Sometimes I wonder why I seem to be experiencing the same thing in a different form. And I have noticed those around me having similar experiences over and over. One cannot help wondering if we’re being given a lesson that we keep failing to learn.
In my corporate days I had a wonderful team of staff. We all worked together well with a similar outlook on the kind process and effort required to deliver high quality software. One of the contractors I hired into my team wanted to change job function. I gave her the opportunity to learn the new role, with my mentoring and support. She blossomed and was a solid member of the team within a short while. We had a lot of trouble keeping a good Project Manager, however, and finally we got one who was good. She was no nonsense but seemed to connect well with the team members and delivered well on the timelines. These two women were a similar age and started going out in the evenings together.
Within a short period of time the Project Manager started to challenge my leadership and drove a wedge between me and some team members, in particular her new friend. I could not believe what a betrayal it was when I had given her the chance and support to change direction in her career. I had done nothing but support her and a newcomer was able to poison her against me within a few weeks. I felt so disappointed by the other team members who didn’t have the courage to stand by their convictions in what they had confided to me about her.
I raised the issue with my manager, looking for some advice. His first comment was ‘get rid of her’, referring to the rotten apple Project Manager. My instinct was to be professional and to keep the Project Manager for the sake of the projects. My manager found it really suspicious that my integrity was strong enough to put the organisation above my dispute with this woman. In retrospect, not getting rid of her was a really big mistake because the longer she stayed, the more she created dissent and a divided team is not a productive team. Needless to say, my legacy in that particular organisation far surpassed that of the Project Manager’s. Breaking up cohesive teams is not a strategy that can endure for long.
In the ‘family’ business that I ran for the past five years I had a rotten apple as well. She resisted me and challenged my authority from the moment I entered the business. Granted, no-one bothered to tell any of the staff that I was the new leader. But still, the resistance, underhanded sabotage and negative influence on others persisted for years. I should have weeded her out at the outset as it would have changed the entire dynamic of the business going forward.
I have always been a person who hires for attitude because skills can be learned. Inheriting people that were hired by the previous leadership can be really challenging, especially in our labour environment where it’s really difficult to fire someone. I have learned the lesson that a rotten apple or a toxic element in your environment is one of the most harmful things. To the team, to the business and to the leader, particularly a sensitive person. I don’t think I’ll be in an office environment again because it’s just not for me. But at least I have learned the lesson.
If I ever initiate or take over a business, I’ve learned that the first step is to root out any toxic elements. Once you have a team of motivated positive people, you can achieve almost anything.
Have you noticed any trends in your life? Do you tend to have the same conflicts or the same issues arise again and again? What lessons do you think you’re supposed to be learning?