High School Archetypes are Alive and Well in the Workplace



By Stacy Leighton

High school is the longest running show (on or) off Broadway, and high school archetypes are an institution. Oh, the names and faces may change, to protect the innocent, but the play remains the same. But have you ever noticed some of these folks forgot to leave it with their mortar board at graduation? See if you can spot these characters at your office:

The Brain (smart kid, intellectual, hipster) Usually the class valedictorian and in the workplace you’ll want them at the helm (or very near it). These guys do their homework. Because of their mastery of information and presentation, they are often committee chairs and department heads.

The Jocks (Sports, Bros) Not always the sharpest tools in the shed, they excel in delegating, motivating and goal orientation. If they don’t know it, they will find someone who does. They are enthusiastic sales team leaders, or car salesman, rife with sports analogies and motivational metaphors.

The Popular Crowd, The Royals Sometimes jocks or rich kids, always the most attractive people we had ever seen. Intelligence was optional, just so long as they looked gooooood. Post high school this may have opened doors, but it’s not sustainable without hard work or a willing accomplice. Be careful not to get sucked up into their vortex or you will be doing the work while they get the glory.

The Plastics (Un-original, Wanna-be, Try-too-Hard) This ‘flock’ hovers in the shadow of the Royals. Exact replicas, they’re popular by association. They are blind followers and are expendable. At work they’re leadership’s ‘yes men.’ Just make sure your mission is aligned and remember that the corner office they are gunning for does not come with stadium seating.

The Stoner Excelled at doing the bare minimum. Oh, they had priorities, like parties. Ironically they are often closet whiz kids – with greater ambition they could have ruled the world. Some grew into ambition though, you may no longer recognize them as they climb the Fortune 500 charts. Still, those who did not are easily spotted – they expend the least amount of effort and are out the door as soon as their shift ends.

The Alternatives In school they were the Goths, Emos, Hippies and Poets. They were interesting, philosophical, socially, and environmentally sensitive. Today their professional attire makes it harder to spot them. You’ll find they thrive in the fields of education, community service, and human resources.

The Criminal He or she kept a low profile and a standing reservation in ISS (in school suspension). You needed it, they could get it. At the office we say they are “connected.” They know how to circumvent the system. This go-to guy is a good friend to have. He is most creative when he is acquiring necessary office supplies through unconventional means.

The Anti-Conformists Never without a petition or megaphone. Not that gal at your office organizing the walk for (pick your charity) – she’s lovely. This one is different, militant, feels duty bound to be the dissenting vote in any committee. To their inner devil’s advocate, Argument is King! Best just to pass them at the water cooler or avoid them altogether.

The Prep or Goody Two Shoes (Narc, Snitch) Impeccably groomed, and well-mannered he or she is every parent’s dream prom date. One wonders, though, what happens if something goes awry in the workplace? Will their perfectly inflexible facade implode? I say we keep one eye on this ticking time bomb and the other on the nearest exit.

The Class Clown (plucky sidekick) This person is probably your best friend, fiercely loyal and unfailingly gifted at lightening up any situation. They may or may not have mastered the material, but they are always entertaining. Keep these guys close because you’ll need them at work and in life. As coworkers, they keep us from taking ourselves too seriously.

Then there’s the rest of us, the average kids, sometimes intentionally invisible, with a small circle of close friends. Like most people, we outgrew archetypes after high school as a part of finding out who we are. Some folks are stuck in these roles. Identifying them makes it a little easier to navigate through their Breakfast Club.


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