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09/04/2009 Is Your Boss a Vampire?


This is what happens when you watch too many episodes of True Blood and read too many great Harvard Business blogs: You start seeing connections. And I'm starting to see them between leadership and otherworldly creatures.

Actually it was an old colleague of mine who introduced me to the concept of Vampires. She didn't believe in the live-by-night bloodsucking kind. She believed, instead that certain live people were vampires. They were usually kind of lifeless and somewhat unhappy individuals who tried to surround themselves with energetic people so that the energy and life would rub off. When that didn't work, the vampires would try to create as much conflict as possible, especially in the work place. She believed they fed off of other people's angst, worry, and feelings in general.

As we talked, we realized that a lot of bosses seemed like vampires. Many were unhappy and pale and they just could not let well enough alone. They needed high drama, and if a client couldn't provide it, they would.

Just like in True Blood, in the same way that Eric is now in Sookie and Lafayette's head, the vampire boss got in yours. You'd sense them all the time.

Eric.vampire

From a leadership perspective Vampire bosses thrive in times of uncertainty, especially in the job market. Since you can't drive a stake through your Vampire boss' heart, and not responding to the drama can get you in trouble, the only thing you can really do is leave. Unless, of course, the job market stinks, or there's a recession or a million other good reasons. One thing is for sure: just as Bill will never be human again, you'll never cure your vampire boss.

But it's a short-term leadership strategy. Vampire bosses can't retain talent because sooner or later people get tired off getting sucked dry. If you're in the job market, ask the recruiter about high turnover rate. It might be an indication of a Vampire boss.

While we're on the subject of leadership and True Blood, I have had a boss who was more like Maryanne's Maenad. It's not a bad leadership strategy at times, especially when the work is really repetitive: Make it fun, all the time, with whatever tools you have. People will buy into it and embrace it, and they'll overlook little foibles like the company not really having a solid business plan.

When I worked for my Maenad over a decade ago, I couldn't get anyone to take any of the work or deadlines seriously. It drove me nuts. The boss actually told our biggest client, one of the largest insurance agencies in the country at that time, to f*** off (really) because she couldn't get an extra $5K from them on a project, even though we had a new $250K project lined up. The client left in a hurry.

I don't know what's going to happen in True Blood, but my Maenad's VC god came in, at least for a while. And then it left.

I always hope that the successful companies don't have to rely on inhuman bosses and leaders to succeed. The shift of our times to people having more control and more dialogue should show up in our corporate culture as well. But change in the corporate world, as we all now, sometimes happens very slowly.

How about you? Anyone have a boss who's a shape shifter?

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