Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Corporate Role: Henchman, Evil Sidekick

I often place people I meet into stereotypical fictional roles.  Many fictional authors keep their characters in these roles because it is very easy for the readers to identify the role and build out the rest of the character's personality in their minds without requiring the author to explain why the character made every decision or took every action.  If a character is identified as the evil stepmother, then it's no surprise to anyone that she hates the beautiful stepdaughter.  Of course, the real world is not supposed to work this way.  Real people are all complex beings capable of a wide range of thought, action and personality.  Or are they?

My own character seems to shift - some days I'm the noble but generally ineffective Tonto from the Lone Ranger, sometimes I'm the well-meaning but bumbling Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes and other days I am definitely a "Red Shirt" on a Star Trek Away Team waiting to be blasted to smithereens or turned into a block of salt by an alien.  I'm rarely the Hero or the Villain - generally I'm a supporting member of the cast.  In the past, being the trusty sidekick has generally been a good gig - yeah, I get knocked on the head or shot in the leg, but usually, I'm soon ready for the next adventure - and it's much better to be a sidekick than a faceless member of the crowd or an evil henchman.  As the baby mastodon living under Fred Flintstone's sink would say, "it's a living."

However, I have recently run into people in the workplace that are most definitely occupying the role of Evil Sidekick - and they seem to be doing it with glee and gusto - and they are thriving in their villainous role.  These folks are not just aggressive personalities or bullies - they really do believe they need to hold everyone around them down, destroy anyone who disagrees with them and that any aggressive action they take against co-workers is justified and sanctioned by their bosses.

I find this perplexing.  We live in an age of political correctness, corp-speak and brand protection uber alles - and yet - corporate leaders allow and encourage the Evil Sidekick to disrupt business processes, sabotage projects, assassinate peers and work completely outside the "open and honest" communication channels that the rest of the employees are required to follow.  Why?  The typical answer whispered in closed door discussions when the Evil Sidekick is not around is:  "because the CEO/President/C-level VP likes him and wants him to question and challenge the status quo."  Hmm - I have many problems with this explanation.
  1. Why does the current corporate culture require an Evil Sidekick to question and challenge the status quo?  In a healthy organization, shouldn't ANY employee be able to challenge the current processes?
  2. Since the Evil Sidekick disrupts and destroys all ideas and processes he does not control, how do you know the results obtained by the Evil Sidekick really are better than a collaborative approach?
  3. Once the Evil Sidekick has destroyed all his peers and demoralized his underlings - then what?  Where does the Evil Sidekick fit in your long-range vision of a successful company?

I want to make it clear that an Evil Sidekick is NOT the same as a Court Jester.  The Court Jester had an important job - he was an advisor to the Crown to prevent the Court from becoming a group of yes-men.  That doesn't mean the Court Jester is allowed to assassinate the rest of the Court - if he tries - then the Court Jester has become the Evil Villain or the Evil Sidekick.

I suppose one reason the CEO/President/VP allows the Evil Sidekick to run unchecked is because the CEO/President/VP is (of course) NEVER the target of the Evil Sidekick.  He/She is Evil, not stupid!  If anyone complains about the Evil Sidekick, the CEO/President/VP just assumes the complainer is a weak whiner.  The fact that at the same time the Evil Sidekick is whispering in the King's ear that the complainer *is* a weak whiner also doesn't hurt.

The Evil Sidekick is poison to a corporation.  In my humble opinion, a smart business leader does not allow the Evil Sidekick to exist in their organization.  No matter how great a superstar you believe them to be, one employee can never produce enough to equal the harm done by tearing down everyone around them.  They are NOT providing healthy, constructive debate - they are simply jerks.  Excise them from the organization like the cancerous tumor they are!


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