You Can’t Fix Idiot
Posted March 14, 2019

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You Can't Fix Idiot“He’s and idiot.” “She doesn’t get it.” “He’s such a slacker.”  Leaders are not immune from saying such things, hearing them from their team, and allowing them to inform their management decisions.

You can’t fix idiot.

Labeling someone – using judgment terms – is easy when team members are making mistakes or not living up to expectations. What does idiot or slacker really mean? If someone gets labeled as such, it’s actually impossible to work with them to fix the problem. Still worse is if a team or company perpetuates such labeling, you have created an atmosphere of negativity and judgement without a culture in place to address very real problems.

Why do you consider Brian an idiot? Is it because he embarrassed himself and the company at a client meeting? Is it because he wrote an email to a prospective client and misrepresented the cost of the project? Is it because he was at a conference, got drunk and missed the early meeting the next day? Anyone could legitimately say Brian is an idiot. But how helpful is that?

Labeling Brian doesn’t solve the problem. If everyone just thinks of Brian in this way without addressing the underlying behaviors he is likely to carry a stigma that impacts his effectiveness and will likely repeat the behaviors.

Look at the behaviors, not the person.

Brian is an idiot. Isolate the behaviors that Brian exhibited that embarrassed himself in front of the client. Here are some things that can be focused on:

  • Had he prepared content adequately?
  • Did he understand his role in the meeting?
  • Did he have the confidence to speak up when appropriate, and shut up when necessary?

These are all skills that can be addressed through coaching, training, and supervision.

What are the causes of his unfortunate email?

  • Did he research the client’s need and communicate internally to get the right price?
  • Does he manage his time effectively so he’s not sending out important information at the last minute that is subject to errors?
  • Does he cave in to client pressure and compromise pricing intentionally?

The ways to address the problem at the conference should be pretty obvious.

Each of these behaviors that result in the “idiot” label have underlying skills that can be taught to bring about better outcomes if  leaders are willing to step in and address it rather than perpetuating the label.

Linda is a slacker. Look for the behaviors that can be addressed:

  • She doesn’t show up to the office as early as everyone else. Why is this a problem and how can this be addressed?
  • Reports she delivers are often late. How can she be coached or trained to hit deadlines?
  • She doesn’t step up and take on new assignments. How can she understand the impact of her not raising her hand, and what can be done about it?

A culture that revolves around labels of judgment is one of negativity, blame, and shaming. Work to create a constructive atmosphere by looking at the underlying behaviors that have created that label, then work to address them professionally.

Tim Ressmeyer is a professional leadership and life coach. He is also the author of The Impact of Confidence: 7 Secrets of Success for the Human Side of Leadership (2018). Available on Amazon.

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