Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Taking your team down with you

Have you ever worked with a perpetually negative person? What about one of those annoying, perpetually happy positive people? Ever wondered how they affect others?

I don’t anymore. I had a fascinating experience, and fortunately, it was very early in my management career.

I was leading a team developing the next big product for my company - new technologies, new market, and an impossible deadline. Never mind how we got there, that’s a story for another day. Anyway, we were all working crazy hours and quickly realizing we would never even come close to our deadline. I was getting a TON of pressure from above to work harder, work faster, just get it done! This was taking it’s toll on me and it must have showed because one late night, one of the guys on my team convinced me to go out and have a few drinks. He would not take no for an answer. He said we both needed it. Well, we had more than a few drinks and talked and talked about the project.

Except for the deadline, it was a dream project - strategic for the company, latest and greatest technologies, and an international market. What more could you ask for? He was thrilled to have the opportunity to really blaze trails, both from a technological and from a market perspective. Our other big topic of conversation was how much fun it used to be to work at this company. I don’t know who actually came up with the idea, but we decided we were just going to start having fun at work again. Just enjoy it!

So we did. The next morning, we both showed up at work excited and happy, probably a little hung over, but mostly our old selves. What happened next was amazing! I’m sure some of my team thought we were nuts, but by lunchtime the vibe in our workspace had changed considerably. Some of the team had started smiling and joking again. They were a little more chipper, even though nothing had changed, nothing, that is, except our attitudes. By the end of the day – one day – the new attitude had spread to the entire team. One day!

I had not realized before this how profoundly a leader’s attitude affects her team, both positively and negatively. Profoundly! I was amazed. Still am and this story is years old.

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