Courtesy Citybizlist – While they’re hard to spot casually, we all know them. They’re in our organizations, among our customers, in our networks. The most “successful” seem to operate on invisible rules written for them. They seem to function for the most part within business norms; they’re moments when they build trust, and set a vision, appearing to lead. And yet when they have achieved a goal, you realize they haven’t been operating under shared norms, and, as you lose your job, or the rules change without reason, or you’re asked “what have you done for me lately”, you realize too late that they’re feral. So here’s a field guide to spotting the feral exec before you’ve wasted a slice of your life enabling them.

Tough isn’t Feral. A feral exec isn’t one who makes tough decisions that affect the futures of others; it isn’t one who pushes a team hard; and it isn’t one who gets frustrated or fails to muster empathy… Such leaders are difficult to work for, but they’re not feral. Strangely most feral execs are rather pleasant and nonabrasive in person. They get their Schadenfreude from a distance and the effect is often delayed. A relationship with the feral isn’t about the challenges of working with a driven entrepreneur; it’s about the challenge of coexisting with someone who has no shared guiding principle.

Sheer Chaos vs. Chaos with a Purpose. We often think of feral execs as ones that create chaos within an organization. Nothing is farther from reality. Back in May I wrote about the inevitable chaos that comes when organizations face moments of uncertainty – whether caused by market challenges, pains of growth, or a shifting management team. Chaos is a naturally repeating phase as organizations evolve – it’s from such chaos that organizations arrive with new thinking, regain their competitive edge, or identify new talent that can take the organization to the next level. Inappositely, feral execs use chaos to shift leverage, settle perceived scores, remove those without fealty, gain yardage. Under both types of leaders, the organization emerges from such periods of chaos with a patina of closure, yet those organizations led by feral execs emerge structurally weaker.

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