The 12 Culture Crashers

  1. April 3rd, 2012  | 

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Published in Leadership

Party crashers aren’t new.

Noah probably dealt with a few before floating off on his ark with his family and the animal kingdom.

Two years ago, Tareq and Michaele Salahi made headlines by strolling uninvited into a White House state dinner.

And the movie “Wedding Crashers” provided a close-up look at the creativity and consequences of two fun-loving guys looking for a great time.

So while party crashers describe people looking to join an event to which they were not invited, the uncomfortable reality is that every business has its crashers, too.

The irony is that unlike a party crasher, the people crashing your culture have been invited into your organization. These Culture Crashers survived a hiring process and managed to beat the system. Even if you go above and beyond to make sure you have hired the right employees by conducting in-person interviews and visiting websites like to arrange drug tests, there are always a few that slip through the net.

Now they’re hanging around your organization wreaking havoc with the culture of accountability you’re building and nurturing.

The 12 crashers

It’s hard enough battling the world outside your organization without having to fight discourtesy, turf wars and inefficiency on the inside. So if there are people in your office whose behavior does not match the values you say are important, your credibility as a leader is at risk and your organization’s performance is suffering.

Are any of these characters crashing your culture?

  1. The Sugar-Coater – Willing to address 90% of what needs to be said but avoids, downplays or glosses over the difficult 10% that can drive positive change. Unwilling or unable to talk about tough issues that must be addressed to improve organizational or individual performance.
  1. The Control Freak – Doesn’t trust so she can’t let go and, as a result, is always doing someone else’s job…except her own.
  1. The Monday Morning Quarterback – Armed with 20-20 hindsight, this second-guesser says little of substance before a decision is made then spouts off afterwards about what he would’ve done differently.
  1. The Gossip – Spreads rumors and loves to dissect problems while rarely suggesting a solution. Avoids speaking directly to the people that are the subject of her rants as well as to the people that can fix things.
  1. The Dictator (see also Emperor, no clothes) – Known to banish from plum assignments and key meetings those who answer hard questions truthfully. Also regularly shoots messengers who observe and report problems.
  1. The Know-It-All – As the unofficial expert on everything, she has rarely met an idea of hers that wasn’t the best solution. Tone deaf to other possibilities.
  1. The Fire Fighter – Rushes in to save the day but cannot or will not prevent the problem. Occasionally lights fires himself in order to play the hero.
  1. The Cover-Up Artist – Dodges responsibility by deflecting blame to others. First in line, however, to take credit – whether she was responsible for success or not.
  1. The Joker – Loves to poke fun at principles, policies, projects and people. Everything’s funny to this guy…except himself, which he takes far too seriously.
  1. The Quitter – Surrenders at first sign of difficulty. Is tired of the fight, but not the paycheck.
  1. The Sandbagger – Protects budgets, goals and deadlines with plenty of cushion to ensure underwhelming success. Has never seen a stretch goal he couldn’t shorten.
  1. The Empire-Builder – More interested in how many people report to him than developing talent, fixing problems and getting results.

If I’ve missed a character that you’ve seen up close, please email me at to share your experience. I’ll collect the responses and share in a future posting.

It’s your party

As a leader, you get the behavior you tolerate.

So like a lot of tough decisions, deciding how to handle a Culture Crasher in your organization may be a decision falls to you.

You have two choices. Do you live with the unwanted behavior? If so, what’s the cost to your personal credibility as your colleagues see that you’re willing to let some people get away with behavior that’s counter to your culture? What are these Culture Crashers costing your firm’s morale? What’s the cost to performance as productivity suffers?

It’s hard for most Culture Crashers to change their behavior. It doesn’t mean they can’t – it’s simply more likely that they can’t or won’t.

That means you’ll need to ask them to leave.

After all, why should they ruin the party for everyone else?

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises some of the world’s most admired companies and leaders, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 250 strategic planning sessions, he’s delivered more than 600 keynotes and workshops on every continent except Antarctica, and he coaches leaders who are inspired to take their career to the next level. His fourth leadership book— Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture (McGraw-Hill) —is a Soundview Executive Best Business Book.

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