Threats Disguised as Inspiration
A CEO I worked with once told me about a staff meeting he held. He had recently attended a leadership presentation where the speaker outlined three different types of workers in the workplace. The first two types were described as people you really didn’t want working for you: passive, disengaged, avoiding … glass-half-empty types. The third, however, was what every company should demand: the go-getter, active, involved, engaged, glass-half-full type.
This CEO explained to his staff that he wanted them to be “No. 3,” meaning the third type of employee. His intentions were positive: he wanted to motivate his employees to be their best. But I suspect what really happened in that meeting was far from inspirational. To his staff, it felt like a full-blown threat!
Individual behaviors are often the result of their environment. And the environment at this company wasn’t great. Employees had been having problems with the head of sales for years. In order to win clients he over promised on the contracts, so while he brought in a ton of business, he left customers angry and staff frustrated when they couldn’t meet the contract terms.
Ironically, this sales leader probably had no doubt that he was the quintessential “No. 3.” But in reality, his actions were causing his colleagues to act like “ones” and “twos,” passively accepting the situation because they felt powerless to change things. And because the CEO didn’t address the issue effectively, the behaviors continued.
I see this scenario all too often in the workplace, usually for the following reasons:
- Issue avoidance
- Addressing issues ineffectively
- Personal blind spots or distorted perspectives
When one or more of these issues is present, people morph from active and engaged to passive and disengaged. In this atmosphere, even “inspirational” messages sound like veiled threats because they focus only on end behaviors, not on fixing the underlying issues that are causing them. I believe that most employees want to do their best and contribute to their fullest. And in the right environment and with the proper support, they can. So to truly inspire your team to be “No. 3s,” first make sure you’re not operating like a “No. 1.”