• Donald Davis

Watch Out for the Homunculous

In my career, I have run into leaders who, in a heartbeat, I would work for again. These leaders built up their team and had long lists of accomplishments that the entire team built together. This level of collaboration was an amplifier that made you proud to be a part of the team. These leaders were tough and balanced, they could understand challenging situations and would partner with you when times were tough. 

The opposite of this type of leadership in my mind is the Homunculus. Regardless of physical appearance, the Homunculus comes in all shapes, sizes and genders.

Wikipedia defines a Homunculus as “a representation of a small human being.” These individuals may have a small following of terrified individuals who never know if they will be a target or not.

As organizations grow there are individuals who will be hired that get results by pounding on the desk, screaming at people and in general lack the emotional intelligence to motivate people to get things done. The homunculus only knows how to get things done through brute force and threats. These individuals are the homunculus (small human beings) of organizations. 

Over the past couple of posts, I have written quite a bit about accountability and measurement. Although I am an extreme believer in these items, I also know that there is a homunculus who only knows how to get work done through people, not with them, who is reading this thinking that this is their opportunity to apply extreme rule and measurement of everything. What they might say is, “I will implement KPIs so that if people cannot meet them I will fire them.”

I may be stating the obvious but there are different types of leaders who accomplish things. There are good leaders and there are bad leaders. Good leaders will apply the concepts of measurements, goals and accountability in a responsible way. They will work with their team on establishing a rhythm of checking in on the team’s progress to see if they are on track, helping to problem solve when needed and providing a supporting structure of accountability. Good leaders understand that things happen that will prevent you from achieving your goals and the amount of effort you put in may not always yield a positive outcome.

Then there is the homunculus who when they heard these concepts raced to implement measurements on their team and is going to apply a dictator’s hand at accountability. As a leader you will be able to identify these people by two traits, they always achieve what they are set out to do and no one wants to work for them. These individuals may help you in the short term but they will leave a wake of people behind them. Oftentimes, looking at their results in depth will also show you that their performance usually is not stellar and what they have provided may be questionable. If you were threatened to be demoted or even fired for not meeting a goal how do you think you would perform? The homunculus leader only knows one way to get people to do what they want and that is by threatening them. The homunculus may get what they want in terms of results but the cost of the humanity behind them will not be strongly supportive of their leader. I also would not wait for their people to call it out because they have already threatened that if that happens the homunculus will fire them.

In my life, I have seen people who are promoted over and over because of their achievements. Some of these individuals that were promoted were the small-minded leaders, homunculus and they left a field of talented professionals behind them. There is a second factor that is more important than achievements and that is the team’s belief and trust in their leader. When you have belief and trust working on a team each individual is a contributor to the exponential results.

I believe strongly in goals and accountability because it is how you can measure what gets done and ensure that everyone is contributing. However, it is HOW you get things done that is also important. Watch out for the Homunculus.

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