Beware Energy Vampires

Newsletter 10

Beware the energy vampires, for they will suck the productivity and success right out of your team! They’re the living dead who lie in wait to pounce on you and suck your life force out of you, leaving you drained and half alive!

You know who they are; you’ve met them on the street and you’ve worked with them. On the outside they look like you and me. They may be well dressed and polite, perhaps even sophisticated. But inside they are poor joyless souls who are vigilant in telling you why you aren’t good enough, why new ideas won’t work, and generally why the world is a dreary and limiting place.

Somewhere in their dark pasts an energy vampire sucked the joy out of them, and they believe that they must roam the world infecting others. They live in terror of the bright sunlight of happiness, acceptance of imperfection, and optimism because they fear they will burst into flame and cease to exist altogether. They are destined to lurk in the shadows and search evermore for new victims to convert to the dark side (?imagine eerie music here).

EXAMPLE: I worked with a member of a senior leadership team who was bright, technically excellent, and politically savvy. He was socially polished and masterful at upward influence (“sucking up” if you will) with his superiors, so he seldom got into trouble or drew negative attention to himself.

However, many people had a general uneasiness when he was in the room and felt that they never could relax around him. They had a strange sense of dread that bad things were bound to happen sooner or later. This was particularly true for his subordinates, who were almost completely at his mercy. He felt no need to camouflage his true goals when with them, so he treated them shabbily and kept them feeling afraid and frustrated.

With peers the vampire would bide his time and wait until his victims were unsuspecting; then he would pounce and tell them why they were inadequate or why their ideas were not quite up to snuff. In a fairly predictable fashion, the teams he belonged to began to “shut down” and become less productive and less successful over time.

In particular, the leadership team members began to take the most conservative and risk-averse path both individually and as a group. This allowed them to avoid making any move that could possibly be criticized as less than perfect or without extensive precedent. In other words, they allowed their potential for innovation, synergy, and greater levels of success to be sucked right out of them!

This was a bright and hardworking senior leadership group, so they were able to maintain a moderate level of performance, but they never actualized their full potential as a team or as a business. The saddest part was that the leader of the senior leadership team, the only person who had the power and authority to put an end to this destruction, was unable to recognize energy vampires, and so the dark one remained free to stalk his victims at will (?imagine staccato music building to a crescendo here). Are you this leader?

TECHNIQUES

  • Technique #1: Pay attention to your gut feelings when you are around someone; these feelings are a valuable source of data in identifying and avoiding energy vampires.
  • Technique #2: In your selection process, screen out energy vampires. Hire generally happy and reasonably optimistic people who bring out the best in others.
  • Technique #3: Periodically gather feedback on the performance of your team members (e.g., 360 degree feedback) so you have a comprehensive and balanced picture of their full impact on your organization.

  • Technique #4: Remove energy vampires from your team through whatever legal and ethical means necessary; the cost is too dear to ignore this threat to productivity and success.
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