I once had a direct report who simply couldn’t believe that his values could be aligned with those of our company. It was always us vs. them and a win/win was inconceivable to him. If he didn’t get the raise he wanted, the company was greedy. If he didn’t get the promotion he wanted – now! – the company was conspiring to hold him back. If he proposed a bold new idea and everyone didn’t embrace it, he concluded that he was surrounded by risk-averse morons.
Let’s give it a name – the guy had a “bad attitude.” As his manager I knew he was poisoning morale and that I had to do something about him. But what? One day I just came out and told him, “Pal, you’ve got a bad attitude.”
Naively, I thought that would really sting him and change his behavior. But it didn’t. In fact, he made it clear to me that he was actually proud of this thing I called a bad attitude. In his mind, he believed, “I tell the truth that nobody else dares to utter.” Or “I’m the only guy who asks the tough questions.” It occurred to me that all his life teachers, parents, coaches and bosses had been telling him he’s got a crappy attitude. And he wore that label like a badge of honor.
So the worst thing you can possibly say to such a person is, “Pal, you’ve got a bad attitude.”
And the worst thing you could possibly do as a manager is nothing. Your entire team is looking at you and thinking, “Why are you letting this guy disrupt our workplace? What are you waiting for?”
So what’s a manager to do? Just fire the malcontent? What if he or she brings unique skills to the organization? What if all those people who were expecting you to “do something” now say, “What the heck did you do that for?”
I’d like to hear from managers on this one. Have you ever had a disruptive renegade on your staff? If so, what did you do about it? And how did it all end? Post comments below.
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