I didn’t see the movie “Snakes on a Plane”.  Anyone who knows me can tell you that I don’t particularly like snakes. I’m not necessarily afraid of them, but I do have respect for the levels of terror they cause me and others. That’s because as an outdoorsman, when I’ve seen them in the wild, they’ve surprised the heck out of me. And usually, I’ve done the same to them.

Nope, being trapped in an aluminum tube traveling eight miles a minute and five miles high with critters like snakes is not my cup of tea. But it is a perfect likeness to what may be going on within your company.

Snakes in the business world are people who don’t hide under rocks or dead trees, but they slither around from meeting to meeting, water cooler to lunch room, office to office, cubicle to cubicle, all the while bashing the boss, cursing customers, slamming suppliers, undermining legitimate business strategies and actions, and poisoning attitudes everywhere. See? Right now, I know you’re thinking of the snakes in your company, those that have left or at least a few that are suspects.

You should fear your snakes even more than the shoulder-less creatures found in Mother Nature, because they are squelching the growth and innovation of your top performers. Even though there may only be a few, their negative impact is huge. They resist change, tear at team-building, create silos, turf wars and political upheaval.

These snakes are users, and like real snakes, they are cowardly most of the time. They strike when startled, reacting in an attempt to protect “their” people, “their” department, “their” job, and produce little, if any significant results.
Most of the time, they are sifting through the ashes, creating red tape, paperwork, screaming at employees, blaming their peers, and covering their butts, rather than preventing the fires, finding innovative ways to lead their direct reports and making themselves the strongest link in the team’s chain.

Some of their favorites: Steering committees, task forces, endless in-depth and redundant research, and hashing it over – and over – and over, again, rather than making a decision. A few favorite sayings: “Let’s study that.” “Why don’t we call a meeting?” “That can’t be done.” “It won’t work.” “We’ve never done it like that before.” “If it’s not broken, we shouldn’t fix it.” “Can’t talk right now. Gotta’ get to a meeting.”

Instead of surrounding themselves with folks that are smarter than they are, they chase talent away, because they feel threatened. They’ve never agreed with, and likely never even heard, Ted Turner’s classic comment, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” And worse of all, they’re usually suck-ups to upper management, unless of course they are upper management (you Enron, MCI/WorldCom and Delta folks know what I mean). Rather than “connecting” with their team, they avoid contact, hiding out in their offices with the doors closed.

They think ‘accountability’ has something to do with the finance department and they wouldn’t dream of giving one of their team a less than ‘very good’ performance review, formally or informally, because it would be a direct reflection on their management ability. And you know what? It is.

Often like “Snakes on a Plane” it’s often best to find a way to get rid of ‘snakes in your company’. But there are alternatives. One of the best is confronting them and hire a coach – hint, hint – to help modify their behavior. Many of them can change – some don’t want to. Remember, people as snakes is really a figure of speech. But don’t let them surprise you, or you may get bitten.

Brian Howe is a professionally-trained executive and business coach, writer and speaker, who owns ThinkTank Coaching. He is also a Certified Mediator, and holds the highest human resource certification, Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). He has worked with over 300 business owners and professionals, coaching and consulting with them on leadership development and other aspects related to people in business. He can be reached at (770) 922-6007 or via his website www.coachbrian.com