27 September 2023

Tolerating laziness: Don’t let tolerance undermine leadership

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John Eades* says it is one thing to give second chances; another to tolerate a colleague who constantly fails to make a positive contribution to the team.

The culture of tolerance is here. In every aspect of life, we are now asked to accept every person’s choices and decisions.

It’s one thing to be liberal with your endurance of others; but that same tolerance will hinder your abilities as a leader.

Take Amy, a Division Manager at a large manufacturing company, as an example.

She was handpicked to lead a team going through extensive change. One of her team members, Ron, had been at the company for more than 20 years.

He was passed over for the promotion Amy received.

Ron took every opportunity to undermine Amy in team meetings, threw her under the bus to upper management, and challenged every decision she made.

Instead of making the difficult decision to move Ron to another area or terminate him, Amy tolerated his questionable choices and bad behaviour.

Amy’s success hinged upon a key leadership lesson: What you tolerate, you encourage.

You and I are just like Amy. To reach our full leadership potential, we must be intolerant of people’s actions, choices, and behaviour that clearly are in the wrong.

In my research studying some of the best leaders on the planet it was evident these leaders learned early on that they couldn’t make every person happy.

They first developed a set of beliefs about what drives performance and helps improve their team members as human beings.

Then they refused to accept anything that threatened or contradicted those beliefs.

Before we get off track about what leaders should tolerate, it’s important to understand exactly what the word means.

Toleration is defined as allowing, permitting, or acceptance of an action, idea, object, or person which one dislikes or disagrees with.

So the natural question is: “What should you tolerate, and what should you not?”

There is no doubt that every leader should not only be tolerant but embrace people who are of a different gender, race, religion, or nationality.

Having a diverse team both in make-up and in thought is a competitive advantage.

Research shows leaders who embrace new ideas and different ways of thinking stay ahead in today’s rapidly changing business world.

It’s simply impossible to achieve this without having different kinds of people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives.

While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, there is a right and wrong in many situations.

Too often leaders tolerate things that aren’t right in fear of backlash or judgment.

While this seems like a sound strategy on the surface, it contradicts what the best leaders do.

Great leaders aren’t afraid to stand up for what is right and for what they believe in.

If you are looking for some ideas for where to draw the line with employees, here are some of my favourites.

Team members there only for the pay

Getting paid for the work a professional does is an essential part of any job, but being connected to the deeper purpose behind the work that is done is essential.

The best leaders don’t tolerate employees who are there only to collect their pay.

Team members who don’t want to get better

“Everything rises and falls on leadership” — you may be familiar with this John Maxwell quote.

It simply means if you don’t have a growth mindset and aren’t growing as a leader, you limit the potential of your team.

The same should be expected of every member of a team. Each person is responsible for their own growth and development.

The moment a person believes they are a finished product, it doesn’t just hurt them, it hurts the team too.

One of the best ways to determine this is for leaders is to introduce learning opportunities to team members and see how they engage and respond.

Team members who hurt the culture

I define culture as “the shared beliefs and values that guide thinking and behaviour”.

If a team member is sabotaging these shared beliefs and values, and it’s hurting the culture of your team, it’s time to move on.

Many managers know when someone is hurting their culture but choose to tolerate it because it involves a top performer.

This is a scarcity mindset instead of an abundance mindset.

There are many talented people in the workforce; don’t fall for the myth that someone can’t be replaced.

In fact, a compelling argument can be made that there is addition by subtraction.

Are there exceptions to this rule? Yes; but only in short-term decision-making.

Team members who are only in it for the pay, don’t want to get better, or who hurt your culture just begins to scratch the surface of what you shouldn’t tolerate.

Like many things in life, people deserve second chances, so your intolerance should be wrapped up in communication, candour and care.

If the choices, actions, and behaviour don’t change, it’s time to make a change.

*John Eades is the Chief Executive of LearnLoft a leadership development company. He can be contacted at johneades.com.

This article first appeared on John’s LearnLoft blog.

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