Last year, the management team of a small technology firm was trying to understand why projects were coming in late and over budget. The company hired Leslie Kossoff, owner of Kossoff Management Consulting in San Mateo, California, to find the problem. All roads led her to the firm's lead software designer. Only he knew the foundation code for the company's software programs. Even worse, he refused to share it with other designers. His secrecy was a huge drain on productivity.
"Designers were always waiting for him. They could read only aspects of his code and didn't know if their work would be compatible," Kossoff says.
Once management understood the situation, the other designers felt empowered to crack the code. Once they did, the lead designer left the firm. "He didn't have his power base anymore," Kossoff says. "His way of having control was through this foundation code. He built his empire this way."
This software designer was a classic "empire-builder," someone who tries to become indispensable by gaining exclusive control over a piece of knowledge, a project, even a whole department. For the empire-builder, being the one in the know is the key to job security. But this person will eventually hold your company hostage. "CEOs rationalize this and make excuses for it, but it will get to the point that they no longer can because productivity drops," says Bob Turknett, president of Turknett Leadership Group, an executive and team leadership consulting firm in Atlanta.
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.