Becoming a More Positive Influence: Are You the Villain?

Ryan Gottfredson

by Ryan Gottfredson

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Judging by the plethora of Marvel and DC Comics movies that come out on a regular basis, we are a society that is enamored by heroes. But, in order to have heroes, you have to have villains.

If you are anything like me, you have seen your fair share of villains on the big screen. What do all villains seem to have in common? Of the many things, they seem to have two primary things in common:

  1. They seem to have some sort of chip on their shoulder. If we are going to get all psychological about it, at a very deep level, they have fears and insecurities that are driving their behaviors.

  2. They believe that whatever they are doing is fully justified. They believe that they are in the right, and that their thinking is the best way to think.

Who is often the villain in the workplace?

If we were to categorize a group of people within organization that are commonly viewed as villains, who would that be?

Isn’t it generally organizational leaders, people in higher-level positions of power?

Just consider these statistics:

  • 82% of employees do not trust their manager to tell the truth?

  • 65% of employees would prefer to have a new manager over new pay

  • 60% of employees report that their manager damages their self-esteem

Are You the Villain?

As I work with many organizations and their leaders, I see statistics similar to what is presented above.

This has led me to ask the question: why is poor leadership so common?

I think the answer to this question is the same reason why villains are villains: leaders commonly have some fears and insecurities that cause them to act in ways that are fully justified to them, but are actually damaging to those they lead.

Let me give you a situation to demonstrate how this can play out.

In Ray Dalio’s (founder of the largest and most successful hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates) book Principles, he tells a story of when an employee forgot to put in a trade for a client and the money just sat there in cash. By the time the mistake was discovered, the damage was several hundred thousand dollars.

When I do leadership trainings, I present this example and ask leaders how they would respond to the situation if they were Ray Dalio. Most of the time, the leaders in the training say that the best and needed course of action is to let the employee go. They justify this decision by suggesting that such errors cannot be tolerated in a performance-based organization.

Here is how Dalio responded to the situation:

“It was a terrible and costly error, and I could’ve done something dramatic like fire Ross to set a tone that mistakes would not be tolerated. But since mistakes happen all the time, that would have only encouraged other people to hide theirs, which would have led to even bigger and more costly errors.”

Now consider:

  • If leaders take the action to fire the employee, are they justified? Yes!

  • Is the decision to fire the employee going to have unintended, but negative, long term consequences? Probably

  • Is that behavior driven by fear and insecurities? They are probably at the root of the decision

  • Does Dalio’s decision seem driven by fear and insecurities? No

  • Is Dalio’s decision an optimal course of action with long term positive consequences? Probably

Becoming the Hero instead of the Villain

To be the hero rather than the villain, and truly be a positive influence on the lives of others, it is going to require that you awaken to and face your fears.

There are four primary fears that drive well-intended leaders to engage in villain-like behaviors. They are:

  • The fear of failure – This fear drives leaders to avoid challenges, give up easily, and seek to validate themselves

  • The fear of not being seen as being right – This fear drives leaders to seek to have their ideas supported, be the one with “all the answers,” avoid feedback and new perspectives, and see disagreement as a threat

  • The fear of problems – This fear drives leaders to avoid problems, limit risk, and maintain the status quo

  • The fear of not winning or getting passed up – This fear drives leaders to see themselves as being more important than those they lead, seek the spotlight, put others down, and take credit for the work their team does

Nearly all dysfunctional leadership can be tied back to these fears.

After you awaken to your fears, you can then be empowered to operate more hero-like, which involves the antitheses to these fears:

  • The desire to learn and grow – This desire drives leaders to embrace challenges, persist beyond failure, and invest themselves for the greater good of the group

  • The desire to find truth – This desire drives leaders to want to see their options optimally, ask questions, seek to understand, invite feedback and new perspectives, and see disagreement as an opportunity to learn

  • The desire to reach goals – This desire drives leaders to anticipate problems, take on healthy risk, and bust through the status quo when necessary

  • The desire to lift others – This desire drives leaders to see others as being as important (if not more important) than themselves, share the spotlight, and give credit when credit is due

If you would like a free assessment to either assess how hero- or villain-like you are, I invite you to take my free personal mindset assessment.


This article is the fifth article in a series of articles all about helping people and leaders become people of positive influence, people that others want to follow.

·         Article 1: Why Do Organizations Miss the Mark when Developing their Leaders?

·         Article 2: Becoming a More Positive Influence: Rewire Your Brain

·         Article 3: Becoming a More Positive Influence: Develop a Self-Purpose

·         Article 4: Becoming a More Positive Influence: Know How to Build Trust

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