Reed Hastings, co-founder and CEO of Netflix once said, “Never tolerate brilliant jerks. They’re too disruptive.” And while most people probably think he was thinking of it from a managerial standpoint, it holds true across the entire organization including, if not, more importantly, leadership.
Recently a friend of mine, Susan (not her real name for obvious reasons) left the startup she had joined just a year and a half ago. When she started, she was all-in. Susan was a true believer in the company and its leadership when she started but her beliefs were now shattered. She was disillusioned.
We had an opportunity to chat so we tried to decipher what she could have done to recognize that this wasn’t going to end well. Were there signs she may have missed in her journey from enthusiast newbie to ex-employee?
Below is a quick summary of what we spoke about. If you are working for a company where leaders are exhibiting these behaviors, it may be a sign that the time to start looking for new opportunities is now.
1/ Mercurial behavior
Wild mood swings aren’t healthy in any relationship and aren’t at work either. If the leaders at your company are prone to going from joking around with you to screaming for reasons unbeknownst to you, get out.
2/ Little to no internal communication
In a company, not every piece of information should or can be made available. But the flip side of that coin, when little to no knowledge is being shared, is terrible. Information sets context. Absent real information, everyone in the company will be paralyzed when it comes time to decide the right thing to say or do.
3/ No regular performance feedback
People get busy. Sometimes meetings are skipped or cancelled altogether. But if your experience month in and month out involves little to no communication with your boss, that’s a red flag. Without regular interaction, it’s almost impossible to know if what you’re working on is the highest priority let alone whether or not your approach is the correct one.
4/ Loosely defined role
Being hired for a job with no real job description sounds like a dream, right? Except, how do you know what you’re supposed to be doing? How do you know if you’re succeeding at it? There are cases when getting hired without a clearly defined role works out well like in an early stage startup where everyone has to wear different hats. But in those cases, you are trusted to figure out what needs to get done. Unfortunately, most of the time undefined roles at more established companies or later stage startups means you have…
5/ Responsibility with no trust
Having a loosely defined role means you’re going to have to do some poking and stretching to figure out what you should be doing. The only way to be successful is to have the freedom to figure it out. If you have to get approval for every single thing you do, you will never provide value to the company which will come back to bite you.
6/ No thoughts about culture
When you join a company, you should always ask about the culture. Answers like “we’re like a family” should be troubling as it indicates a lack of understanding about company culture. Even family-run businesses have a culture that isn’t really “like a family. ” If the answer is something like “we are a team”, “we have a high-performance culture”, or “here are our values,” that tells you the company has at least thought about it. If all you hear from the leadership is crickets, it’s time to start prepping your C.V.
7/ Thinking “I can change the culture”
One trap that Susan fell into, and one that I’ve heard other friends fall into as well, is thinking that they alone would be able to change the culture. Unfortunately, company culture leadership comes from…well, the leadership. If a company’s leadership isn’t interested in improving, let alone creating, company culture then it is highly unlikely you will be able to do so. And you’ll run yourself down trying.
Why you should leave
Susan didn’t realize that one of the side effects of trying to work with, or even fight against those seven signs, was how stressed out she had become. Her personal life suffered, her health suffered, and she was just miserable. While these previous seven signs are no guarantee that things won’t go well, they are strong leading indicators that you should be looking elsewhere. It is essential to recognize and react to them as quickly as you can. After all, working is a big part of our lives. And while no place is perfect, working in toxic work environments not only affects your work life but seeps into other areas of life.
To paraphrase a line from the movie Office Space, “We don’t have a lot of time on this earth. We weren’t meant to spend it this way.”