Published on: December 7, 2010
by Michael Sansolo
What turns great companies into merely good ones or good ones into bad ones? It goes back to something my longtime colleague Joy Nicholas always used to remind me: attitude determines altitude. In other words: you can’t fly if you don’t believe.
I love highlighting positive examples in these columns, but the simple truth is that the negative lessons often tell us more and deserve our keen attention. That’s probably why an article in this weekend’s New York Times got me thinking of the team killer that all of us have faced and likely lost to throughout our careers. It’s the attitude cancer known as cynicism.
In the Times interview, Kathy Savitt, the CEO of Lockerz, a social network and e-commerce site, talked about the importance of guts in dealing with tough problems; the importance of respect in the workplace and the need for wit. All are positive traits that help build a winning environment. But as all of us who have worked on teams know, bad behaviors can drive out the good, just as bad people sometimes drive out the bad. Savitt put cynics at the top of the list:
“It’s easy for people at many companies to become cynical, which leads to politics, which can create a cancer that can topple even the greatest companies. Cynicism is the first cell, so to speak, that can metastasize within an organization.
“A good example is when a team member has a great idea or has a big issue with a customer experience and no one responds, no one even acknowledges it. The idea festers, problems mount, no one listens. That’s a recipe for cynicism.
“Another cell for cynicism is when you feel a company is not living out its core values. And just a lack of overall communication can cause problems. Leaders can have the greatest of intentions and their senior team may feel completely bought into the vision. But if people on the front lines don’t know what’s going on in the company you might have a seed of cynicism that can grow.”
Among all the big problems companies face these days, cynicism might hardly make the list. But it should. It’s cynicism that turns employee-customer experiences into problems and cynicism that poison the workplace from the inside out. Savitt’s words remind us that leaders hold the antidote through clear communication and by addressing problems head on.
Virtually everyone in business today has a to-do list that is simply too long to ever complete. We all need to find ways to cut costs, improve service and build a value proposition that somehow can succeed in today’s incredibly challenging environment. None of it will happen unless our team is on board with a winning attitude and that won’t happen accidentally.
There’s a great line in the sports (and civil rights) movie Remember the Titans when a player is challenged on his attitude. Attitude, the player reminds his challenger, is a reflection of leadership. When the leader shows he is listening, the player’s attitude changes.
So make your to-do list one item longer. Eliminate the cynics or address the reason for the cynicism. There’s really no alternative.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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