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In uncertain economic times, everyone would like to think that they are indispensable. Our skills, experience and knowledge about our craft and employer can lead to the idea that the company simply will not survive without us. To protect our turf, we are reluctant to share our knowledge with others.

Knowledge is power, goes the saying. Or, so we think.

If this is you, you are woefully misguided. If you know this person in your workplace, you probably are frustrated with them on an almost daily basis. This work persona is the dominator, and the behaviours they display have no business being in the workplace, as they do nothing but promote division and resentment among teams and individuals.

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Let’s begin with the dominator’s core idea that they have a special set of skills or knowledge that makes them unassailable in the workplace. Without doubt, they know the job and the organization inside out and believe that they have a unique duty and obligation to always keep the employer’s interests in mind. The dominator truly believes these factors have made them invaluable, and they take every opportunity to ensure others know it. They work late (or appear to) and get involved in other people’s business. Frequently, they will shut down any ideas that seem to contradict their own, or which challenge their perceived position in the hierarchy.

The workplace dominator tends to work on their own. They are more likely to hoard knowledge rather than share it freely with others. On shared tasks, they often will take over and do things for other people, without explaining how the other person can do it themselves. They will operate in an insular way, holding their cards close to the chest, and performing their role as if it is a prized hand they don’t want to reveal to others. They will not welcome new people who in any way will be working close to them.

The workplace dominator negatively impacts others, but this does not tend to matter to the dominator. They usually do not care about their impact on other people; only about their impact on the company and themselves. How does this look?

Let’s start with the reputation this person has among their colleagues. The only person who believes the dominator is irreplaceable is the dominator. In fact, many around this person are only thinking about when the person will be replaced by someone who is collaborative, caring and focuses not only on the job, but on the team as well. The dominator tends to not have any real friends at work, just people who tolerate them.

As much as the dominator wants to portray knowledge, power and elitism, the only thing that is really coming across to others is lack of confidence. The workplace dominator is seen by colleagues as unrelatable, and unreachable, which does not make them valuable at all. In fact, most dominators do their jobs in ways that can be tedious and outdated to others, following a process only they understand. They prefer it that way, as it allows them to hang on to that much-cherished essential employee badge that only they believe they have.

For 2020, the goal is to help the workplace dominator realize that the title is not an honourable one and help them change their ways. If you are the dominator, be open to helping someone with a role or task that you do often – not by doing it for them, but by guiding and supporting them only where it’s needed. If someone is visibly challenged working with you, ask them why, and make considerable efforts to respond to the feedback they’ve given. If someone wants to be innovative, don’t assume you have the right or better answer; be open to experimenting and learning from others (even if it’s not the way you think you’d have done it). Finally, realize that being indispensable to the company means you’re not promotable. If you value your career and growth, seek new experiences. It will serve you well in the long term.

Knowledge is indeed a form of power, but becomes even more powerful when shared with others, and is best accompanied by a healthy dose of collaboration and willingness to learn from others. That is a more certain recipe for success.

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Eileen Dooley is a principal and executive coach in the leadership practice of Odgers Berndtson, global executive search and leadership advisory firm.

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