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At the risk of sounding clichéd, attitude is everything. So much of what we accomplish and how we experience life, both personally and professionally, is ultimately dependent on our attitude.
Not only is attitude important to the quality of our own lives, it has a real effect on those around us and the overall culture in which we work. Research by Harvard Business School suggests that, for better or for worse, the people we work in close proximity with have a direct impact on our performance. In fact, the study found that approximately “10% of a worker’s performance spills over to her neighbors.” That’s quite a lot.
Attitudes are viruses. They spread swiftly and easily. Recognizing this, it becomes especially important for leaders to root out toxic team members.
First of all, there’s a difference between a difficult person and a toxic one.
Difficult people are teachable. They might have some rough edges, but with consistent coaching and mentoring, those rough edges can be polished. Toxic people are not open to change. They cause legitimate harm and are remarkably effective in spreading their attitudes and behaviors to others.
Difficult people often have good intentions. If they are disrespectful, it’s likely due to a lack of communication or interpersonal skills rather than an actual lack of respect for those around them. Toxic people, on the other hand, treat others with disdain because they actually don’t respect those around them. Sometimes their disrespect is directed towards specific people or groups. Sometimes, they don’t discriminate and look down their noses at everyone.
Regardless, all the talent in the world is not worth the fallout from keeping people on your team who don’t treat others with respect and dignity. The longer we tolerate bad attitudes and poor behavior, the deeper the impact on our culture.
So, how do you spot a toxic team member? Here are some warning signs…
- They are unwilling to learn
- Corrective feedback has little to no impact on their behavior
- They get defensive at the mere suggestion that they are in the wrong
- They blame their issues on other people and circumstances and refuse to take personal responsibility
- They embody an entitled attitude, expecting the world to give them what they want regardless of whether they’ve earned it
Immediately letting a toxic team member go may not be the first solution. In some cases, toxic attitudes can change with instruction, coaching and training. If the person is unaware of the impact they are having and actually cares about the ultimate consequences of that impact, direct and honest feedback might have a positive effect on their attitudes and behaviors.
But, some people simply won’t change. In those cases, it’s our responsibility as leaders to protect the rest of the team from their toxic attitude by removing them. It’s simply not worth it to allow one bad apple to make life miserable for everyone else.