Imagine you’re a newly appointed project leader of an existing management team.  How do you know if you’re walking into a club of entrenched buddies who want to run the show and will sabotage your efforts?  And what can you do about it? To read the rest of this article from the Business Journal of Jacksonville, see: Fire people who think they’re entitled to run things

I recently observed a team of a dozen managers with that dynamic.  Harry was the newly appointed project leader.  His two predecessors, also experienced leaders, had been unable to move the team forward.  Both reported problems building team agreement and developing aligned effort.

Sitting in on a team meeting, I saw two people repeatedly cast furtive glances to a third, who signaled displeasure by frowning, eye rolling and head shaking.  After each instance, the trio resisted the direction being taken by the rest of the group.  During a break, the three clustered outside, reinforcing caustic personal comments about Harry.

A little investigation on my part revealed the extent of the pattern.  One person was the Queen Bee, obediently supported by her attentive court.  She thought she should run the whole team because she always “knew best.”

The core of the pattern is that righteous and arrogant people feel entitled to special privileges.  They make their own rules and have double standards.  They’re self-reinforcing, and ignore or don’t care about what other people think.

The pattern is a common one.  It’s especially prevalent on boards of directors and in government offices and nonprofits.  People like this trio will fracture any group, destroy productivity and subvert the next generation of potential leaders. Their personal agendas to achieve power and esteem take precedence over the job.

What can you do if you find yourself in a similar situation?

  • Recognize that fixing it will take determination and skill.  A powerful image of the situation will help keep you on track.  Harry saw them as a grown-up version of a high school clique; three princesses who know they’re the best and deserve to be in charge.
  • You can try reaching out to the offenders in an effort to get them working with the rest of the team.  But don’t count on that approach succeeding.
  • Harry tried a conciliatory approach but the trio was so arrogant and deluded that every gesture he made to find common ground was interpreted by them as an admission that he was wrong, was begging forgiveness and was ready to follow their direction.  The previous two leaders had also tried to placate them and failed
  • But, whether you’re a peer or a project leader, you can’t afford to ignore them.  If left unchallenged, they form a not-so-secret power structure that will sabotage your best efforts to succeed.  They will force you to take sides.  For them, it’s about control and adoration.
  • Don’t be a faithful drone.  Take steps to take away their power to do harm the organization.
  • Reasoning and evidence won’t change these people.  And only a small percentage of them learn their lessons from their obvious failures.
  • This is not a task for wimps.  You’ll need the help of your management, which means you need to do your homework and document your case.  Look for a smoking gun.  When you’re ready, shine a light on the pattern and confront the offenders head on.

If you find yourself in a situation like this one, quietly build an airtight case, gather allies and act decisively.  And be prepared for a battle.  People like that trio are a cancer in any organization. Remove them surgically before they metastasize.

If we don’t act promptly and decisively, performance decreases.  Behavior sinks to the lowest level tolerated.  Narcissists, incompetent, lazy, gossip, back-stabbing, manipulation, hostility, crankiness, meeting sabotage, negativity, relentless criticism, whining, complaining, cliques, turf control, toxic feuds, harassment, bullying and abuse thrive.  Power hungry bullies take power.

High standards protect everyone from unprofessional behavior.  You can learn to eliminate the high cost of low attitudes, behavior and performance.

All tactics are situational.  Expert coaching and consulting can help you create and implement a plan that fits you and your organization.