Ever wondered why things seem to go "wrong" when a solid coworker shows up on the scene? In every organization, there are managers and senior executives who leave death and destruction in their wake.1. Some know what they are doing. They use "whatever it takes" to get ahead or to ensure that their programs are the ones embraced and given the go-ahead. But the good news about them — yes, there is good news — is that sooner or later they tip their hands. At that point, others in the organization start to see them for what they are: single-minded and prepared to win at the expense of others. When busted, they usually profess their company loyalty, of course. But they've been busted. And they won't be able to screw you or the company over in the same way again.
They're the easy ones to deal with.2. Others don't know what they're doing. Consequently, the trail of damage they create is usually far more harmful. These coworkers are well intentioned. They care about the organization, and in most cases, they really want it to succeed. And that's why their actions can be so damaging. I call them the "Typhoid Marys" of corporate life.
Typhoid Mary's real name was Mary Mallon. She was the first person in the United States identified as a healthy carrier of the pathogen associated with typhoid fever. She lived in New York and worked as a cook during the early part of the 1900s. She infected 53 people with the deadly disease.
Authorities took a long time to make the connection; it wasn't until they recognized that wherever she was working, people got sick. Some died. Because she wasn't outwardly sick, she may have never considered that she was responsible for transmitting the illness. Whether she did or not, when confronted she denied that she had anything to do with the spread of the death and destruction. Ultimately she was forced to live in quarantine until she herself died. A postmortem showed that she was the carrier.
Watch out for your organization's Typhoid Mary. Most organizations have them. They'll appear to be caring. You may hear them making suggestions to fix problems that have started popping up. And they'll be the last to admit they have had a hand in anything that's going south.
John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion dollar organizations and launching start-ups in both the U.S. and Canada. The author of two published books, he is frequently seen providing advice on TV, in magazines, and newspapers.