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.

We are in this together . . TrustBUSTER#10 – Asks team to make sacrifices, but does not follow

TrustBUSTER #10 – Asks team to make sacrifices ($ / time), but does not make same sacrifices

Something good came out of the most recent recession – shared pain.  When organizations have to cut as deep as they did, people saw the ‘shared’ part of it.  Money and other perks went away, so the pain from all parties was shared in most cases.  Here are three things that causes this TrustBUSTER and two ways to make it go away.

What causes it?

  • Executive – Sees the perks as entitlements.  Cars every two years, club memberships, assistant to pick up dry cleaning, or maybe the box at the local sports venue.  Is it part of your base compensation?  No.  Is it a performance bonus? No.  Is it something that is earned because of the stress and personal sacrifices made for work?  Probably the closest thing to a reason there is.  What employee will empathize with the last reason?  Enter TrustBUSTER #10.
  • Employee – Sees their work as the hard stuff and wonders what their boss actually does to earn their money.  Printing executive pay scales sells papers.  Piling on the working class for spending too much time complaining does not.  Studies have found that compensation is not a motivator, but can be a demotivator if there is a perceived inequality.  The only wisdom I can offer is my experience hearing leaders wish for their old job back.  It is not as easy as it looks.
  • Both – “If you could only walk in my shoes for a day!”  There is a TV show called Undercover Bosswhere the owner of a company spends a week doing frontline jobs in their company as an anonymous new hire.  I am not sure if it is all real, but it shows the impact of leaders getting their hands dirty once in a while.  Sam Walton was famous for visiting Walmart stores to interact with people directly.  I am guessing this one was not as much of a problem for him.  Too bad there is not a show allowing people to be a leader for a day.

Two solutions:

  1. Leader – get out of your office and talk to people – A chief nursing officer once shared conversation she had with a new nursing graduate.  The RN asked “Who drives you to work?”  An innocent perception of inequality.  Makes you wonder how many people thought that but were afraid to ask?  It is impossible for a CEO to know everyone, but the more you focus on people seeing you in normal situations the more you will be seen as a person and not a primadona.  Being seen in the cafeteria or the lunchroom a couple of times a week makes you  accessible and normal.  Take it to the next level and try sitting with non-executives when you eat.
  2. Look for chances to get to know your leaders – Your leader asks you to lunch?  Go.  Is there a corporate function?  Go and seek out leaders to meet and hear what they are thinking about.  When you get a chance to ask them questions, here are a few:  What have you learned lately?  What are your favorite things to do what you are not working?  What are the things that keep you up at night?  What do you want me losing sleep over?  

This trustBUSTER goes away when leaders and followers get to know each others.  For leaders, it is harder to implement a one-sided sacrifice when those on the short end actually have a name.  For followers, seeing leaders as people helps to alleviate some of the us versus them thoughts that fuel this TrustBUSTER.

I care… really! TrustBUSTER™ #8

TrustBUSTER™ #8 – Shows little concern about me a person

When I stand in front of a room of leaders and ask the question “How many of you care about your people?”, 100% of the people raise their hands.  I believe that 99.9% of leaders care about their people.  (I will save a discussion about that .01% for later)

Recently, I led a group discussion around trust that divided 30 people into four groups based on personality type.  I provided them with the TrustBUSTER™ list and asked them to identify one behavior on the list they saw most frequently from the other three styles.  One group received feedback from all of the other groups that #8 was the behavior that tripped them up.  The group receiving this feedback was the task focused/achievement oriented group.  This is the same group that 60+% of executive teams fall into based on my past experience.

Why does this happen? A manufacturing supervisor once shared this wisdom with me, “Intentions without action equals SQUAT”.  In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey makes the point that “We judge ourselves on our intentions.  We judge others based on their actions.”  Both quotes lead to the same conclusion, if people don’t see it they don’t believe it.

As a leader, how do you bridge the gap between your actions and the perception of the people reporting to you?  Here are three ways to keep this TrustBUSTER™ from tripping you up:

  • Self Assessment: Test your knowledge of your people by asking these questions.  What are the names of their spouse/children?  Where do they live?  What non work activities are most important to them?  What is the biggest event going on in their life right now?  Take a moment to evaluate how you answered these questions.  This is pretty basic stuff, so if you missed anything you need to spend more time with your people.
  • Monday/Friday rule:  Spend time on Friday connecting with people to hear about their week or upcoming weekend activities.  Spend Monday hearing how the weekend came together or what they are looking forward to during the week.  (take a few notes after each conversation if you are like me and forget things)
  • Find a partner to help:  If you are an executive chances are you have way to much to do and connecting with your people is not a strength.  Find someone around you that will remind of key dates for your people(birthday, anniversary) and keep a pulse on what significant things that are happening with those in your team or department.  Enlist their help to remind you of opportunities to connect.

I’m OK, You’re Not – It’s All About EGO (via How We Lead)

It is hard for me to comment too much on this because Ken Blanchard has a way with words that makes me want to get out of the way and let you read. One thing I would say is that this is probably the one topic that makes the case for having executive coaches – because many of these issues can be addressed sooner rather than later with timely feedback, reflection, and encouragement to change. Given the dynamics of most c-suites, there are many barriers to doing this with peers and often the environments I see promote ego issues.

Also, symptoms of ego issues show up early in the life of a leader (lack of listening skills, unwilling to accept feedback, never takes responsibility for mistakes), which makes effective selection and performance feedback processes all the more critical. It is a great read – enjoy.

I believe the biggest addiction problem in the workplace today is the human ego.  When people operate from their ego, their behavior tends to be based on fear rather than trust. When people behave out of fear, they have a high need to control others and their environment and they have a win-lose orientation toward everything.  Even when discussing the weather they want to make sure you know that they know more about weather than you do. They broa … Read More

via How We Lead

Mastery – Does it matter? Part 1 of 3

All this talk of Mastery – Initial Thoughts . . .

I watched a 10 minute YouTube video from Daniel Pink and I was blown away.  He shares the portion of his book (DRIVE) that shares the research based finding that the knowledge worker is motivated by three main things:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

What caught my attention was the word Mastery, which has become a familiar word for me recently.  The dictionary defines it as the possession of a consummate skill or the full command of some subject of study.  Now it is being heralded as a key to motivation for many workers.  Is this a surprise?

As a father of four I have had several more experienced men tell me that adolescence is easier if your child finds what they are good at doing.  This makes sense, but I am surprised that suddenly, in the adult world, this becomes newsworthy.  This is not intended to be an attack on someone making money for stating the obvious, but a recognition that we should view these new lessons for what they are – a reminder that many of the things we have learned in life still apply.

So how does this change how we manage our careers?  How does this change how we lead?  If Mastery is about being good at something, what has the most recent recession done to motivation if people are in one of two states – overloaded doing the work of 1+ people or trying to look overloaded by keeping their head down and staying in constant motion doing something.

Whether your people are in either of these states, I would offer to leaders that the  first step is sitting down and starting some dialogue by asking “What % of your job do you enjoy and want to get better at doing?”.  Then come up with a plan for increasing that by 5% over the next month.   Mastery starts with focus – and focus starts with leadership, from the inside and the outside.  A leader has the chance to bring focus from the outside by helping to define some targets/goals for the individuals.   We all have a chance to build focus from the inside by trusting, relaxing, and working at resuming our journey to Mastery.  After all, it is our journey and it is important.  Pink reminds us of that.  Where are you on your journey to Mastery?

There is more to be said on this topic.  Watch Daniel Pink’s take on this at