I will never forget the moment.  I had recently started my dream job and was placed over a poorly performing team.  Because it was my dream job I was very idealistic and optimistic about the company, our place in the market, and our team.  Morale was horrible but whatever happened before I arrived did not factor into anything I did as a leader.

But the team would soon despise me.  I was hired in from the outside.  I was thrilled to be there.  I admired the leadership I reported to.  I arrived early and stayed late.  I was the exact opposite of what they were.

I also instituted a system for success which included such “unreasonable demands” as:

  • Let’s get to work on time.
  • Let’s put in eight hours work for eight hours pay.
  • Let’s don’t waste time.
  • Let’s don’t gossip about the leadership and field personnel.
  • Let’s count what counts.  Let’s only do tasks which actually result in producing measurable results which lead to our success.

The last one was especially unpopular.  Christians can “christianize” poor performance with statements like “Well isn’t this supposed to be ministry” or “that is not my spiritual gift”.  The team was a departmental version of a ponzi scheme.  I tried to love them and “turn it around” and “help them reach their potential” but I inherited a group of Bernie Madoffs.  A lot of people talked a good talk.  They made great arguments and could win any debate.  They sounded quite convincing.  They would have made great lawyers.  They just had no numbers to show for it.

Then came the moment when I became the true leader.

The individual with the most influence on the team (and the leader of all disgruntled employees) was transferring to another department.  This was a PR hit for me because everyone was telling him how lucky he was to be getting out and could he get them a job as well.  Never mind he was hitting only about a quarter of his goal.

On his last day, he stood in my doorway and yelled at a level of volume the entire team could hear, “Everyone knows you don’t know anything.  You’re just Dave’s (my boss) puppet.”

I was angry.  I was humiliated.  I was being bullied by an angry mob/team.  I was insecure.  I was alone.  But I knew what I was doing was right.  It is counter-intuitive but this is when I became the team’s leader.

This is when you know you are a leader – when you are willing to stand alone with nothing but your system for what is needed to change so your team could survive and your preferred future become a reality.  You are a leader when goals are not being met, change is needed and you are willing to make the hard decisions to reverse momentum and advance the company’s goals.  (NOTE – You better be right though.)

I replaced the hallway bully with a talented person who immediately bought into our system.  Within 30 days he was tripling the numbers of his disgruntled predecessor.  He would then go on to become one of the stars of our team for the next three years.  BTW – nothing quiets critics like success.  One by one I replaced each disgruntled employee with a high-character, high-production individual who immediately out-performed the person they replaced.  Within five months our team was producing record results.

When you go through the crucible of standing alone is when you discover your mettle as a leader.

Bill Walsh once said, “My ultimate job is to make a decision.  Everybody’s got an opinion.  Leaders are paid to make a decision.  The difference between offering an opinion and making a decision is the difference between working for the leader and being the leader.”

For the record, if you are keeping a disgruntled employee who appears “irreplaceable”, you are actually limiting your own success.  Take the PR hit because disgruntled employees rarely produce great results.  Attitude determines your altitude.  Stop letting disgruntled people take you and your organization down.  Don’t be held hostage.  You cannot fall prey to naysayers who say you cannot succeed.  They really are replaceable.  You’ll see.  Stand alone.


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