People Being People

17 Mar

I’ve been thinking a lot about a post put up a few weeks ago by Mark Henson of Sparkspace.

Most managers will identify their biggest inspirations and disappointments in terms of people. Our bests and worsts all come down to personalities, tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, potential (untapped or activated) and interactions with other team members in accomplishing our work. Sounds like an obvious statement, doesn’t it? Here’s why:

  • People get the job done and interact with team members to achieve results.
  • People make mistakes and learn how to better do the work.
  • People are incredibly productive and creative, providing services and products never before imagined.
  • People fail to get along with other team members and make small problems bigger over time.
  • And people take up time and energy. A lot of it.

Mark’s post is about what he calls “killer whales” in our workplaces. Here’s his definition:

I’m talking about those people who just seem to create damage everywhere they go. Maybe it’s through a chronically negative attitude, or gossip, or laziness, or spreading “victim mentality.” Killer whales in companies have also been known to be brown-nosers, ladder climbers, big talkers, and otherwise selfishly ambitious snakes (oops, sorry, we were talking about whales, not snakes, weren’t we?).

I’ll add one to the list: the under-bus-throwers.

The post made me think about the various work environments I’ve experienced over the past 20 years, as a manager and an employee. Who among the people of these workplaces has been most memorable? I can quickly identify my favorite leaders and coworkers, the ones who challenged me and truly embodied the word “colleague.” I also have clear memory of the leaders and coworkers who at times seemed to actively PREVENT me from accomplishing work. Some of these individuals became the “characters” in my working with difficult people series of posts last year. Most everybody fell into an in-between category…sad but true. I guess it’s not unusual to remember the best and the worst.

Negativity and me-ism has no place in a team environment. Managers have a responsibility to hold the mirror up to the killer whale and help them to self-assess and self-correct behaviors that become unproductive, however well-meaning. Mark’s right in that sometimes the killer whale needs to be released into the wild. There are humane ways to make that happen, but running from reality and ignoring your organization’s killer whales will send other staff the wrong message.

For the sake of the common good, who among us is brave enough to confront the killer whale?


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