There are four types of employees in your organization:
Which are the most dangerous?
It’s not the leaders. Every organization needs a variety of leaders, even though they make mistakes. And every organization needs loyal, dedicated followers.
Even the objectors are valuable. They raise concerns openly about a course of action, constructively challenging the direction, or wondering if this action fits with the shared values of the organization.
The most dangerous employee is the mutterer, the one who remains silent during discussions, expressing no viewpoints, but then afterwards snidely remarking to colleagues, “Can you believe what they are doing now? What a crock. Here we go again.”
This old story about mutterers has insight for us as leaders. Some might argue the toxic people are the most dangerous: the bullies, or arrogant narcissists, or the abusive leaders.
But most high-performance organizations know how to deal with these abusive types: give them a chance to shape up and operate by the agreed upon shared values but fire them if the abuses continue or are too severe (e.g., sexual harassment, fraud, or bringing a firearm to work).
The most insidious employee—and therefore the most dangerous—is the mutterer, because leaders frequently don’t witness their undermining behavior. So, the mutterers can go unnoticed for years, poisoning the culture and sabotaging morale, never having the courage to question a decision constructively. The mutterers are the sarcastic and judgmental cynics who cause others to join the fray. The muttering becomes contagious.
Some people mutter because they are afraid to raise questions with the bosses. But high-performance organizations encourage constructive dissent. Author Patrick Lencioni encourages leaders to “mine for conflict” proactively to avoid the groupthink and dysfunction that arises from not constructively engaging in tough issues and disagreements. Sparks of constructive dissent often lead to better decisions—and teams that trust each other and commit to the group.
Organizations with triple crown leaders encourage people to speak up and raise tough issues. These organizations thank the constructive challengers. They coach mutterers to join into the dialogue. And they part ways with the people who refuse to transform their muttering into constructive and principled objecting.
1. Do you ever find yourself muttering to others about your organization and leaders?
2. Do you mine for conflict in meetings and thank the objectors who speak up?
3. Do you coach the mutterers to stop?
4. Do you part ways with people who won’t stop muttering?
Bob and Gregg Vanourek, father and son, are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, winner of the 2013 International Book Awards (Business: General). Twitter: @TripleCrownLead