Classic: The Regurgitator

Originally published 5/21/11

The Regurgitator is similar in many ways to the procrastinator with one notable difference -- the Regurgitator is NOT afraid to make a decision.  Making the call is never the issue with this extreme leadership style, sticking with it is.

The Regurgitator loves to dredge up old decisions and endlessly rehash them.  This extreme leadership style is characterized by numerous flip-flops, each of which typically comes with a degree of certainty to make everything look final.

Until it isn’t.

The Regurgitator typically reconsiders old decisions when new pieces of data come to light, or new opinions come from those in authority.  And while this isn’t necessarily a bad thing to do on occasion, the Regurgitator takes re-evaluation to an extreme, driving her staff crazy in the process.

Unlike the procrastinator, who seems to have a deeply rooted fear of making the wrong decision in the first place, the Regurgitator never seems to lack the self-confidence to make a call – only to stick by it.  When any odd bit of data or opinion seems to call into question a decision already long put to rest, rather than brush off the contradictory information as “too little, too late,” the Regurgitator will attempt to fine tune decisions even at the risk of destroying all subsequent completed work.  And there might be a little perfectionism thrown in there to boot – as in searching for the perfect decision no matter what the downstream consequences might be.

For subordinates this looks like the leadership equivalent to resetting a video game every time a possible mistake has been made – the issue becomes how do you ever progress beyond the starting gate?  The organization becomes forever locked in an endless loop, repeatedly re-evaluating basic management principles and the simplest of decisions.

Subordinates in the organization usually compensate for this style by trying to avoid involving the Regurgitator whenever possible.  Attempting to keep decisions out of the Regurgitator's hands usually means that subordinates must either take on greater risks themselves, or go over the Regurgitator’s head whenever the opportunity arises.

I once worked with a Regurgitator who drove everyone in his business unit crazy – nothing was ever final until some irreversible “point of no return” was reached (such as payment being made for a purchase, or a promotion being publically announced).  Even then there were times when he attempted to claw back such decisions.  Employees working in this environment felt like competition was passing them by as their boss fixated on constantly reconsidering every element of their improvement projects, the business’s value proposition, and even how the accounting was handled.  An acquaintance described the environment as “trying to run through quicksand.”

Eventually that particular Regurgitator realized he was damaging the business with his extreme leadership style, and brought in a subordinate to handle ordinary day-to-day decisions.  Even afterward he often meddled, much to everyone’s chagrin.

As in the procrastinator's organization, a Regurgitator 's mismanagement will typically take a long time to become evident to superiors.  During the lengthy wait, forward progress will slowly grind to a halt, and the organization will stagnate.  As is true with most of the extreme leadership styles, capable people with options will leave, eventually creating a talent drain which will take years to overcome.

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To the right is the cover for INCENTIVIZE.  This novel is about a U.S. based mining company, and criminal activity that the protagonist (a woman by the name of Julia McCoy) uncovers at the firm's Ethiopian subsidiary.  Her discover sets in motion a series of events that include, kidnapping, murder, and terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.