Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FRONT PAGE -

WE com­plain when it’s hot and we com­plain when it’s cold but be­lieve me; a re­cent busi­ness trip to Kentucky showed me what sti­fling hot re­ally means. I was lit­er­ally suf­fo­cat­ing; the air was so hot and so still that I couldn’t catch my breath. It’s a rare ex­pe­ri­ence I’m sure but it did re­mind me of the one or two times when I’ve en­coun­tered a re­ally bad boss sit­u­a­tion in my own ca­reer. It sim­ply all boils down to the stress that a boss can cre­ate.

Years have passed since my own ex­pe­ri­ence and since then, I’ve seen and coached em­ploy­ees who have also felt a sense of suf­fo­ca­tion at work. This oc­curred when they en­coun­tered what’s re­ferred to as a “snake in a suit.” A leader or any other em­ployee for that mat­ter who is per­ceived in that man­ner typ­i­cally demon­strates psy­cho­pathic ten­den­cies that at the very least will de­stroy the in­ter­nal work en­vi­ron­ment. Usu­ally, how­ever, their ten­ta­cles will reach the broader world, as demon­strated by the many high-pro­file for­mer lead­ers who are now serv­ing prison sen­tences for em­bez­zle­ment, fraud or stock ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Snakes in suits and/or se­duc­tive op­er­a­tional bul­lies (SOBs), as named by Dr. Man­fred Kets de Vries, demon­strate a sense of su­pe­ri­or­ity, grandios­ity or en­ti­tle­ment. They live in the mo­ment, are im­pul­sive, and seem to lack any sense of per­sonal in­sight. At the same time, they are very charm­ing so­cial ma­nip­u­la­tors as well as good com­mu­ni­ca­tors who con­sider them­selves ris­ing stars and, as such, they are able to cre­ate a good first im­pres­sion by spin­ning the most be­liev­able tale. Th­ese in­di­vid­u­als thrive on fast-paced, high-risk en­ter­prises where there’s a po­ten­tial for a power grab as well as sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial re­ward.

The key chal­lenge with in­di­vid­u­als such as this is that they are good at read­ing and un­der­stand­ing oth­ers and will abuse and take ad­van­tage of re­la­tion­ships for their own ben­e­fit. When they sense a bar­rier, they think noth­ing of step­ping on, crush­ing and suf­fo­cat­ing any­one who stands in their way, in­clud­ing their own boss. In other words, they jus­tify suc­cess at any cost.

My ex­pe­ri­ence shows that by the time an em­ployee who works for a male or fe­male “snake in a suit” seeks help, they are feel­ing so vic­tim­ized and so de­mor­al­ized from their roller-coaster work­life that they are al­most to­tally dys­func­tional. They are bat­tered, bruised and stressed from be­ing yelled at, bul­lied, ha­rassed and taken ad­van­tage of.

In many cases, th­ese in­di­vid­u­als have taken steps to lay a com­plaint with their hu­man re­source man­ager and/or a more se­nior man­ager, only to be shut down by dis­be­lief fol­lowed by in­ac­tion. Un­for­tu­nately, the com­plainer is then of­ten per­ceived as the prob­lem rather than the boss. Cer­tainly a no-win sit­u­a­tion for the em­ployee!

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