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Kenneth W. Keller: Do toxic personalities work for you?

Brain Food for Business People

Posted: November 17, 2009 8:43 p.m.
Updated: November 18, 2009 4:55 a.m.
What is an organization? It is, in a very broad sense, nothing more than a collection of people who are, we hope, working toward common objectives. Any organization is no better than the people who work in and for it.

Toxic personalities on the payroll can do more damage in less time than the H1N1 flu.

The Swine Flu will disappear in a few weeks; these people could stay employed forever. Meanwhile, the damage will be done to the company’s reputation, damaging client relationships and impacting profitability.

Toxic personalities can have dangerous consequences internally as well, particularly if these individuals are in positions of responsibility and authority. Here are eight personality types that could be negatively impacting any organization.

If someone in the organization does exactly what they are told to do and nothing more, meet The Soldier. When it comes to processes and procedures, this person will do a terrific job because they are in heaven just following orders.  

The Soldier will get most jobs done to an acceptable level. But every aspect of every task will need to be explained before getting started, down to the smallest detail. If this doesn’t happen, plan to spend copious amounts of time every few minutes providing clarification and amplification.

Don’t expect initiative or creativity from The Soldier. This type won’t win any customer service awards either. That is because their strict “by the book” approach won’t win them any thanks from those who pay the company bills.

Every business has at least one of The Whiner. If you are uncertain this type of person works in the business, be quiet and just listen.

In no time flat, The Whiner will surface with a verbal complaint. Once identified, a pattern will quickly emerge: this person constantly complains about anything and everything — nonstop.

The Whiner likes to hear a voice: their own. They complain so frequently they often forget what they told people, so expect to hear the complaint several times. If this person’s lips are moving, they are complaining.  

A close companion to The Whiner is The Needy. What sets the two apart is that The Whiner will complain to anyone, while The Needy only wants the attention of their immediate supervisor. No one else will do. If the boss happens to be unavailable, this employee will do nothing until they can opine to the boss.  

The Victim also has a claim to fame; nothing is their fault. This individual is a master of escaping responsibility by putting the blame inappropriately on someone, anyone else.

There is no evidence of The Victim’s failures. There won’t be a record of e-mail, reports, handwritten notes or voice-mail messages.

The Victim can be brought down with evidence so every effort is made to cover the tracks and eliminate anything to pin them down.

The Victim is good at giving advice and will gladly accept any given to them. But don’t expect anything to happen as a result. The Victim is outstanding at not doing much of anything except winning at the blame game. It might be hard to believe, but this type often gets promoted because they have such a great track record as being successful.   

Does your business have The Defiant? What is nice about having a person like this on the team is from day one they make themselves known as to who and what they are.

This is because they will challenge anyone, in public, on any subject, at any time. The Defiant one believes diplomacy and chain of command are for wimps and losers.

If daily drama is needed, hire The Emotional. Having this person on the payroll is bound to make the rest of the staff extremely unproductive. No one can stand the daily soap opera that makes up the life of The Emotional, so everyone hides to avoid having to listen. No one ever tells The Emotional to “get a life” because they know better; they hear about it all day long.   

The Manipulator has memorized and knows by heart every word, phrase, sentence and intention of the company employee handbook. This personality type isn’t going to give the company one single second of time or one iota of effort beyond the minimum to stay on the payroll.   

The General is everyone’s favorite employee. Regardless of title or position, they bark orders at people. Most of the time, these individuals do not hold a high rank, but believe that they should, so they act the part they aspire to. This does nothing but infuriate those around them.

The problem with having these toxic personality types around is that often, the symptoms are ignored until it is too late.

What can an owner do with these toxic types?

First, identify.

Second, contain.

Third, eliminate and remove. What else would you do with something so dangerous?

Ken Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, which brings business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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