Email circa 2031: My dear sons, beware “The Toxic 12” – #9 The Non-finishers

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Hey boys

I’m sorry.

This is becoming a habit for me, isn’t it? Since my last post on this series, two months have elapsed! I think it’s a new record.

It’s just that so much has been occupying my mind of late, with writing ideas pouring forth like water from a busted dam. I can barely put them all down in time without drowning in them! And given my advancing years, I thought I best put them all down before they dry up.

But for sure this series I’ve been sending you is important too. And since I’m already two-thirds of my way to the end of this compilation of toxic workplace folks to avoid, I most certainly don’t wish to give up now.

So here goes.

Toxic non-finishers or “mis-directors”

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Today, I’m writing about the ninth category of toxic people you need to beware of at the workplace. Some will call them procrastinators; you know, the ones that keep putting off doing things. Like your dad way back when we still own a family car, and how I kept delaying to give it a good wash until the car proved so embarrassingly filthy even the birds wouldn’t poop on it!

Well, procrastinators are certainly not the most ideal of colleagues to work with, but at least most of these are sincerely apologetic for their feet-dragging antics. In time, they make restitution and complete the job, sometimes in ways better than expected.

I’ve no problem with such folks, being the occasional procrastinator myself (my non-car-washing days and this belated email being prime examples!).

The toxic folks I’m writing here are a step or two up (or more appropriately, down) from procrastinators.

I call them the non-finishers or ‘mis-directors’.

Unlike procrastinators, these folks either don’t finish what they start or don’t get started at all when presented with a task or project. But what’s worse is they often co-opt the innocent colleague into their little web of deception. And the poor innocent victim, I mean colleague, ends up holding the proverbial “baby” (work project) in their “hands” (work pile). Soiled diapers and all!

Confused? Let me explain with one classic example of such folks. The one that most often exhibits such ‘devious’ behaviours.

The boss!

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Yes, that’s right. The very person you simply have to face daily at the workplace no matter whether you like them or hate their guts. The one who approves your monthly paycheck!

I once had such a boss. He was the manager in charge of a course a team of us had to run. Many of us thought of him as creative and unconventional. We were drawn to his vision-casting speeches whenever he held (no surprise) super long meetings, where he spent a lot of time reminding us why we do what we did.

That’s all well and good, until it came time to work on the actual tasks and projects.

In some ways, he was probably the classic victim of his own creativity. Like many creatives in leadership positions, they may come across intelligent and cutting-edge in the way they can keep spinning one idea after another, one second after another.

However, the reality is that their ideas are typically half-baked, and in most cases, untested.

Now please don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying every creative idea has to bear fruit. Sometimes the very act of creating is its own reward. Just the process itself can bring about clarity in something that might have stumped people for countless hours.

As a writer, I can attest to that.

But if I had a chance to return to that period of my life, I would ask that manager if he had any plans to help see things through to the end (assuming he even wants to!). Or, if he was planning on just dumping the idea on our laps like a sack of potatoes, then move on to other new ideas.

But I was still very ‘young’ and ‘naive’ back then, even though I was already past my mid-30s. And I believed that the boss was, well, the boss. So who was I to question his decisions and directions?

Unfortunately, that’s the thing with non-finishers like my boss. They simply don’t wait around to see the results.

Being strung along

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I learnt that the hard way numerous times during my six years at that job. He would assign an idea to me, with barely a lifeline of clarity to cling onto. I had to set about putting the flesh onto his pathetic skeleton of an idea as I took time to figure it out on my own.

When I go back to him periodically to update my progress, he would either tell me to change this or redo that; otherwise he would send me off on another wild goose chase of a new idea. After a while, I slowly realised that I was emerging from each meeting more confused than when I first went in!

At first, I thought it was my fault. That I didn’t understand the parameters, or had misunderstood.

In the end, it gradually dawned on me. He hadn’t any clue either, but he’ll be damned before he would let on about his ignorance!

With procrastinators at least, there’s generally a clear end goal and a schedule for completion. And with people who genuinely don’t have a clue and are honest about it, at least you know what you’re in for.

But with these non-finishers, there’s neither clarity of goal nor timeline, and more “spin than win”, though you wouldn’t know that at first. They are just that good at stringing you along like Houdini, the master of misdirection.

Safe to say that after six years of wandering in that wilderness, I was glad to be transferred to a different department where the manager had more leadership and clarity in dispensing work. The projects in the new position were actually tougher, but at least I knew where we were headed.

So my dear sons, keep a careful lookout for such toxic people alright? But if they are colleagues who are more procrastinators than non-finishers, and who want help to change, try offering them some suggestions like these ok?

Alright, gotta run back to my other writing projects now.

Meantime, be well and I promise my next email on the tenth category of toxic people — The PR types — will not need another two months to be sent your way! (Fingers crossed)

Love you both always

Daddy Doofus

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