Don’t Let an Arsonist Burn your Company Down

You’ve probably heard this leadership quote before:

“If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time”

This comes from Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

While most leaders understand this basic principle, they forget about another.

There are some employees who don’t care about rowing – they just want to drill holes in the bottom of your boat.

Yes, I know it’s hard to believe but…there are certain toxic personality types who thrive on chaos.

There are certain toxic personality types who thrive on chaos. Click To Tweet

Pete Havel, author of The Arsonist in the Office, calls them arsonists.

Who are office arsonists?

According to Havel, “An arsonist is somebody who has a little bit of power that has the ability to use that power against the organization.”

These are people who are wired differently than everybody else.

Arsonists in the traditional sense are motivated by finances, ego, desire for attention, adrenaline rushes, hero complexes, or revenge.  Arsonists in organizations operate under the exact same motivations.

So, how do you deal with these toxic employees?

The same way we dealt with a fire on a submarine.

Let me explain.

fire on a submarine is one of the most dangerous things that can happen.

Smoke can quickly fill compartments and asphyxiate sailors. The heat and flames can spread to weapons, volatile materials, and critical systems creating catastrophic damage.

A fire can quickly destroy a submarine if not extinguished immediately.

That’s why we were trained to ignore our natural instincts to move away from the fire and, instead, run towards the fire to put it out as quickly as possible.

In the same way, you can’t ignore a toxic employee.

You can’t turn a blind eye and hope the problem gets better.

You need to confront the issue and deal with the toxic employee before they get out of control.

You need to deal with toxic employees before they get out of control. Click To Tweet

Because just like a fire on a submarine, a single toxic employee can destroy your culture and your organization.

Don’t believe me?

Listen to my interview with Pete and you will hear a cautionary tale of his experience in a company that let a toxic employee run wild.

It didn’t end well for him or the company he worked for.

So, if you really want to lead your company well, get everyone rowing in the same direction AND deal swiftly with those employees who are trying to drill a hole in your boat.

Deep Leadership PodcastI talk about this issue in a lot more detail on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership podcast.




P.S. If you like this leadership concept and you want to learn more, get a copy of my latest book – I Have the Watch: Becoming a Leader Worth Following. It’s filled with 23 practical ideas like this on how you can become a more effective leader.

leadership book

The Problem With Extremes

You probably know who Jocko Willink is.

If you don’t, you might be living under a rock.

He’s a highly decorated retired Navy SEAL who commanded SEAL Team 3’s Task Unit Bruiser in Iraq. He’s also a leadership author, consultant, speaker, and podcaster.

He’s famous for posting pictures of his watch at 4:30 in the morning from the gym.

What you probably don’t know if how much Jocko and I have in common.

We were both Naval Officers.
We both have written best-selling leadership books.
We both have podcasts.
We both get up ridiculously early in the morning to workout.

But that’s where the similarities end. Jocko is truly a phenomenon. He’s a force of nature.

His leadership books dominate the best-sellers list.

He does an amazing job breaking down the leadership lessons he learned in the military and how they can be applied to every organization.

His 2018 leadership book, The Dichotomy of Leadership, really got me thinking about leadership balance.

Before this book came out, I had written several articles on micromanagement and the problems associated with it. I had also written about the problem of absent leaders – leaders that just weren’t involved.

Jocko’s book made me realize that both micromanagement and absent-management were extremes of the same leadership characteristic – management involvement.

Both micromanagement and absent-management are extremes of the same leadership characteristic – management involvement. Click To Tweet

In my career, I have worked for both micromanagers and absent managers.

Each of these managers took their level of involvement to an extreme (too much and too little) and, in each situation, it led to my frustration.

And, therein lies the challenge of leadership, finding the right balance.

The quest for balance doesn’t just relate to leadership involvement either, it permeates every aspect of managing people.

Think about these other leadership dimensions:

Emotion – If a leader is too emotional, there is unnecessary drama in the office. If a leader is emotionless, the organization feels cold and callous.

Risk tolerance – If a leader is too aggressive, the organization might cut corners and have a major failure. If a leader is over-cautious, the company may miss out on important opportunities by moving too slow.

Personality – If a leader is too nice, poor performers are rarely disciplined. If the leader is too mean, a toxic environment can exist that affects overall morale.

In almost every leadership dimension, acting in an extreme manner is a problem.

In almost every leadership dimension, acting in an extreme manner is a problem. Click To Tweet

Jocko explains that “Just as discipline and freedom are opposing forces that must be balanced, leadership requires finding the equilibrium…between one extreme and another.”

Finding the right balance is just one of the many challenges of leadership.

You need to be aware of extreme behaviors that can lead to organizational problems. Don’t be that leader who micromanages his team, but don’t be a disengaged leader either.

Both extremes will frustrate your team.

Ask yourself – are you acting in an extreme manner in one or more leadership dimensions?

Find balance and you’ll be a more effective leader.

Find balance and you’ll be a more effective leader. Click To Tweet


By the way, If you want to get more out of your daily commute, listen to my podcastDeep Leadership.  It’s available on all podcast apps.

And my best-selling leadership book, I Have the Watch, is also available on Audible for your commuting pleasure.

The Absent Leader

While most people identify micromanagement as the worst leadership style, there is another type of boss who is equally destructive to an organization, the absent leader.

This is the type of boss who is distant, aloof, or so busy that they don’t perform the basic duties of a leader. Leadership is about being present. It’s about setting the direction for your team and accomplishing goals. It’s also about resolving issues and conflicts when they arise.

When a leader isn’t present and isn’t carrying out these critical duties, chaos reigns.

Absent leaders create a situation where each employee does what they think is best for the organization. Most people care about their company and they want it to succeed but, when the leader steps away, there is not one person guiding the organization. Everybody decides what’s best to do. In the absence of clear direction, the organization will drift further from its mission.

The other problem is that one individual might choose to go one way and another person goes in a different way. This results in the organization getting pulled in many different directions. This creates internal conflict, unnecessary debate, and arguments which wastes precious time and resources.

When there is no leader, or when the leader is silent, chaos takes over.

Another example of this is rumors. When a leader doesn’t adequately explain what’s happening in an organization, especially during times of change, rumors will begin to get started. People will speculate on what’s going to happen. These rumors will run through an organization and do nothing but create worry and waste time, energy, and resources.

Rumors happen when leaders aren’t leading.

There are three ways to avoid becoming an absent leader.

Be present. Be there for your team. Listen to what’s going on in the organization. Walk around the workplace and be seen. Be alert for rumors and internal debates. Understand where people may be wasting energy and where divisiveness exists.

Lead the organization. Set the vision and the objectives. Establish clear boundaries and expectations. Let your team know what the priorities are. Be there to resolve conflicts and make hard decisions. Don’t shy away from your responsibilities.

Don’t stand for chaos. It’s the leader’s job to build a stable, smooth-running business. Chaos should always be the exception and not the rule. It’s good to have debate and discussion but allowing constant infighting and arguments only wastes the time and energy of an organization. It does not put you closer towards your goal. Take a look at your organization and see what’s going on. If there is chaos and confusion, you are not doing your job. You are an absent leader. You might have the leadership title. You might have the corner office. But you are not leading your team and that can be devastating to your organization.

If you want to become a better leader, order my latest book You Have the Watch: A Guided Journal to Become a Leader Worth Following.

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