Rotten Apple or Rotten Barrel?

A friend shared the following question:

When someone is not performing well, is it because they are a rotten apple or do they work in a rotten barrel?

I have a couple of core beliefs about people:

  1. Everyone has a place where they can be great and have a huge impact on the world around them.
  2. Not everyone is ready or able to have an impact in their current place (barriers are real and do happen – low self esteem, addiction, too much life happening at once, etc.).
  3. Huge Impact takes combination of talents, passions, and rewards (being fed by your work).
  4. Huge Impact does not come solely through a career/job.

Sticking with my friends terminology . . . A rotten apple is someone in a place where they are asked to perform at a level that is beyond them at this time.  Lots of reasons (see #2 above) and it is easy to slap a label on them.  I struggle with the term rotten apple.  I prefer to describe and treat them as a good person in a tough spot.

I challenge followers to always be working on awareness of self, have the courage to share it with their leaders, and to remember their ownership of performance.  Some times it is too easy to slip into the rotten barrel excuse.

I challenge leaders to ask the question of themselves, Is this a rotten apple or have I created a rotten barrel?  It is a difficult question to ask,  but if you want your people to ask themselves the rotten apple question, then you need to go first.