Classic: The Oddball

I've met a few senior leaders that could be considered oddballs, but most of these would be due to strange appearance traits (dressing as a cowboy, for instance) as opposed to their weird behaviors.  And I’ve never worked for one.  Oddball extreme leadership is a description of behaviors, not one of simple appearance (although they often go hand-in-hand).  Because of my dearth of direct experience, describing the oddball requires a bit of guesswork.  Please accept my apologies in advance if a few bits are slightly off.

The Oddball might also be described as an “offbeat” leader – one who seems to be out of touch with the rest of her management team.  Her behaviors can range anywhere from amusingly eccentric to downright bizarre.

Oddballs are sometimes superstitious or ritual driven.  This variety of Oddball seems to think that if an old and beloved formula is followed to the letter, it will inevitably lead to continuing success.  This seems to be true even if circumstance have significantly changed – a little akin to the star athlete who rubs their lucky rabbit’s foot before each inning, or who always wears the same pair of green underwear before a big game, or who repeatedly participates in some other seemingly disconnected ceremony.  At times, these rituals can get so far off track from what’s important to the organization that they actually become detrimental.

I recall once meeting with a leader I classified as an Oddball.  When I arrived at his office, I immediately noticed an extreme amount of taxidermy.  There were smallish critters (squirrels, possums, raccoons, etc.) mounted in various poses all over his walls.  The leader (who was also the owner of this particular business) explained to me how these animals were all “pests” he had shot on the property!  Oh, and did I mention that when I walked in, he was in the process of converting his old collection of Elvis LP’s to digital!

Maybe there was a perfectly good explanation for all of this.  A connection to success of the business, however, well….

Oddballs seem to love old, outdated management fads – remember "management by walking around," "In search of excellence," “Theory X,” and other management theories that have faded into the woodwork?  Often these techniques continue to thrive in the Oddball's organization.

Another subgroup of Oddballs seems to be blissfully unaware of how they are seen by others.  This variety will engage in all kinds of strange behavior, seemingly unaware how weird everyone around finds them.  I’ve seen this behavior only in first line supervisors, and suspect it would be difficult for such a leader to rise much higher in an organization.  After all, reading others and knowing how your leadership is viewed is fundamental to the leadership task.

An early image I used for drafts of the cover of EMPOWERED.  To learn more about the novel, click the image above.

An early image I used for drafts of the cover of EMPOWERED.  To learn more about the novel, click the image above.

What makes an Oddball?  This is difficult for me to say.  Some oddballs simply seem to be different at their core.  Those that successfully ascend the corporate hierarchy seem to have a tough time separating luck (and luck plays a role in the career of every top manager) from actual actions driving success.

The Oddball can cause his organization to waste tremendous amounts of energy on practices, systems, analysis, and other elements of their “management mantra” that have little or nothing to do with the organization's success or failure.  The mantra’s practices can range anywhere from annoying (or just confusing,) to downright success-destroying, depending on the off-putting nature of the rituals and the elements of current reality they tend to ignore.

Having an oddball for your leader can also be... well, embarrassing.  Image conscious executives will stay away just to avoid any guilt-by-association.  It can be tough for an Oddball’s organization to retain good talent under such circumstances.  The few Oddballs I’ve known seem to be able to partially hide their extreme behaviors from superiors (as long as contact is limited), but evidence of their strange behaviors does still seem to slip out quite often.  And they appear to be completely incapable of hiding it from subordinates.

Oddballs tend to fail by being so out of synch with their subordinates that they are left out of major decisions and marginalized.  Eventually someone above the Oddball takes notice, and this extreme leader is relieved of his command.

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Here is the cover for my latest novel, EMPOWERED, which will be released in Kindle and paperback versions on October 12, 2014.  EMPOWERED is the story of newly hired division president Colin Jensen, and his investigation into unexplained performance problems in the shipping department of TruePhase Chemicals division.  The story is set in Indianapolis during a blizzard, and takes its inspiration from the television series Undercover Boss.  As always, there are a few plot twists that I hope will surprise and entertain the reader.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.