Why Do We Excuse Bad Behavior?

Managers Need to Step Up and Course-Correct

Employee playing instead of working
I recently met with the head of a company who said she’s finally figured it out. She actually had to fire some employees if she wanted to grow the business and create the kind of work environment she envisioned. Even though these employees had been loyal and been with the company for many years, they were toxic. She had continuously excused their bad behavior because they were good at their job and, well, had just been there so long it didn’t seem right to let them go. They had become her friends. She’s now experiencing the relief of her decision. Without the distractions of dealing with the bad behavior, her senior management can focus on the important work of expanding the business and the brand.

Why do we as humans put up with bad behaviour? Is it because we’re tired, scared, don’t want to ruffle feathers? My daughter joined a paddling club this summer. After the initial anxiety of tipping, she got the hang of it and now eagerly heads off to the lake to master her new craft. She’s got a great club and coaches who encourage her. Unfortunately the regattas, which the clubs come together to participate in, have been a different story. Not for everyone of course, but for my daughter who is new to the sport and doesn’t yet understand how it all works, the racing part has been frustrating. Most troubling for me has been the official who sits in a boat out of parent’s reach, barking orders at her likes she’s a seasoned professional and should know better. She doesn’t. She’s eight. And so twice she has left the dock smiling and determined and twice she has returned with tears running down her face ready to give up because she felt like she wasn’t worthy or good enough. My daughter has been the casualty of what I would describe as bad behaviour, yet as far as I can tell there’s no accountability. In my opinion it’s because the official has been in the sport for many years and has had some success at the competitive levels. Perhaps that’s why the bad behavior at my daughter’s level is ignored.

I was in a meeting not long ago where my jaw actually dropped. I was sitting with a senior manager discussing how to best engage a team that was geographically dispersed. There was one location in particular that I kept coming back to because it wasn’t making sense to me why there were such problems there. Finally, they whispered to me that the manager in that office had been found snorting an illegal substance at work. And you didn’t fire him? Well, no… this manager has just been here so long…and he’s the top salesperson.  Right. I already feel like the cops are going to be knocking on my door just for writing this. Obviously this is an extreme example. And no, they did not become my client.

When people stay in organizations too long they can work themselves into Positions of Power that allow them to behave badly and get away with it. This isn’t a large percentage – but they are there. And these one or two individuals are distracting the rest of your workforce who are trying to get on board with your vision.

I often ask my clients to focus on the bigger picture and think about the outcomes. What is it that you’re trying to create? When you do that, it should become clear who fits with that picture and who doesn’t.  My view is to keep people in the roles where they actually add value. Not cause collateral damage.  If someone is no longer a fit with your vision you can either help them find a role within your company where they shine or with another company where they are better matched.  To me, that’s being a better friend—and a better manager.

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