A Guide to Dysfunctional Management and the Evil Workplace
July 6th, 2014 by William

Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was a 1937 American animated film produced by Walt Disney based on the 1812 German fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. The Brothers Grimm, Jacob (1785–1863) and Wilhelm (1786–1859), were German academics and authors who together collected and published folklore. We’re all familiar with the story line so I won’t take the space to repeat it here except to say that there are numerous popular ideas as to the presence of occult significance or symbolism within the story, that’s mostly centered on the Dwarves themselves.

For example, one theory holds that the seven dwarves correspond to the seven chakras (in Indian thought each of the seven centers of spiritual power in the human body), and that Snow White represents consciousness moving through them. Other ideas are less philosophically complex, such as each dwarf correspondences to an altered state of consciousness inherent in the use of certain drugs. In one theory, Snow White is cocaine, which causes exhaustion (Sleepy), mood swings (Happy, Grumpy), allergies (Sneezy) and alteration of personality (Bashful, Dopey) eventually resulting in a trip to the doctor (Doc).

These theories may be true as it’s hard to tell what the Brothers Grimm actually had in mind, or what drug they were on, when they wrote the fairy tale. That said, I do think there’s some symbolism in the form of the dwarfs that may prove very profound for all us delegated to the working world. Last week I provided an exposé contrasting the average modern worker to the different sinners in the Hell as envisioned by Dante in his Divine Comedy. This week we’ll take a look at workplace personalities for another perspective–that workers mimic the dwarves in this famous children’s story.

Everyone knows the dwarf’s names: Doc, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Bashful, Sneezy, and Dopey, all named for their distinguishing character traits. The names given the dwarfs are quite innocuous from a child’s perspective but if you dig a bit deeper they have distinct meaning when equating them to the typical characters roaming the halls of the modern workplace.

Let’s start with the leader (term used loosely): Doc. Doc is somewhat true to form to those found in upper management in business−a bit pompous, self-important and from a relationship perspective: bumbling. In the movie Doc is seen often getting his words confused. This is much like the typical business sociopath who displays little interpersonal skills and most often, through his/her own words makes matters worse–mostly because people have begun to not believe a word he/she says. Priding himself as a self-styled natural born leader, this makes Doc highly opinionated and bossy. In a business environment he would undoubtedly try to take over control of a meeting. Like all good narcissists he wants everyone to know he’s an expert and although he feigns interest in obtaining consensus from others he can be intimidating–thus he usually gets his way. Doc is like most management types suffering from a superiority complex which negates any innate skills they may truly have.

Happy represents the typical workplace optimist who’s always disgustingly happy. He’s the type who sees the glass as half full. Despite any and all adverse circumstance he is the epitome of positive attitude. People like this can be very likable, warm, and energetic; however, they get on your nerves after a while and you just want to strangle them−much like some of the hopeless optimists in the workplace. In meetings you’ll find them sitting at the leader’s proverbial (and literal) right, nodding affirmatively, and expressing positive interest in anything the sociopathic leader says. These type people will generally agree with the leader on anything and everything. Happy is your perfect sycophantic personality that will always crowd around a leader, despite whether the leader is really a “leader,” or not. These are your typical “sociopath in training” types who gravitate to middle management.

Grumpy is the consummate cynic found in all organizations−he sees the glass as half empty. Grumpy type workers like to see things running smoothly and systematically but because of the reality of the workplace spend most of their days disgruntled. They value competence, efficiency and will go out of their way to make sure they finish any assignment if for no other reason than their own satisfaction. Grumpy types will however, often disagree with what’s going on–using sarcasm as a method to get their point across. They may say “No” when asked to do something they deem a waste of time. These types are critical, or judgmental, of whatever is being discussed−they pride themselves on being the devil’s advocate and as such are naturally suspicious and distrustful. They may be argumentative and seem hard to control unless they are recognized as a valuable voice of sanity. Most organizations don’t recognize the value of this type personality and will deem them as drama-queens. They are eventually relegated to the top of the lay-off list despite their positive contributions to the organization.

Bashful is shy and does well in a focused and structured environment where the task at hand is clear. Bashful types seem compelled to help others in need and are usually very sensitive to other people’s feelings. They are hard-working, warm, and generous and empathetic–accepting of other people’s viewpoints. They are good at remembering facts and details and do well in a team environment. In a meeting they will avoid looking at the group leader, hoping not to be called on and thus receive some useless “action item.” They try to hide in the middle of the group; are generally quiet and wait to hear others’ views before expressing theirs. In fact, in a dysfunctional organization led by sociopathic management, most employees will eventually develop these bashful traits. Why? It’s a survival technique. Why? When you’ve been beat-down enough you begin to not care–which is how these types appear to others–uncaring. They are the typical workplace introvert and should be celebrated. These are the people who actually keep the organization humming along and without them little would probably be accomplished. This is the type personality that should be groomed for management but seldom is.

Sneezy type personalities, aside from their hypochondriac personality–always complaining about some malady, or personal problem, they’re fighting–can prove to be very valuable employees. They are typically well organized and methodical and have a strong sense of duty. This type personality will follow through on tasks assigned and they take pride in their loyalty. They are honest and respect the rules of the workplace. These are the types that always try to sit to the leader’s proverbial left. These workers are at the cusp of the intersection between introverts and extroverts. However, this is another personality that can easily succumb to sycophancy.

Sleepy types don’t usually talk very much, but when they do, it is straight forward and no-nonsense. They are very rational and logical and understand things literally and concretely. They are very “hands on” type workers. They develop strong technical skills in their area of expertise. They value their privacy and may well be caught daydreaming about being somewhere else other than work. They become bored rather quickly, will stare out the window or sit back from the table and try to hide in the middle of the group. These are the solid “individual contributors” to the organization’s goals.

Dopey people are very much child-like and naive about the cruel realities of the workplace. They are very likable and as such they get along with everyone. This is mostly because they never tackle the controversial. But unlike the sociopath who just flat out can’t handle controversy, Dopey types avoid it because they never want to offend anyone. They come across as being carefree and lighthearted, but actually take life very seriously–living their lives in frustration for that reason. That said these types have a good sense of humor which they will use in tense situations. They have no desire to lead or control others. While they will appear attentive they only speak when called upon and try to hide in the middle of the group. They are the type most easy to sway to groupthink.

In her 2007 American Management Association article, “Taking a Meeting with Doc, Happy, Grumpy, et al,” psychologist Sharon Livingston, Ph.D., an expert in qualitative market research, gives us some valuable insight into the significance of understanding the dwarf personalities. She says that by identifying which of the seven dwarfs each employee most closely resembles, leaders can maximize creativity, cooperation, and enthusiasm in group meetings.

As Livingston tells us: “Years ago after conducting hundreds of focus groups, it struck me that the personality types described in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were the same personality types I encountered in my groups, day in and day out. Each dwarf personality represented one of the seven protective postures identified in the psychology literature—the ways that people defend themselves when they feel vulnerable,” she observes. “An astute leader who recognizes these personality traits can use this knowledge to great advantage in managing and advancing the team.”

Livingston further tells us: “There’s no one dwarf personality that’s better or worse than another. Each has his strengths and weaknesses, which can be enhanced or tamped down, depending on where the person sits in the [hierarchy] and the leader’s ability to leverage the best characteristics of each type.”

This is useful guidance for the managers who want-to-be leaders out there as that’s what leadership is all about−leveraging the best out of everyone in the organization. To do that you have to tailor your approach to each individual based on his/her personality style.


One Response to “Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho, It’s Off to Work We Go”
  1. Cathy Ruud says

    Great analogy and insight Bill! Wished I had spent more time working with you! You would have been a great personal coach too!

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