Sunday, December 21, 2008

Something in the air... and it ain't roses!

In a recent post I suggested "This American Life" the podcast to any of you out there looking for a good podcast. As it happens it's also a radio show that I can listen to on Iowa Public Radio. This week's show, entitled "Ruining It for the Rest of Us."about the whole "one bad apple spoils the whole bunch" concept. There was some scientific research done to determine the effect of a toxic co-worker on a group of employees and what the result was.


Unsurprisingly, it wound up being true that an annoying, negative, depressing, bad apple DID spoil the whole bunch. Something we all knew to be true backed by science.

Tonight I fire up my reader to catch up on the blogs I enjoy and found in Talking Story with Say Leadership Coaching, a question from a reader that Rosa addresses. "How do I stay positive working in a place where most of the employees are so deeply negative? ..." There was more, but that's the important bit.

But is the corollary true? Can one really positive, helpful, outgoing, cheerful person bring up the level of performance? I think it can. While I think it's easier to spoil something than it is to fix something, whether it's soup or a work environment, I also believe that it's possible for a person to be a catalyst for positive change. Wow... catalyst. That one jumped out at me.

There's a really important aspect of a catalyst though that MUST be taken into consideration if you decide you want to be the catalyst for change in your negative office or work-space. In a catalytic converter the platinum or palladium are used over and over again to catalyze a reaction but they aren't consumed in the process. They bring about the change, but they're not consumed by the change or the work they do in the change.

If you're killing yourself at work, burning the candle at both ends trying to be the one to keep the ship from going down in flames into a morass of psychic sludge -- don't do it. That's right. I said it. Don't. Do. It. You're not being a catalyst then and you're trying to do something, by yourself, that isn't working. I'm not saying give up and be a Negative Nelly like everybody around you, but admit that you need help, and ask for it from co-workers and higher-ups. If you're in management it may very well mean you have to fire quite competent people who are stinking up the joint with their cynicism and ugly attitude.

There's a lot of behavior that can be trained, modified, and worked with, but not all of it can. Someone who carries a cloud of doom around with them in their own heads is an incredibly unhappy person and there's a good chance they're perfectly happy being perfectly miserable and inflicting it on everybody else. Prune them like a dead branch as soon as you find out that's the problem. If they're a chronic crêpe hanger wish them the best in their future endeavors, but for crying out loud don't tie their anchor around your neck or the necks of your team. Their co-workers deserve better than that.
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