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The Buffington Post: How Do We Solve A Problem Like Brandon?

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Wow, Loyal Blog Readers. What can I even say about what we all just witnessed? A Survivor meltdown of truly epic proportions has just unfolded in front of ten million people, and now we’re left to try to pick through the rubble and come to some kind of meaningful conclusion. How are we supposed to feel about what we just saw?

I’m sure there’s likely to be plenty of stones cast at CBS’s glass house in the coming days. Production, Jeff Probst, Brandon Hantz and we in the audience all share some culpability in this. I’d prefer to stay out of the finger-pointing game, though. It’s bad for business. I’d rather stay safely neutral and objective so that I can keep my little audience of Loyal Blog Readers. I’m a coward; I’ll let the bigger guys run into the fray.

I’d like to talk instead about how we might have avoided this meltdown from a gameplay perspective. If it’s Day 13 and Brandon Hantz is already here on the old Bikal beach, it’s not much use to argue over whether or not that was a responsible casting decision. Let’s do damage control. How do we keep this situation from boiling over?

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It’s fair to say that he catastrophically mismanaged his disgruntled middle manager

There’s an interesting branch of communication and managerial theory, known as organizational orientation, which concerns itself with trying to understand the relationship between an individual and an organization. One of the real difficulties in the world of management comes from trying to understand and fulfill the emotional and communication needs of employees. Fulfilling an employee’s needs empowers them to successfully carry out the tasks of their job. If Phillip Shepherd is the CEO of Stealth R Us, Inc., I think it’s fair to say that he catastrophically mismanaged his disgruntled middle manager, Brandon Hantz. Let’s take a look at how this might have gone differently, and, I would argue, more constructively.

Brandon Hantz is a trouble employee. He doesn’t like his role in Stealth R Us, Inc., and he is unswayed by having been given an impressive title. He wants more responsibility, and a feeling of control over his destiny, but he’s mistrustful of promotions which bind him more closely ideologically to the organization. He questions the authority and decision-making ability of his superior officer and he views the allegiance to the organization exhibited by his colleagues to be foolish and misguided. He feels angry, powerless, and belittled. In other words, he’s exhibiting classic personality qualities associated with the Ambivalent Organizational Orientation.

K, cool, Glenn Holford. Big deal. Why do I care about this? What does it mean to be an Ambivalent, and how can we manage them? What does this have to with Survivor, buddy. Quit wasting my time.

Hang tight with me for just a little longer—we’re almost there. Ambivalents are idea people and problem solvers. They’re openly critical of procedures within the organization—but these criticisms tend to be objectively correct. An Ambivalent properly placed and utilized has the potential to identify inefficiencies and streamline procedures. In other words, an Ambivalent is capable of being a very valuable and productive employee, or ally. Phillip Shepherd could have built an extremely close and loyal alliance with Brandon, if he’d known how. He just needed to figure out how to give Brandon what he needed to succeed.

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Sherri understood how to keep Shamar loyal.

Coach understood how to keep Brandon loyal, just as Sherri understood how to keep Shamar loyal. What these individuals need most of all is to be heard and feel valued—and this is typical when dealing with an Ambivalent. Ambivalents tend not to care about how their ideas are implemented, as long as they are heard and taken seriously. The worst thing you could say to an Ambivalent is “follow my orders, toe the line, and pay your dues.” Brandon Hantz is not a Company Man. He does not want to hear that message. He does not recognize the legitimacy of Phillip’s authority, or, indeed the legitimacy of Stealth R Us as the impressive institution we all know and love. You just can’t take that approach.

Let’s imagine instead that Phillip took Brandon under his wing and positioned himself as a friend and confidant. Let’s imagine that he took a little bit of time every day, say an hour or so, to check in with Brandon and listen to him vent—even if he doesn’t really care. Let Brandon voice his criticisms, and acknowledge the validity of a good point when he makes one. You can do all of this in private, one-on-one, where nobody else can see your authority being challenged or undermined. Now all of a sudden you’ve got a loyal soldier in Brandon Hantz. Once disarmed, Brandon will take orders just as obediently as anybody else—but with the added benefit of personal loyalty bordering on the absolute. If you let Brandon think he’s your buddy, he’ll take a bullet for you in this game. This is not unlike the way that Boston Rob managed Phillip Shepherd himself on South Pacific. I think we’re starting to see the difference between Phillip Shepherd and Boston Rob. Phillip doesn’t follow the most important BR rule, and indeed the most important managerial rule. The Platinum Rule: treat other people the way THEY want to be treated.

Don’t create an antagonistic relationship with an Ambivalent. It’s pointless, and explosive, and utterly counterproductive. Babysitting is part of the job of being a CEO, Phillip. You have to be prepared to deal with personal crap that’s utterly unrelated to tasks at hand. Managing is about people, and people are flawed, petty, silly and irrational. Nobody forced you to declare yourself the boss, but now that you are one, you have to do what it takes to keep the Stealth R Us machine running smoothly.

I’m sure that some of you are probably thinking, okay Glenn Holford. You jackass. Easy for you to say. Brandon Hantz is emotionally unstable, volatile, and probably unmanageable. Realistically, is there anything Phillip could have done to actually prevent this from happening at some point?

I think so. I don’t think we should shirk the responsibilities involved here. Nobody is unmanageable. There are only needs, and needs can either be fulfilled or go unfulfilled. Identifying and fulfilling another person’s needs is, I would argue, the single biggest skill we should cultivate as human beings. Nothing can make you more powerful, or your organization more successful. Phillip’s failure to fulfill Brandon’s needs could quite possibly have ruined his game. I think it’s a cop-out to throw up our hands and say it couldn’t have been done. Coach did it. We’ve been shown it can be done. We need only to arm ourselves with the proper set of tools.

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