A Wolf Among the Flock
The world of business is as vast as it is varied and yet there are many constants. One such certainty is the characters we will encounter in whatever office we find ourselves.
Throughout our working lives, we’ll meet any number of types, some good, some bad, and some very ugly.
We have come to expect the darker characters to be drawn to the worlds of finance and banking, where their lack of empathy, yet charismatic nature, can prove a fearsome combination. You only have to watch films like the recent Scorcese blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street to see just how far those with psychotic tendencies can go in the business world.
So how do you stay safe when there are wolves in the pasture?
Well if you’re a wolf yourself, there’s probably no point in telling you anything, because listening to others was never your strong point, but for everyone else…
Be cautious of group polarisation phenomena like the risky-shift.
The risky-shift occurs when the number of risk takers in a group outweighs the others.
We naturally tend to think of group decisions as stronger and safer, but in fact this can often be the opposite. Hysteria can build and groups with risk taking tendencies can egg each other on into increasingly dangerous positions. A great way to see this in action is to watch early episodes of Alan Sugar’s The Apprentice, when the young risk takers are all out to make that stand out performance, and naturally the car crash moments make for great TV.
If you find yourself in an increasingly heated meeting or group don’t be afraid to take a step back from the pack and do your best to not only raise concerns, but to ensure they are documented. Send memos or emails and tell anyone you think will listen if you have reason to believe decisions are being made in poor judgement. It’s important to make your voice heard and, if you have the authority, it’s good practice to provide a platform where anyone can do just that without fear of reprisals.
If training is your remit, you may be able to spot these risk takers form up before the issue arrives. We all know the roles of Trainer and Therapist can too easily blur, but rather than attempting to get these individuals ‘on the couch’ it will be far easier to ensure any team has the appropriate players. By using tools like Belbin’s Team Model, or something similar, you can make sure that there is enough balance in any group to deny the risk takers their beachhead.
What if we encounter someone high on the psychotic scale? Risk takers are one thing, but real wolves are a whole different kettle of ballgame. The risks of challenging the rogue leader are clear and great, whilst the rewards will always be uncertain.
Those with obvious psychopathic tendencies are generally best avoided, they can be equally cunning and charming and they won’t take kindly to being outed. The likeable but ‘deliciously devious’ types, cue Frank Underwood in ‘House of Cards‘, can be devillishly difficult to deal with too as they manipulate and muscle their way up the greasy pole. Woe betide anyone brave or foolish enough to stand in their path.
In the world of executive coaching, where I firmly sit, it strikes me that the rogues of this world are the ones who need our services the most, yet are the least likely to be curious, motivated or self-aware enough to want to do anything about it. That is, unless some cataclysmic crisis or meltdown forces them to. And the people around them merrily collude to accommodate all their proclivities and peculiarities, often justifying the unjustifiable and turning a huge collective cycloptic blind eye, for fear of the wrath that would surely ensue any attempt to burst their abusive bubble.
So, is it best to keep mum? Or, to cry wolf? How can coaches best help organisations deal with those all too certain of their own invincibility, who don’t listen to colleagues or who are obsessed with the trappings of power and high office?
I, for one, relish the challenge of bringing such bad behaviour to book.