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Warning! Under-performers, Termites, and Covert Change Killers Ahead

When you come into a leadership role at a company, how do you honestly evaluate which people are going to be your best assets and which ones are going to be problems?

Start by watching out for 3 deadly “landmines” waiting for you: The Underperformer, The Termite and The Covert Change Killer.

The Under-performer

Can I tell you something about the very first person I hired? It’s a person I regret hiring. A classic Under-performer. Although, in my defense, it wasn’t entirely my fault he was hired.

Let me take you back to that time. It was the first opportunity I had as a supervisor to hire someone. We’d interviewed a number of people and I’d found an outstanding candidate. She completely fit the bill for what I was looking for and I couldn’t have been more excited to bring her aboard.

Then there was another candidate we’ll call George who had all the right skills in his background but we just didn’t click in the interview. It didn’t feel right and I didn’t want to hire him. Conversely, I was confident the candidate I preferred could get a lot of work done rather than create more work for me as her manager.

Done deal, right?

“We like George. Sorry, and you have to hire him,” my two managers told me.

Needless to say, I wasn’t thrilled.

Still, I knew if I hired “their guy” and he didn’t work out, I’d be proven right and George could hopefully be easier to get rid of because my managers could admit they were wrong. If I’d hired someone they didn’t want, I’d hear “I told you so” until the end of time.

I tried to be optimistic about George, but he didn’t give me much reason for it before long. One misstep after another came and we weren’t advancing the initiatives we wanted to as quickly because of George. I was working harder because of him too. If George were a car in a dealership lot, he’d be the clunker you could never get rid of.

It took a solid six months of George continually screwing up for us to remove him. But it didn’t take me six months to know George was a dud and an Underperformer. The sooner you can spot an Underperformer, the better because dislodging him or her may not happen overnight. If you work outside the United States, it tends to take longer and cost more to terminate an employee.

The Termite

Fred has been with the company for 25 years. Fred bleeds the company’s values and is a cheerleader all the way. Everybody likes him. He’s also very a good technician and knows how to get data out of your systems better than anyone else.

Unfortunately, Fred’s got to go. Why?

A funny thing about Fred: Once you get to know him, you realize he’s so stuck in the past, it’s ridiculous. He loves the company we used to be and possibly even who we are today. But if you want to talk to Fred about the future? Forget it. Any talk of change and Fred will just shut down. It’s like pulling teeth to get this historian of the Good Old Days at the company to do anything new.

Fred never really wants to push the envelope. He’s what I would call satisfied with satisfaction. We’re talking about the quintessential “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” character.

I’m sure you’ve come across enough Freds in your career – the person who talks about how they’ve always “done it a certain way” or is quick to point out that the idea you have today was already tried three years ago.

You have to watch out for the Fred in your company because a person like this is what I refer to as a Termite – the longer you keep him around, the more damage he does. They’re a giant time, momentum, and energy drain that can do great harm.

The Covert Change Killer

Sally could pass you in the hallway, crack a giant smile and seem like the brightest ray of sunshine in the place. Then, when you close your office door, she’ll be talking to her teammates and colleagues about how she doubts you’ll last six months. She’s dangerous because not only is she skeptical your plans, but she’s also secretly attempting to spread that skepticism to others and poison their minds against you. Sometimes it’s because Sally, like Fred above, believes she should have gotten your job. Sometimes, she’s afraid you’ll discover her insecurity and vulnerabilities, which makes you a threat. Sometimes she just doesn’t want to change.

Sally is a Covert Change Killer. She is constantly at work, behind the scenes, undermining your ideas and initiatives.

Unlike the Under-performer, who is likely making a genuine effort but simply not measuring up, the reason the Covert Change Killer isn’t making an effort is because they have a very different agenda. What they don’t realize is how clearly it shows.

Sally will arrive to a meeting without a pad of paper or a pen to take notes. At first, it seems like she’s just disorganized. But in reality, she just doesn’t think you’re going to share anything that she doesn’t already know or needs to remember. She’s going to be trouble. Mark my words now.

Still, how long does it take for these landmines to reveal themselves?

Years? At least 6 months? Not even close. Try as soon as a week or two – one month at a maximum.

If you’re attentive enough and listen well, these landmines are deadly and they don’t tend to stay silent for long.

To help you accelerate the process, I’ve identified at least 6 telltale signs for how to spot the Underperformer, Termite and Covert Change Killer faster. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you in our follow-up post to this one so you can see the key differences in them and a potential contributor who may simply be in the wrong place (i.e. a Disruptor).

Are You Setting Yourself Up For Success?

When you get a firm handle on which employees are genuinely behind you and which ones are only acting like it, the best allies to help you enact change in the organization will reveal themselves. This is part of how Value Drivers works with newly appointed CEOs and board members as part of its Setting Leaders Up For Success service offering. To learn more, call Value Drivers today at 312.827.2643 or email or click here to arrange a 30-minute consultation.

Look for Lee Eisenstaedt’s forthcoming book, “Being A Leader With Courage: How To Succeed In Your New C-Level Position In 18 Months Or Less.” It will be published this spring.


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