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It’s so easy a CAVEMAN could do it!
I was mindlessly cleaning some of the clutter from my office on Friday afternoon when something from one of Jon Gordon’s books, The No Complaining Rule, popped into my head. This is a fantastic team building book that I highly recommend, but that’s for another day. In his book, Gordon mentions that having a complainer on your team is like a cancer. I started pondering this idea and realized what a fantastic metaphor this really is.
Anyone who has ever been in a team leader position and who has worked their face off trying to build a positive culture has had to deal with this to one degree or another. There always seems to be that one employee that, no matter what the circumstances, has to find a way to stir the pot and spread negativity. I’ve found that oftentimes, this person is not necessarily an unproductive person. They can even be very good at a lot of things. Because they are proficient in other areas, oftentimes their negativity is overlooked because in their own way, they do bring value to the team as a whole. But I believe more times than not, that value is tarnished many times over by instilling negativity (allowing the cancer to spread) in other team members.
One particular former employee comes to my mind. I’ll call him John. John was someone my predecessor told me should have been terminated years ago, but John knew how to work the system. He seemed to know just how much he could play the system, how little he could do to get by, and how to spread his cancer without being the obvious source. For over a year, John was a thorn in my side. No matter what policy change came down from corporate or what new initiative I implemented, John would absorb the information without much debate, go back to his secret cancer laboratory and formulate his plan. Once formulated, John would make a simple phone call to one of his peers and plant his cancer cells of negativity into them. They now became the carrier.
As a Team Leader, we have to assess the situation just like any good cancer doctor would do. If we can locate the cancer in its’ early stages, we can treat it. We treat our early stage cancer through training and educating on why this new initiative is important and what it is going to do to benefit the patient (team member/carrier). Without patient buy-in, the treatment will never work. Oh sure, it may go into remission for brief periods of time, but just when you think you’ve cured it, it may rear its ugly head elsewhere.
Sadly in the medical world, the only alternative for cancer is amputation. The same holds true for building an effective team that thrives on positive leadership. If you waste too much time trying for a cure, the patient may die and all is lost. More often than not, surgery and complete removal of the cancerous cells is the only hope for success.
As Team Leaders, we gain an affinity for our team members, even the negative ones. We often feel it somehow diminishes our ability as a leader if we cannot “cure” the problem. And we certainly don’t want to be guilty of pulling the trigger too fast on an employee that really can be saved with training. So,… we wait. We keep trying. We even bury our heads in the sand in hopes that Dr. Evil will find a way to change.
Cancer is cancer, whether it be the medical kind or the negativity in the workplace kind, and it must be dealt with quickly and decisively or you risk losing it all. Sometimes, amputation is the only answer to save the patient (team) before it spreads. John was on a final written warning when he turned in his resignation and I think I heard little birds signing. His brand of cancer had brought damage to the team for much too long, but we were finally able to begin the healing process.