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How to be a dog of a leader…in a good way

Outrageously bad employee behaviour makes for great stories in the media. You know the ones, like getting injured whilst having sex on a work trip, suing because the chair height was adjusted or the after-hours office liaison that the hotel patrons next door photographed. Even though these stories pique our curiosity, these are more the exception, and the rule of bad employee behaviour is an underlying slow rot that progressively destroys workplace culture. The old adage of ‘one bad apple makes the whole bunch go bad’ really does apply when it comes to culture.

Great leaders are sniffer dogs in disguise, detecting the slightest foul whiff that comes from workplace culture going bad. That means always keeping a heightened sense of the mood in every single member of your team and knowing even the faintest scent of change in attitudes; rot may be setting into your team. Great employees often leave bad teams.

Case in point, a client with a happy, highly productive and engaged team that recently expanded to include a specialist technical role. The team, having worked together to produce 105% growth in 3 years, knew each other very well and kept an equilibrium of fun, focus and outcomes. Enter bad apple. Within 6 months the team wasn’t talking to each other, meetings were being avoided, social time stopped and for the very first time, gossip started. The culture was getting scents of rot that needed attention.

What’s on the nose?

Obvious things like not doing a good job, rudeness or sloppy workmanship are easy picks, but the managerial hound knows more subtle cues to watch out for. Negative moods, particularly if they increase in frequency or duration are a telltale sign. Well trained bad apples can keep their lid on it most of the time, but it can slip out in the occasional outburst. One of my former employees would let loose every time I left the office, but I could see the attitude simmering just below the surface.

Communications that are getting shorter, sharper or that are more terse than just efficient, combined with voice tones and body language are dead giveaways of real feelings and moods. These can often be combined with sick days that are frequent or increasing and start times that are creeping later and later. Even if they are still turning up on time, watch for changes, especially if they have gone from an early starter to just-on-time.

We all have tasks that we don’t like doing, but rotting apples’ tolerance for unappealing tasks will be diminishing and enthusiasm for solving problems getting more limited. Bad apples are notorious snipers, making negative comments that are not constructive or sensitive. In meetings, my recent bad apple was rarely prepared and always looking like they wanted to be somewhere else, sometimes even forgetting completely.

Truly sensing the mood in your team overall is vital to keep it happy, healthy and scoring goals. Even the best recruitment processes can sometimes find apples that are shiny on the outside but not so good underneath. Any leader worth their salt needs to sniff out the sour tones, watch, listen and feel changes. Unfortunately that can sometimes that means taking the bad apple out.

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About Warren Harmer

Dr. Warren Harmer is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and small business owners grow their businesses. He's owned three businesses of his own, including The Business Plan Company. He regularly writes for small business publications. His book, Business Planning for Small Business, can be purchased at Balboa Press, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.