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  • Writer's pictureScott McInnes

92 | Weeding out bad behaviour

We've got a nice garden, But there's been one patch (where I tried and failed to sow a wildflower garden last summer) that's been annoying me - it was scrubby and weedy and just looked horrible. I'm no gardener (self-confessed expert at killing things mostly) but I decided last weekend, given the beautiful weather, that it was time to tackle the weeds.

So, fork out, gloves on and off I went.

I always find, when I'm doing jobs like that, that my mind wanders and I start to see links to the work I do with clients. As someone who really believes in the power of story (you might recall 'Lessons in leadership from a flatpack bed'!) there's often an analogy in there somewhere.

And so it was, as I was on my hands and knees looking for tiny nettles that I thought about that moment could teach us about leadership and bad behaviour.

There's always poor behaviour - There will ALWAYS be weeds in your garden - no matter how hard you try to get rid of them. The same is true of poor behaviour. It's not necessarily the kind that's got a capital PB and is going to require serious HR time and effort. More often it's the kind with a small pb - the kind that's there all the time and just gets glossed over with a "That's just how he is." or, "She just needs to be managed differently".

But it's that small, more day-to-day poor behaviour (that people often just put up with) that can be more destructive in teams. It's unfair, undermines leaders, impacts team culture and morale, greys the line between what's acceptable and what isn't, and leads to crumbling trust and an impact on engagement and performance.

The roots of poor behaviour run deep - We all know that simply pulling up the green bit you can see will not fix a weed problem - what you can see on the surface is often only the start of the problem. It's a matter of digging down and getting it out roots and all. It you don't, after a short period of time, it just comes back.

As a leader, it's your responsibility to watch for and get to the root of bad behaviour. It's often only a symptom of a bigger problem, so finding out what that problem is is key to effecting positive change in your team.

It's how you deal with it that really matters.

Be like a hen - keep at it! - Left now, that patch that I spent two hours diligently weeding will be infested again in a few weeks (you could actually see little tiny nettle plants still on the ground!). So it's critical to keep at it, to keep taking out the little weeds before they grow into big weeds! We've got hens and they do a great job at that, picking over newly dug ground, picking out pieces of green they see. They keep at it, so nothing ever gets to become deep-rooted - it's effectively dealt with before it becomes a big issue. And as a bonus, as they're doing that, gobbling up the problem weeds, they're putting out a by-product - fertiliser - that helps everything else to grow!

And the same is true of managing poor behaviour. When you see it, deal with it. These are often tough conversations to have, but nipping it in the bud early can stop it from becoming a much bigger, more destructive problem for the whole team. And it's not about being heavy handed - to start with it's about being empathetic. And that's really important in the current circumstances, where we're all remote and all working in very different home situations.

Lead with empathy - It's important that the starting point is something like, "some of the things you've said/done recently seemed a bit out of character - is everything OK". And it's worth remembering that self-awareness isn't always a common trait among people - they may not realise that how they're acting or what they're doing is in any way bad - so conversation is key.

That conversation will often help to uncover the ACTUAL problem that's resulting in that person being short-tempered, rude, quiet or how ever else they're presenting. Not only does that help to reinforce your role as a human leader who cares, but it also fixes the problems, allowing your team to get on with their jobs.

In summary - with any kind of poor behaviour in teams, whether big or small, getting to the root cause of the issue early and nipping it in the bud can often save you from having to handle a much bigger problem down the line.

Get it right and you can sit back and watch your team blossom and grow.

OK, OK - I'm stopping now! :-)


About Inspiring Change

Based in Dublin, we help organisations to connect their people to their strategy, change programmes, purpose and each other through a focus on how they communicate with, lead and engage them.

If you want to have a chat please get in touch.


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