Leadership Relationships - Part 2: Parasitic

In general, there are three basic types of relationships encouraged or sustained by leadership: commensal, parasitic, and symbiotic.


For a basic analysis of the commensal relationship, you are welcome to read “Leadership Relationships - Part 1.”


This post will cover the second relationship type: parasitic.

Even if we dislike science and try to forget everything we learned in required high school and college science courses, we know parasites are bad.


In case you successfully deleted your science knowledge, it may be helpful to highlight the main reason parasites are bad is they obtain sustenance at the expense of the host without returning anything of use.

In fact, the “return” of a parasite to its host is usually along the lines of pain, havoc, and in some cases complete devastation.


The most common parasites that affect humans reside in the digestive tract. Why? Because that is where the nutrients are the most plentiful.



Parasites are not just organisms of another species, they can also be humans.


According to Dictionary.com, using “parasite” to refer to a person existed as early as ancient Greece, referring to individuals who enjoyed a free meal in return for flattery or amusing conversation.


Consumption of resources in return for drivel.

This definition doesn’t just pertain to the odd “brown-noser” - it also defines a relationship that leaders either actively or passively support.


A parasitic relationship may be that person who never responds to repeated requests for important information until the deadline has long passed and then demands immediate attention once they find time to devote to the task.


It could be in the form of a boss who continues to squeeze and wring their employees with new and complex requirements without providing appropriate tools, training, or time.

It is painfully apparent in apathetic leadership that fails to support structures and systems to hold everyone accountable and prevent parasitic opportunities to drain the life from even the most ardent of employees.


There are unfortunately many examples with various twists and turns. The key is recognizing them and being brave enough to do something about it.


Through self-awareness and observation, authentic leaders don’t stop at accurately identifying damaging parasitic relationships, they implement a cure.


Your team will stick around to thank you.


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