I once knew a very talented professional who took on extra work at any opportunity. He was ambitious, yes, but he was also good. No task was too menial or mundane; he volunteered for everything and he generally did everything well. He was friendly and engaging, what everyone would call “a really great guy.” He was also helpful and supportive to his colleagues.
He was gradually promoted, assuming greater and greater responsibilities. At some point, he caught the attention of the top executives, and the promotions started happening faster. Then he made it into the executive ranks, one of the youngest ever to do that.
And something happened.
The change was almost immediate. He became suspicious of everyone and everything. His staff couldn’t do anything without advance approval, which slowed everything down and stifled creativity. His people actually began to fear him. People on other teams began to avoid him (and his team) whenever possible. As the criticism increased, his behavior only became more extreme.
Finally, it became so bad that even top management noticed (yes, I phrased that correctly). Interventions were attempted. They’d work for a time, and then the problem would return. While all this was going on, people were damaged. Relationships were destroyed. Work and performance suffered.
Eventually, he was asked, or told, to leave the organization. He was readily hired by other employers, and then let go after less than a year. He couldn’t stop the destructive, and self-destructive, behavior.
Years later, when I asked one of his former supervisors why the behavior was tolerated for so long, he said, “He got the work done.”
“But eventually he didn’t get the work done,” I replied. “Eventually, what he was doing meant the work didn’t get done.”
The former supervisor shrugged. “It’s the way things are here.”
And the way things were was toxic. It still boggles the mind what organizations will tolerate, especially in bad leaders. They seem to forget, or avoid recognizing, that the way work gets done is through the relationships people have with people – colleagues, suppliers, customers. Forget what the purpose of all this is, sacrifice those relationships, and you ultimately sacrifice the work – and the organization.
Photograph by Ian L via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.