Leadership Style: Taskmaster

[Part 4 of a 6 part ongoing series] There are many different types of people in the world, and many different types of leaders.  Unfortunately, most do irreparable harm to those they surround themselves with.  But, what are the different kinds of leaders?  What, if anything, can we take from them?  And is there a better approach to leading people?  Take a look. Styles already covered: Lone Wolf , Trophy Hunter, Ringleader

Use and abuse. Not necessarily in that order.  This is the unspoken mantra of the taskmaster.  Employees and co-workers are little more than commodities.  Objects of varying utility. They suck the usefulness out of others and leave them, burned out and longing for respect, recognition, and encouragement.  The taskmaster’s response to this is simply to replace the unproductive parts with new, fresh blood.

They are usually amicable enough that this isn’t detected at first by new hires.  And often, the abuse comes slowly and subtly.  Death by a thousand cuts.  The focus is always on results.  Never should new ideas be brought up and never should their ideas be questioned.  I’ve spoken to many who have left this type of environment who tell me, “I didn’t realize it then, but I was suffocating. I have never felt so free as I do now that I left. It’s as if a thousand pounds fell off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize I was carrying.”

The taskmaster is often best identified as the leader who promotes, supports, and spends time with that one person on your team who is the most productive.  While the rest of the office thinks this is favoritism, that honestly only begins to scratch the surface.  This actually has less to do with playing favorites and more to do with seeing this achiever as the only person worth investing in.  The taskmaster knows that the rest of the team is likely to burn out and disappear anyway, and they don’t want to have wasted their energy developing quitters.

As a result, this person who has been so heavily favored will inevitably take one of two turns.  They will either develop into the same kind of taskmaster that their mentor has shown them how to be.  This continues the trend of high turnover and low morale.  Or the team member shows a crack in the armor.  They let down their guard, they make a wrong move, or they show signs of weakness or fatigue.  At this point, the taskmaster turns viciously on them.  While once they were numero uno, they now become persona non grata.  And things will stay this way until they are released unceremoniously from their duties (usually by firing), or the person is so frustrated that they choose to walk away from everything.

Surprisingly, the taskmaster is often one of the best at identifying strengths and weaknesses of individuals on a team and assigning them to tasks that suit them best.  Unfortunately, the motivation behind this move is just as one would expect- the desire to squeeze every last bit of efficiency out of someone requires them to be in the most efficient place.  The taskmaster knows their team, their strengths, and how long it will be before one drops.  This makes them sometimes very adept at starting new hiring processes at just the right time to fill the need that’s about to arise.

The taskmaster is extremely dangerous to everyone else on the team.  While they may produce some of the best results of any leader mentioned, it comes at much too high a cost.  When the taskmaster leaves an organization, there are very few who will miss them.  And too often, by the time a taskmaster is done with an organization, there’s not much left of it to go around anyway.

I’m sure we’re all able to identify someone else we know who’s like this, but it’s hard to admit that we’re often just like this with others.  What tendencies do we personally share with the Taskmaster?  What steps do we take to overcome these tendencies?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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