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Trevor E.S. Smith | Is your workplace a dungeon or lighthouse? ... Your leader makes the difference

Published:Sunday | July 14, 2019 | 12:00 AMTrevor E.S. Smith - Contributor

“The prospect of an interaction with my former boss made me want to throw up, even years after. Yes, the stress of the relationship had impacted me physically as well.

“I could never do anything right. My every action was questioned, put down or corrected.

“I actually started losing my confidence and self-doubt began to take root, until I was rescued by my support crew.”

Those are reflections on a work relationship that had gone bad. Sometimes we fail to appreciate the deep trauma that harmful workplace experiences can produce in individuals. The scars can remain for years and may require an intervention to remove them.

Almost invariably, the source of the problem is poor leadership. Unthinking, untrained, manipulative and domineering leaders wreak havoc on those they are supposed to lead.

In many instances, their ignorance or arrogance makes them blind to social cues and resistant to feedback. When they are in a position of power, the workplace becomes a dungeon for their team members. The dysfunction hampers team performance and employee engagement.

Here is a snapshot of dungeon-style leadership.


Some people have the mistaken view that being the leader means that they have to be the fountain of all knowledge.

They put down ideas that are not theirs and frustrate individuals who risk taking their own initiative.

Their need to say “No. Not that way, this way” can be debilitating, especially when directed at managerial-level personnel who are engaged to make those kinds of decisions. Learning and development is stifled.


Know-it-all types also fall into the trap of micromanagement. Pray that you never have to experience the fate of working for a micro-managing know-it-all!

Micromanagement is also fuelled by a feeling that unless they personally check every detail, things will fall apart.

This mentality puts a chokehold on the empowerment of the staff and limits the efficiency and growth of the organisation. In addition, it frustrates people so much that retaining high-quality talent becomes an issue.

That sets off the vicious cycle of inexperienced or lower-quality staff needing closer supervision, which in turn reinforces the micromanagement tendencies.


Picture a loud-talking, put-down artist who seeks opportunities to embarrass others in front of their colleagues.

Demeaning and derogatory terms flow freely from their mouths, and they seem oblivious to their lack of social intelligence.

Challenging them is more likely to produce a torrent of invectives than modification of their behaviour. This can be a thoroughly humiliating experience, worsened by the fact that in many instances, there are limited options for self-expression, relief or redress.


“How can reading a book while waiting for a flight be an issue?”

Well, technically, you are at work and we want to be fully prepared when we get there.

“Why am I getting a call about this already-settled matter at this hour of the night?”

At your level, you are always on the job. Nine-to-five does not apply. I also want to re-examine the issue. It is not closed in my book.

“I can’t leave yet. My boss walks the corridors to see who is putting in extra time. This is deemed to be a sign of commitment and those thought to be uncommitted or seemingly without enough work are being let go at an alarming rate.”

Never mind, we can go on catching up here until it is safe for you to slip out.


If you can’t identify with any of the situations above, you are probably fortunate to have benefited from lighthouse leadership – enlightened, empowering, engaging, empathetic, edifying and effective!


Being entrusted with leadership is an awesome responsibility. It is not to be taken lightly. Those who are making decisions to give leadership roles to individuals need to take care to prepare them for that challenge.

You don’t give your untrained pre-teen the keys to a Ferrari. Why would you unleash a wrecking crew leader on your staff?

Alas, we can help. Our SHRM-backed 3-D leader certification programme will make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your leaders at all levels, as well as to the job satisfaction and empowerment of your staff.

- Trevor E.S. Smith/Success with People Academy Interpersonal relations and performance-enhancement specialists. Providing learning and empowerment and productivity-enhancement technology solutions. 3-D Leader Certification: Leading Dominant, Difficult and Diverse Personalities. ICF/SHRM-backed Certified Behavioural Coach programme – now enrolling. Email: