I want to let you in on my very personalized use of a word. That word is “imp.” In normal usage, this terms refers to everything from a demon to a mischievous child. I use it for something else: those distracting, dissipating, destructive habits that often surface among team members.
You’ve surely experienced these imps, though you may have pushed them so far to the edge of your attention that you’ve never focused on them completely. This is precisely why I’m bringing them up. Most leaders never focus on these imps or deal with them decisively. It is a costly omission. Imp-ridden teams are weary, divided, confused teams. It’s the leader’s job to fix this.
An imp troubles a team, for example, when one of its members constantly questions the leader’s direction but never offers better solutions. Suspicion arises. Doubt sets in. A subtle resistance to the leader’s vision emerges. No wisdom surfaces. Just undermining.
An imp begins its work when someone on the team routinely mocks the leader for the entertainment of everyone else. Now, every leader should be able to take some good-natured teasing. We all know the difference between this, though, and the kind of mocking that diminishes a leader in the eyes of a team.
An imp can gain sway on a team through something as simple as repeated side conversations. We’ve all seen it. The team is sitting around a conference table. Jim has the floor and is talking about the business at hand. But old Joe feels it necessary to turn to Sue and chat away while Jim is making his presentation. Joe may simply be asking what’s for lunch, but his habit of starting side conversations means two people aren’t listening, everyone is distracted and the overall result in the room is division and ill-feeling, however unintended.
An imp also takes the field when the unnamed “they” are repeatedly cited as authority for some challenge or another. Or when a team member habitually goes to people in private to press for causes they don’t have the courage to champion before the larger group. Or when a member of the team constantly huffs and puffs and shakes their head while someone else is talking but they never speak up and say clearly what’s bothering them. All of these are imps that bedevil leaders. And there are dozens more.
Leaders shouldn’t demand stifling conformity, but they do have to insist upon conduct that feeds productive unity rather than division and resistance.
What’s the solution? Slay the imps. Leaders have to confront, they have to explain, they have to coach, and they have to prune. We don’t want teams of sycophants. We do need teams comprised of people eager for a synergistic effect—a team that is greater than the sum of its parts. So, slay the imps.
That’s it. Have a great weekend.