Professional business writer and consultant Tom Siebold devised a leadership exercise to identify strategies to deal with negative employees. I was amazed by how many negativity types he came up with:
- The Resisters – They rail against anything different
- The Wobbly – They are constantly shifting moods and expect others to adjust to them
- The Gossipers – They spread rumours and tell inappropriate personal titbits
- The Blamers – They are constantly blaming others.
- The Victims – They believe people are out to get them
- The Adhesives – They can’t let go, even things that happened years ago
- The Pessimists – They always expect the worst case scenario
- The Boilers – They will blow over the slightest provocation
- The Complainers – They feel everything is wrong or will soon go wrong
- The Choosers – They are constantly pitting one group against another
- The Detached – They feel most everything is dumb or beneath them
- The Self-Absorbed – They are constantly grabbing credit or attention
Despite my own tendency towards glass-half full positivity, I think I’ve been in one or two of the categories myself on the odd occasion, and have certainly managed many of these 12 types.
From a leader’s perspective, coming up with a strategy to deal with negativity is always challenging, and sometimes, despite good effort, and with a genuinely heavy heart, the best that can be done is to permanently remove a team member who isn’t responding to feedback or coaching. Let’s please acknowledge that it takes a brave leader to manage out, rather than to manage in.
But reading Mr Diebold’s list reminded me of a little gem of wisdom I heard from Stephen Lehane, HR Director for Alliance Boots. His idea is that every organisation needs the positively dissatisfied – people prepared to make a noise, to speak out, to speak up, to say what’s on their mind. People who point out what’s wrong, and what needs to change, and then work towards making that change.
Mr Lehane likes to form teams of people who are stroppy and opinionated (great terms!) . . . people who are connected with the mood of the organisation and who also want to move the organisation forward. The positively dissatisfied can be difficult to manage, but the challenge for leaders is to help them feel valued, to slow them down to get perspective, to turn them towards a different way of thinking, without taking away their spark.