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THE CAST OF CHARACTERS

Did you ever look around your company and think, “I’ve seen these characters on bad sitcoms”? Your own version of The Office or Dilbert? There is a reason why those parodies are so popular; they are ridiculously true.

I’ve been keeping a running log of “types” I’ve encountered in the scores of companies I’ve been exposed to. These types did not just make one or two appearances. I could walk into any organization and find these people so I’ve come to think of them more as archetypes. Here are just a few. I bet you have a first and last name for each of these characters.

  • The Mad Scientist. S/he is that genius with limited regard for personal appearance, standard operating procedures and pleasantries. No one is quite sure what his formal job title is but very few innovations or product decisions get the green light without his blessing. He has no direct reports because he has no social skills because his need for human contact is sporadic. Everyone is fascinated with him but few actually understand anything he says.
  • The One Who Will Turn Out the Lights. This is the man/woman who has the longest tenure, knows where all the bodies are buried, can remember when the CEO made a modest salary and handed out Christmas turkeys. With all the changes of people and processes s/he holds tight to some very archaic work habits. This comes in handy when stuff falls through the cracks or doesn’t quite translate to the new systems. S/he is the only person who can sort things out. Usually well liked and respected even if they are not operating in this century.
  • The Real Seat of Power. Known variously as Yoda, Sage, Guru. This is the person behind the scenes who is the most trusted adviser to the CEO. S/he is the informal puppet master. People from all over the organization seek her out to “just vent” which really means “I’m going to tell you crap that I hope you do something about because it is making me/my team/this place crazy and you are the only one who can really make something happen.” On the surface this person seems quite humble but make no mistake…she loves having all that power!
  • The Fixer aka The Cleaner. If there is a dirty job to be done, this is who the senior team turns to. S/he has a very close relationship to the company lawyers so that all actions stay just this side of legal. Need an executive fired? Need to handle the behind the scenes fallout from a major corporate decision? Need to tell a better story to the street? Need to manage one of those racy and inappropriate affairs? The Fixer is your go-to person.
  • The Creative Genius. This is a person who operates on a completely different plane than your MBAs. S/he is an “artiste” of sorts and may actually be in a creative role. His approach to everything is visual, visceral, tactile, emotional…very big picture. There are groans when he opens his mouth because he is either speaking some foreign language or so abstract or so artsy-fartsy. Few people understand anything he suggests but, oddly, you can witness his influence all over any creative endeavor. Eccentric and tolerated because somewhere along the way he makes everything much cooler.
  • The Crazy. It’s never quite clear if this person is certifiable but s/he certainly exhibits a combination of anti-social, conspiracy theory, paranoid, psychotic and generally evil and creepy behavior. Everyone in the building has a story about some whacked exchange with this person and everyone does their best to avoid her. Heaven help you if she is your boss! The Cleaner has been on the case for years trying to figure out the best way to get rid of the person that doesn’t lead to a law suit.
  • The Security Guard. As in the actual security guard. This is the only person in the company who knows absolutely everyone in the building, how many children you have, where you went on vacation, how your mother’s health is and when your car is coming out of the shop. And s/he can also tell you where everyone and everything is in the building. S/he is on a first name basis with everyone from the CEO to the custodial staff. And everyone adores her/him.

Did you ever think about what “type” you are? Do you know what people call you behind your back? I know how others see me. Every time I walk into a client company I’m greeted with, “The Doctor is In” as in you are about to engage in some private and revealing conversation. I’m such a friggin’ stereotype!!

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