightening ghosts and goblins that invaded your neighborhood for a night. But beware! There are often monsters lurking in the hallways, conference rooms and even the executive suites of unsuspecting businesses everywhere. So here is my mostly annual collection of corporate monsters — along with a reading suggestion for each. (Much more effective and far easier to come by than a crowd of Transylvanian peasants with torches and pitchforks!)

The Invisible Man. Years ago, as a new vice president of sales, I invited the CEO of the company I had just joined to come to the sales offices to present a commission check on what was a huge sale. Seems that the only time he had ever been there was to fire my predecessor. The entire office quailed when he walked in — at least the ones who recognized him. He was a faceless man everywhere but in the executive suite, unrecognizable to his organization. If your managers ask to see your ID when you walk into their offices, get a copy of Warren Bennis’ “On Becoming a Leader.”

Zombies. We all know that zombies have only two goals in life (or death). They want to eat your brains and create more zombies. I recently was invited by a newer client to join her annual executive retreat as part of an assessment process. Although everyone seemed human enough upon arrival, the drudge of hours of PowerPoint (usually read by the presenter) and rehashing of analysis turned everyone in the room into drooling, mindless zombies. And although it was clear that each of them was suffering, each in turn only extended the brain-rotting process, creating yet more zombies. As Pat Lencioni so eloquently put it: “Death by Meeting.”

The Wolfman (or Mr. Hyde, if you prefer). Imagine working for someone who seems normal one day and the next day (or the next hour) is an angry, slobbering beast. We are all human and we all have our bad days, but people who work for the mercurial boss learn to pay more attention to his or her mood than to the bottom line. If you are the Wolfman, or if you work for him, pick up a copy of “Taming the Abrasive Manager” by Laura Crawshaw.

The Creature from the Black Lagoon — perhaps the most pernicious of organizational monsters. Nothing will smother profits and sustainability faster than a culture of fear or even apathy. What many organizational leaders have a hard time remembering is that their organization will have a culture, whether or not they choose, develop and sustain it. If a culture that encourages accountability, collaboration and purpose isn’t created, what often comes from the lagoon is at best neutral and can easily devolve into active opposition. The creature does not realize it, but he brings the lagoon with him. If this sounds remotely familiar, read “How the Mighty Fall” by Jim Collins.

None of these organizational monsters sets out to create fear in the organizations they lead. I have only rarely encountered a true psychopath, someone who was consciously without care for the people in his organization. (Yes, there is a book for those too: “Snakes in Suits” by Paul Babiak and Robert Hare.) Yet, all humor aside, these kinds of managers are all too common.

And often the leader who is unconsciously one of the frightening monsters is also a vampire. The organizational vampire is most commonly recognized by one of the least remembered vampiric characteristics: The vampire cannot see his or her reflection in a mirror. This leader is unaware that he is at least partly the source of the biggest challenges facing his company. If this could even remotely be you, get a copy of “Who’s Got Your Back?” by Keith Ferrazzi.

Trust me when I tell you that these monsters are usually unaware of the role they play and the havoc they cause. That is the really scary part.

Originally published in Arkansas Business, Barry Goldberg On Leadership, November 5, 2012.