12 Signs you May be Leading in the Land of the Working Dead.



The land of the working dead conjures up images of workplaces devoid of energy, excitement and results. However, visions may deceive as we have a tendency to obscure reality at times. This could be a workplace closer to home. It could be yours? 

Is it yours?

Often it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. That phrase covers many different scenarios and as leaders it’s true as well. Our performance issues, our areas of weakness are all areas where we may not see the wood for the trees. And it extends to the culture you may have within your workplace.
Publicly available employee engagement statistics come from a number of reliable sources, and indicate a general trend within the workplace. Generally, 20-25% are actively engaged, and 20-25% are actively disengaged, while the rest may be doing just enough not to get into trouble or simply flying under the radar.


Interestingly, when I speak with business groups, I get varied reactions. I get a courageous few who speak with me afterwards to learn more and want to know how to build better engagement in their teams. In contrast, many executives and owners dismiss the statistic outright and claim it doesn’t represent their team.

That may be true because we do have outstanding leaders and teams out there, however it either means we have some absolute shockers of teams and leaders dragging the statistics down, or we have leaders unaware of their workplace culture.

They may also be a bit delusional or simply don’t believe they can have better culture due to their beliefs on people In this article I share my thoughts to create awareness of the signs that you may be leading in the land of the working dead. The more signs evident, the more likely you are. This is not an exhaustive or definitive list and comes from my understanding and experience. I’m certain there are other signs and I look forward to seeing these shared in the comments.

Let’s get started.

1. You are the first in and the last to leave.
By itself, it is not the end all and be all, so we need to examine the reason why you are the first in and the last to leave. If you’re the last to leave because you’re finishing the jobs that weren’t done during the day, just may indicate you lead in the land of the working dead. It could be the jobs you didn’t complete due to overseeing and micro-managing your team, or worse, you are back late finishing off your teams jobs. Ouch! Either way we are not productive or not prioritising creating a void for the working dead to fill.

2. If you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself.
We have two parts to this, it may simply be your belief or it may be an actual behaviour you have. When you don’t trust your team to get the job done, you are usually right and they won’t do the job right. To trust means you have to delegate and develop your team to be the best they can be. When you don’t trust your team, you go a long way in creating your very own version of the working dead. In the meantime, you’re always busy getting stuff done, while your team are standing around twiddling their thumbs.

3. You tell them what to do, they don’t do it.
You may hear yourself over and over again saying this to your superior. “I told them it needed to be done”. This sign usually leads to doing the job yourself. When this is a constant, you are leading in the land of the working dead. You may have the title of manager/owner, you don’t have the influence to get stuff done. When you rely on positional leadership, the going is hard. Positional is the first level of leadership and most leaders never progress past it. It’s also the hardest level of leadership. When positional leadership is the only leadership you can offer, it’s odds on you will find members of the working dead hitting the minimum standards.

4. Stress and pressure are a constant.
Leading in the land of the working dead will lead to burnout from stress and pressure build-up. If you feel under constant stress from the pressures of the job and the role, this may be a clear sign of the culture and performance within your team.

5. Meetings are devoid of discussion, while after the meeting discussion is rampant.
 We have all been in meetings that are dominated by one or maybe two members of the team. The others don’t say much. People remain silent and withdrawn if they believe their opinion is not valued or that they don’t matter. When people feel like this, you are leading in the land of the working dead. After the meeting everyone else gets together to voice their opinions in situations where the leader is usually absent.

6. You dread things.
Leaders faced with the working dead, dread things. Things like weekly performance measures, tough conversations and visits from peers and senior executives.  Tough conversations are tough for a reason. People who know they aren’t performing can often be the most defensive when confronted. The working dead creates dread for the leader, but usually not the working dead themselves. 

7. You have favourites and you hate being at work when they aren’t there.
Great leaders focus on identifying and developing strengths within their people. Within our employee engagement statistics you have in most teams, 20-25% of your team who are actively engaged. These are the team members you favour and enjoy working with because they are the ones getting the work done. If you dread the days they aren’t there, you are in trouble.

Some leaders may also simply have their favourites. People in favour, not based on performance or results but on other factors. Not a great way to lead a team but common practice in the land of the working dead.

8. Blame is a constant. Excuses are expected.
Things go wrong, people get blamed. OFTEN. It’s always someone else’s fault. When blame is a feature in the workplace the culture of covering one’s backside becomes real. As does, staying under the radar and below the firing line. When people don’t dare to achieve for fear of blame, we have fertile ground for the working dead.

9. Feedback always feels negative
Feedback is feared in a culture that is unproductive. You fear it and everyone in your team fears it. While it may not always be negative, the perception is that it is, and when it is positive the fear of being set-up for something becomes apparent. This doesn’t represent an environment geared for success.

10. You accept the status quo.
“We’re not changing again? Why can’t we stay the same?” If you can hear yourself saying that, or your team are saying that, you certainly aren’t in a progressive or performance-based culture. If you and your team are accepting of the status quo and not generating new ideas you have already clocked off in the performance stakes. When you accept the status quo, minimum standards become difficult.

11. Don’t talk about conflict.
Don’t talk about conflict because tension is present all the time. The air is thick with it and can be cut with a knife. Things get left unsaid as they are wary of what is said, but when they do get said it’s always a drama. It’s the stench of the working dead and it’s toxic

12. You never have time to coach, train, develop and recruit properly.
It’s always “next time”. Next time, I will spend more time with individuals and teams to coach and develop their performance. Next time, I will plan recruitment to ensure I get the right person.
While we wait for the next time, we are failing to coach and develop, and by always chasing the “quick option” with recruitment we fail to retain and attracted talent and miss the “right option”. Due to continued turnover, we always seem to be urgently recruiting. Not a great place to be in.

Moving Forward
Identifying with any of these situations does not automatically mean that you are leading in the land of the working dead, but the more signs you identify, the stronger the potential that you are. As the leader, you must take responsibility for the situation whether you feel that you are responsible or not. Not changing, has a huge cost. This should not be the norm!

When a company is ineffective, it’s the CEO that usually goes. When a sporting team fails to succeed it’s the coach that takes the fall. The costs of accepting the culture is not just ongoing poor performance and results, but ultimately the job of the leader.

Don’t despair, you can move forward. Own the situation and start the change with yourself. Accept the responsibility that you have as the leader, to motivate the working dead.

What steps would you take?
Where would you start?
When would you start?

Tony Curl is a leadership coach and speaker who equips executives and business owners with the leadership skills and strategies to motivate the working dead. His programs and keynotes build engaged teams which deliver outstanding results. He can be contacted on 1300 866 928 within Australia or by visiting www.motivatingtheworkingdead.com

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