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  • Writer's pictureAlexandria Zech

One Bad Apple

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

Can one bad apple spoil the bushel?

In the “real world”, personality difference are much more complicated than simply removing the “bad apples” from the bushel. There are hundreds of reasons why leaders choose to keep a "bad apple".

Managers keep the bad apples because of several reasons, some being:

  • They lack the courage to confront the behavior.

  • Some managers overlook the behavior out of fear.

  • Some manager’s aren’t aware of the problem.

  • The organization culture doesn't have a policy in place for terminating on the basis of poor behavior.

  • And the list goes on...

...but it’s more complicated than this.

It’s possible that the bad apple is also a high performer, he/she is too difficult to replace, he/she is someone who is well connected within the organization, and the list of reason why bad apples are kept on goes on...

An individual may be a highly effective in their own role, an asset in the job they perform and may have responsibilities that others cannot do but they can also contribute negatively to the culture:

For example:

  • A great product manager might spread gossip

  • A great marketing executive might take credit for someone else’s idea

  • An effective designer might purposefully cause a coworker to miss a deadline

  • A manager might try to make another department head look bad during a meeting

  • Each of these counterproductive behaviors does nothing but cause stress and distrust among colleagues.

When you condone the destructive behavior of one individual, you are essentially "co-signing" those behaviors.

You know the saying, if you aren’t part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. Well this couldn't be more true in the case of bad behavior...

Without address the behavior, you are contributing to the deteriorating wellness of your team and again, giving everyone else license to behave similarly.

"If he can act that way, then maybe I can too."

Behavior, and primarily poor behavior, is not black and white. There is usually something underneath the behavior, an emotional experience the person is going through, which elicits the poor behavior.

Get to what's underneath the behavior.

Our personal lives, no matter how hard we try to separate our private lives from our public persona, inevitably bleed into our professional relationships. This is where good leadership and practicing positive management skills is essential!

Recently I had an interesting experience with a co-worker that was powerfully informative for me. A few weeks of uncomfortable silence, and clear avoidance, lead us to having a deeply intimate and powerful conversation. I was reminded, once again, that every experience is influenced by our beliefs, our trauma, our disabilities, our emotional intelligence and the list goes on, all of which are different between each of us. WOW! Sounds like a "no-duh!" moment, but really it woke me up and reminded me of what my responsibilities are as a leader and manager.

Great managers are exceptional coaches.

They shed light on the problem, they use data not judgment to gain understanding of the issue, they ask for agreement, and work toward a mutual solution with parameters that both people will agree to. They coach and counsel with S.M.A.R.T goals and principles in mind:






Have Courage.

Have the courage to confront the poor behavior as soon as it occurs. Be honest and direct, not confrontational, as you explain that what transpired is unacceptable, why it is unacceptable, and that you expect more professional, productive behavior in the future.

Document the issue and follow up with an action plan to help the individual learn how to exhibit more pro-social behaviors with colleagues.

Taking ownership of the bad apple problem is key to ensuring it doesn’t become a rotten apple orchard in your organization.

Communicate Well.

When dealing with conflict or having those "hard conversations" with employees, a great manager will:

  • Take the lead

  • Make tough decisions

  • Make sure everyone understands the reasons behind those decisions

  • Execute

  • Don’t turn the cheek or look the other way or avoid confrontation

  • Set Positive examples

  • Keep their team members in the loop, promoting a true team atmosphere

  • Are inclusive, not exclusive

  • Flexible

  • Empower their team- not through micromanaging- through example

  • Ask questions

  • Share their appreciation

Here are 10 ways to be a better communicator that I love:

Number one: Don't multitask. Be present.

Number two: Don't pontificate. Enter every conversation assuming that you have something to learn. True listening requires a setting aside of oneself. And sometimes that means setting aside your personal opinion.

Number three: Use open-ended questions. In this case, take a cue from journalists. Start your questions with who, what, when, where, why or how.

Number four: Go with the flow. Let your thoughts be like clouds in the sky, watch them pass by but don't get hung up on them. Come back to the conversation and back to presences again.

Number five: Humility! If you don't know, say that you don't know.

Number six: Don't equate your experience with theirs. Hear the other person's experience not from the lens of your own experience but just as their own. Let them have their experience. It doesn't mean they are "right" or "wrong", it only is their experience. And avoid saying things like "Oh yeah I know how that feels, I also feel that way." Just inform them that you hear them, with no but's or and's, just "I hear you."

Number seven: Try not to repeat yourself. It's condescending, and can lead to the person you are communication with losing trust.

Number eight: Examples are good for context but stay out of the weeds. People care more about connection and less about details.

Number nine: LISTEN. Actively Listen. Stephen Covey details this, listen with the intent to understand not be understood. Only in truly understanding someone else, can we even begin to be understood.


Number ten: Be brief, reach a resolution and follow-up.

“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means.” - Albert Einstein
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