In Defense of the Office Weasel
August 23, 2016

In Defense of the Office Weasel

by Brian de Haaff

Who knew weasels were so popular? The response to my recent post “How to Spot the Weasel in Your Office” was overwhelming. To date, more than 80,000 people have read it and 300 commented. Many shared their thoughts about the weasels that run rampant in many workplaces. It’s good to know I’m not the only one to spot this rascal in the wild.

One reader offered this insight: “Here’s another clue to let you know there is a workplace weasel in our midst: high employee turnover. If you can’t seem to keep good employees, chances are there is a weasel in your office.”

But here is the thing — I do not think the weasel is really to blame for its unruly behavior. 

Management often feeds the weasel. And the weasel repays the favor by doing management’s dirty business. As one commenter so aptly put it: “The discovery of weasels within an organization is usually a statement about the quality of leadership. Some of the worst weasels I’ve encountered were the ‘pets’ of senior execs. These folks protected (and in some cases nurtured) the destructive behavior of the weasel. Weak, weak leaders. Route these folks out if you find them.”

After reading through hundreds of comments, a consistent thread emerged. The fault lies not with the weasel, but with the leaders who allow them to terrorize the workplace.

A weasel cannot run amok without support — however tangential — from leadership. Here are some workplace conditions that are an ideal breeding ground for weasel behavior:

Unclear goals Weasels find a cozy den in companies that do not have clear goals. Without the team working towards a shared purpose, the weasel knows that there is room for disruptive behavior. Even worse, leaders in these organizations are usually so disorganized that they barely even notice.

Inconsistent hiring practices It all starts with people. Some companies skip the long vetting process and hire friends or former coworkers (who may not be the best picks). This favoritism sets up an environment where a weasel can flourish and become management’s most dangerous pet.

Internal competition Strong leaders know that there is nothing wrong with a little healthy competition among teams. But a cutthroat workplace culture can be a fertile environment for weasels to assert their dominance over the territory. Let a weasel scurry about and havoc ensues.

Shifting org structure There is nothing to stop a weasel from pouncing out in the open, but they can more easily hide their rascally behavior when the chain of command is in flux — innocently pointing their paws towards someone else. Without strong leadership to ground the team, the weasel thrives.

Lack of transparency Weasels thrive in a closed off and dark environment. Leaders who ignore or dismiss the bad behavior are complicit themselves — whether they know it or not, tolerating the office weasel actually undermines their leadership.

Does this all sound suspiciously familiar? If so, these workplace vermin may be a symptom of a larger problem.

Weasel-y behavior can have a chilling effect on the rest of the team — especially if leaders show no signs of caging the wild creature. But companies have a responsibility to provide a healthy, positive work environment where employees can focus on doing their job.

Worrying about internal threats to their job (such as the workplace weasel) distracts the team from the real threats they should be vigilant against: market dynamics, competitors, and lack of innovation.

Weak leadership is the root cause of weasel — and it is a leader’s job to exterminate lurking critters that are hurting the team.

Is management really to blame for the weasel? Share in the comments below.

Brian de Haaff

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability and The Startup Adventure newsletter. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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