Is Dangerous Dan Darting Down Your Hall?


How to deal with a loose cannon in a leadership position.


His team calls him “Dangerous Dan” for good reason.

Dan self implodes in a New York minute.

Perhaps it’s that inappropriate comment Dan is prone to blurt out. Or maybe it’s that significant lapse in his judgment that triggers the first domino. It doesn’t matter. The explosion is immediate and the outcome is far-reaching. And as Dan’s manager or teammate, you needn’t wonder. You will be blindsided by the flying debris.

Oh, he’s not a terrible person. In fact, Dan typically has the best of intentions. He’s just an eternal optimist. And he never seems to notice the aftershock following behind him. Dan has what you might call “intermittent blind spots.” And he lives in a constant state of denial. My, that’s a deadly combination!

To make matters worse, Dan’s boss can seldom anticipate the timing of Dan’s next calamitous move. Even more troubling, Dan won’t bring a brewing catastrophe to anyone’s attention. But in this age of the virtual water cooler, people still talk. And the delay between when Dan pulls the proverbial pin from a nearby hand grenade and the time his boss hears the explosion only adds to the collateral damage.

So why does Dan’s team tolerate him?

It’s simple. On nine days out of ten his contribution to his team is substantial. And every time he does something helpful, teammates are once again tempted to forget about his recent faux pas. But when Dan bungles it, he offsets every positive action he’s taken in one fatal blow! And it’s a vicious cycle.

The first time I met Dan he showed up at our house out of nowhere. He instinctively made himself as comfortable as a long lost friend. It was an unusually quiet summer evening.  Dan spied our spinet piano in the corner parlor. Impulsively responding to some mysterious melody in his mind, Dan lunged and launched into a loud, busy boogie that rattled our rafters.

He never asked if we cared. He never considered our toddlers asleep in a room nearby. After all Dan was on a roll entertaining us, his new friends! In his mind’s eye he was Billy Joel the Piano Man! In our remembrance, he set off pandemonium.

I painfully learned over the next few years that Dan was and is semi-oblivious to the world in which he lives. He careens off the walls of life like a drunken bull in your mother’s precious china cabinet.

Sure, Dan’s technically awesome. But on a practical level, Dan is blind to the subtleties of his behavior. He doesn’t mean any harm. He’s just being Dan.

So, is there a Dangerous Dan Darting Down Your Hall?

Don’t answer too quickly. The ramifications are worth considering.

When it comes to business, Dan is amazingly self-assured. He’s a problem solver. In those magical moments when Dan saves the day, you want to hug him. But when the stakes are most high and you can least afford a miscue; the carnage Dan creates is legendary.

How can you spot a Dangerous Dan before he wreaks havoc in your living room or lobby?

Answer these ten questions and you’ll know if you have one.

Think of the person you know who most resembles Dan. Ask yourself:

  1. Do his jokes often strike a jangled nerve in an unsuspecting bystander?
  2. Do you see evidence that his family’s patience has worn thin?
  3. In the past, have you considered promoting him but decided against it each time?
  4. Do you feel sorry for the fact that he frequently undermines his own success?
  5. Do you continue to discover new and different things that he can do?
  6. Are you often tempted to give him just one more try?
  7. Do your team members frequently surprise you with startling new stories about Dan?
  8. Are you allowing your soft heart to guide your logic?
  9. Has he randomly cost you a small fortune in unintended consequences?
  10.  Would you say “NO!” if he asked to marry your daughter?

If you answered yes to seven or more of these questions, here’s the inconvenient truth. You can’t afford to have Dan on your payroll. No matter how much you would love to rehabilitate him. It’s not worth it.

Here’s an even more sobering thought. You will likely have to fire Dan if you don’t take action. So what can you do now if you are dead set on keeping your Dangerous Dan?

Here are five suggestions listed in order of importance:

  1. Reassign any people who report directly to Dan so that you limit his legal liability.
  2. Put Dan in charge of special projects with limited downside.
  3. Role play any important customer interactions before Dan leaves the office.
  4. Check behind Dan to ensure he’s following agreed upon processes.
  5. Avoid any temptation to promote Dan. He will be even more lethal with more responsibility.

Remember… A little power goes a long way in the mind of a Dangerous Dan!

I ran into Dan’s ex-wife not long ago. She and I laughed about all of the good times we had enjoyed with Dan. They were many. But there was a deep sadness in her spirit as she relayed her decision to finally divorce Dan. He, of course was off on a new adventure leaving his former family far behind.

I’d like to say Dan will learn how to handle life one day. And I’d like to say I’ll soon leap tall buildings in a single bound.

 But I’m reminded of the time a good friend approached Dan and begged him not to apply for another promotion. “Dan, you’ve tried managing people on two other occasions and it didn’t work out. What did you learn from those experiences that will help you be more successful this time around?”

Dan turned. He stared upwards in thought. The he asked, “What do you mean???”

His team calls him “Dangerous Dan” for good reason.

Dan self-implodes in a New York minute.

Don’t let him shake your confidence in you!

Keith Martino has a passion for helping engineering executives achieve stellar results. Martino authored the book Expect Leadership in Engineering. In addition, the team at Keith Martino has designed and launched Leadership Institutes at multiple engineering firms across the US. Martino is quoted in Young Upstarts, Entrepreneur Magazine, NewsMax Finance, Hotwires, Circuits Assembly, and Printed Circuit Design & Fab. For more information visit: www.KeithMartino.com.

Profits or Politics: Where’s Your Company’s Focus?

On paper, Bryce was a rock star.

In person, Bryce was a costly mistake.

When Bryce strolled through his company’s headquarters sipping his gourmet triple latte and waving to the little people (as he dubbed them), every front line employee noticed. They snickered at his confident strut leftover from his days fronting a band. They recognized his disdain for real work. And they were appalled by his self-serving power plays. Sure, Bryce flashed plenty of smiles. He slapped high fives and offered up empty promises like a candidate running for mayor. But poor follow-through was Bryce’s legacy. He seldom kept his word. In short, Bryce was a leadership disaster!

How does one spot an emerging “Bryce” before his decisions crater your company?

Here are five ways to detect a political player like Bryce in the making.

1. Political players fixate on the wrong numbers.

Take our buddy Bryce for instance. Bryce kept “real-time stats” on the total number of employees who reported into his organization. Bryce frequently boasted that a significant portion of the operation reported to him or one of his people. That’s how Bryce boosted his shaky self-esteem. He added people while he talked a great game and tried hard not to mess up in front of his boss. Bryce figured as long as he had an adequate number of people to throw under the bus at the opportune moment, he would be too big to fail. Bryce fixated on employee count, not profitability.

2. Political players recruit, hire and promote people like themselves.

It’s true. Birds of a feather flock together. Self-absorbed power junkies are obsessed with protecting their titles at all costs. Consequently they try to hire people who are singularly loyal to them. Often they find themselves at odds with an underling more loyal to the company. When they do, they will quickly take any measure imaginable to rid their team of those who are looking out for the good of the whole.

Fortunately, oil and water don’t mix. Employees and leaders who are truly concerned about the welfare of the whole are turned off by those who seek to play the system. Case in point. Bryce’s demise began when his peers became as disillusioned with him as his front line employees were. Bryce’s hiring and promoting of other politically minded employees initially went unchecked because his colleagues were immersed in their own immediate concerns.

3. Political players manage up and cover up.

After all, the Bryces of the world tend to perform for an audience of one. Their boss! Political players will often freely (and unnecessarily) sacrifice their team’s welfare for the sake of keeping the boss happy or shielded from the truth. This is not always a reflection on their boss. He or she may have been misled about the details two or three levels down. The political player likes vagueness and fuzzy business practice. Transparency is not typically part of their game plan. They operate in the shadows where almost no one has insight to their treatment of the people.

4. Political players encourage a zero sum mentality.

Some got to win, some got to lose. That’s the chorus to every song for a corporate politician. In their world, there is no such thing as a win-win outcome. And their department heads also propagate this win-lose mindset. The political player seldom takes the time to seriously evaluate a balanced option. They want to win at all cost.  And their politically-motivated direct reports know instinctively not to cross the boss. It wouldn’t be prudent. Political players win by short-changing the organization.

5. Political players come with plenty of hidden costs.

As I later met with the CEO’s management team, we inventoried the true cost of having Bryce in power. It became apparent that he had made dozens of unnecessarily costly decisions. Bryce built a division that could never reach profitability. He pushed technology that he preferred versus exploring for new IT solutions that would best serve the company. Bryce delegated all authority to managers who were either asleep at the switch or pandered for his favor. As a result, the company was paying extraordinary sums for expensive logistics initiatives that delivered a poor customer experience. Bryce’s salary and benefits were only a tiny fraction of his real cost to the company.

Sooner or later the results speak for themselves. The results of Bryce’s self aggrandizing moves were draining the company’s balance sheet and delaying success. Once realized, Bryce was given a fair severance package and hustled out the door.

Avoid the heartache, headache and howling that political players bring to their companies. Ask yourself these five questions about each member of your management team:

  1. Does _____ fixate on the wrong numbers?
  2. Does _____ overlook or ignore loyal company employees who do good work?
  3. Does _____ recruit, hire and promote individuals who pander to them?
  4. Does _____ quickly adopt the easy solution that best serves their self-interest?
  5. Does _____ make costly decisions because s/he is self-absorbed?

If any of your leaders (or employees for that matter) cause you to answer “yes” to three or more statements, you have an opportunity to lower your operating cost substantially. Consider replacing that person with a competent leader who really cares about your company. If you must, look outside your company. Remember… hire for character and train for skills.

Ironically, Bryce’s follow-up gig gave him the spotlight to swagger like an actual rock star. You can catch Bryce and his new band playing weekends on the Jersey Shore. At least now the only cost for watching Bryce perform is the cover charge.

Don’t let a political player on your payroll. Today is the day to shine the spotlight on each of your leaders and objectively evaluate their performance.

Keith Martino has a passion for helping engineering executives achieve stellar results. Martino authored the book Expect Leadership in Engineering. In addition, the team at Keith Martino has designed and launched Leadership Institutes at multiple engineering firms across the US. Martino is quoted in Young Upstarts, Entrepreneur Magazine, NewsMax Financial, the FedEx Worldwide Manager’s Pak, and several metropolitan business and industry trade journals. For more information visit keithmartino.com.

Think Like the Owner (and One Day You Will Be!)

How to Maximize Your Value to the Boss

Jerry wasn’t your average engineer.

While his college classmates fascinated on academics, Jerry raced down the sidelines snagging sizzling passes for the Baylor Bears. Soon he scored a much sought after intern offer from NASA and bought an acoustic guitar to serenade the boot scooters. What could have been more thrilling than to see an inspired young man from Shreveport, LA reaching for the stars and achieving success?

But, ultimately talent is finite, youth is fleeting and good looks are quite common.

As he rose through the corporate ranks, the traits that made Jerry his company’s most valuable player year after year had little to do with his athletic prowess or his love for a catchy tune. Jerry’s secret formula was his priceless perspective. His worldview.

Jerry thought like a business leader. Every day. In every situation. And when the opportunity presented itself, Jerry overcame all the challenges of an economically distressed childhood to buy majority ownership in his company. Jerry thought like an owner and became one.

Could you do the same? Could you propel yourself into another universe by changing the way you approach your job. We believe you can. We hope you will. But, hope is not a strategy.

As it turns out, there is no average engineer. There are only engineers who think like employees and engineers who think “like a boss.” The daily choices you make are indicative of the path you’re on. So test yourself while there’s time to adjust and ramp up your game.

Here are 12 questions you can quietly ask yourself to predict your outcome.

True or False:

_____ I do what is right for my customer, company, and team regardless of personal sacrifice.

_____ I press forward with good ideas, even if they are unpopular.

_____ I aim for goals higher than any manager will set for me.

_____ I do not give in to group pressures simply to avoid confrontation.

_____ I consistently give truthful feedback to customers, superiors, and teammates.

_____ I adhere firmly to a code of business ethics and moral values.

_____ Change always brings opportunity. Stagnation limits opportunity.

_____ I practice a disciplined approach to self-improvement.

_____ I have a method for prioritizing my opportunities today.

_____ I successfully make others enthusiastic about opportunities that require extra effort.

_____ I transmit a sense of purpose about all that I do.

_____ I am accountable for my actions and accept responsibility for my mistakes.

If you answered true to nine or more of these statements, you are on the right road to wind up steering your own endeavor. If you answered false to three or more of these statements, you’ll likely always report to someone else. It’s all a matter of your objectives.

Jerry knew from early in life that he wanted to reach his full potential, whatever that might be. I have no doubt that if you asked him today, he’d tell you that he’s still in the relentless pursuit of excellence. In other words, he isn’t done! He’s still streaking for the goal line.

Baylor University recently built a stunning new stadium in Waco, TX, with world-class amenities. On any given Saturday night, you’ll find Jerry up in the stands. His heart is always in the game. And if you wander up to Jerry, ask him if you should aspire to own your own company. He will likely chuckle, wish you much success and suggest that you will have to make that decision for yourself. But regardless of your goals, Jerry will say, “be the best YOU that you can be.”

 

Keith Martino has a passion for helping engineering executives achieve stellar results. Martino authored the book Expect Leadership in Engineering. In addition, the team at Keith Martino has designed and launched Leadership Institutes at multiple engineering firms across the US. Martino is quoted in Young Upstarts, Entrepreneur Magazine, NewsMax Financial, the FedEx Worldwide Manager’s Pak, and several metropolitan business and industry trade journals. For more information visit keithmartino.com.