Killer Wasp Stings — A Leadership Pandemic

What makes a leader a killer wasp, capable of injuring or maiming an employee?


A lifetime of nagging mosquito bites eventually leads one to scratch open a wound that, depending on the number of bites, could easily become a gaping hole in your flesh.

Fascinating analogy I recently heard that, upon reflection from a leadership perspective, helped make sense for what I had always called Career PTSD. Turns out the phenomenon was actually a long series of bad leaders’ behaviors far more dangerous than mosquitos; they were akin to killer wasps. And their stings injure the soul. What is more debilitating than the weight of years and years’ worth of negativity, condemnation or, fill in the blank with the source of your leader’s killer stings _________?

What makes a leader a killer wasp, capable of injuring or maiming an employee?

Myriad possibilities present. None of them pleasant. An insecure leader didn’t lose confidence last week and begin to act out inappropriately. Most likely, and here’s where I hear my psychologist wife’s voice in my head, there was some childhood trauma. I call it a “daddy issue.”

If your leader treats you poorly, I’ll bet big bucks he/she was treated similarly as a child. I always start with the family of origin for bad behavior.

Or, if it’s clear that your leader has zero EQ (emotional intelligence), most likely that lack of empathy starts with himself. He’s intolerant of his own mistakes (thanks, daddy) and thus, yours as well. Or, his extreme introversion led him into a field or career path where people don’t matter and consequently, he doesn’t want or need to interact — hasn’t “played well with others” since Kindergarten most likely.

What does this look like in real life?

A series of killer wasp stings adds up. Employees feel disrespected. Untrusted. They’re debilitated in the job place and have lost (almost?) all incentive to do exceptional work; to innovate; to take risks. I once had a boss who loved to tell us all to try new things…to take risks! Unfortunately, when a risky initiative didn’t lead to a home-run, the trusting employee wasn’t just reprimanded, but sometimes publicly humiliated. You instantly learn not to trust, to keep your head down and certainly, not try to make things better.

Can a killer wasp leader lose his stinger?

Renowned leadership researchers Kouzes and Posner have spent their career examining great leaders and their companies. Their famous list of the practices of exemplary leaders offers at least three prescriptions for killer wasp bosses:

· Encourage the heart of your employees. Purpose to get to know one of your employees each week. Intentionally make time to spend time with him/her. If empathy is foreign to you, take an EQ course and determine to do better. You can learn empathy. If you don’t know your people, you can’t begin to understand who they are and what potential they bring to your organization.

· Then inspire your staff with vision, hope and a picture of what a shared future of success can look like.

· Enable your teams to be safely creative. Allow the results of truly smart risk-taking to become learning experiences — both successes and failures.

A pandemic of bad leadership can be thwarted. If you’re a killer wasp leader, I urge you — for the sake of your enterprise and your employees, consider the prescriptions herein. If your boss is the problem, respectfully work within your system to bring about needed change.

Norm Mintle