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The Rise of the Orcs: Bad Leadership in a Tough Economy

I heard a story a week ago surrounding the inauguration. A friend of mine has a colleague and that colleague received an invitation from a friend of hers in New York to go to the inauguration. Two tickets to that historical event. Of course, she was excited and she had vacation days coming to her.

However, when she asked her manager to take 2 days of vacation, not only did he say no, but he also said, “….points off for even asking. I am surprised you even asked.”

Now, I don’t know the specifics of this woman’s employment or what was happening that week in the office. I can only go by my friend’s telling of the story. But it reminded me of my work in executive search and in particular, the first 2 years where the economy was bad.

A certain kind of manager emerges in times like these. Or more frequently, an existing, but otherwise hidden side of managers emerges. Management based on fear, small mindedness and keeping people down and in their place. And as soon as the economy turns again, this kind of behavior doesn’t wash.

I couldn’t help thinking about the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy and the battle between dark and light. As the power of dark grows, beasts like Orcs have the courage to come out of their holes.

We need leadership, now more than ever. If you, as a leader, feel the pull of darkness, try and resist. The manager in this story could have said yes, or he could have said no, but in a different and more humane way and gotten a better result. “I am afraid that I am going to have to say no. We have that big project on the go and I really need you here that week.” Not so hard, right? Your employees have an elephant-like memory when it comes to the wrongs and injustices inflicted upon them in the office. You need to lead to help your organization survive this crisis. But you also need to lead so that it is still functioning and competitive on the other side.

As for the woman in this story. It just so happens that she is in a stage of her career and financial situation where she doesn’t need to work. Her loyalty to this manager has been erased and she may leave because of this. With a company-wide hiring freeze, he may find himself short-handed.

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