Remember the nefarious Dr Zachary Smith from the 60’s TV show ‘Lost in Space’? An agent of an unnamed foreign government sent to sabotage the Jupiter II mission to Alpha Centauri, Dr Smith fell victim to his own treachery and was marooned, along with the Space Family Robinson.
The Robinsons were wholesome, decent people, apparently unwilling to accept the obvious fact that Smith endangered and betrayed them at every opportunity; as a kid I struggled to understand why they didn’t just shove him out the nearest airlock, something hotshot pilot Major West offered to do on a weekly basis.
As an adult I get it; no villain means no conflict and therefore, no drama. But now I struggle to understand why so many institutions harbour at least one Dr Smith, often in a position of undue authority. I see how easily these Smiths corrupt public projects for private gain and thwart innovation for personal security, how readily they hijack genuine progress with petty politics.
And it’s not a simple difference of personality or style that’s the problem here but a fundamental conflict of agenda; a Dr Smith’s values, mission and goals will always be diametrically opposed to everything the rest of us hold dear. Because they are hellbent on a completely different course than that of the crew, no amount of professional development or culture training can reform or redeem a Dr Smith.
Allowing such characters to thrive in the workplace is arguably the most dangerous leadership failure of all. So if you’re a leader who’s serious about the success of your people and their mission, please familiarise yourself with the nearest airlock… you might need it someday.