Don't Waste Your Breath on a Stiff-Neck

Can we get down to the brass tacks of employee motivation and engagement? The truth is motivation and engagement come from the ground up, not from the top down. Yet how many times were we told to improve the attitudes and morale of the workforce?

Directives like this always befuddled me because I looked at working with others as a shared vision quest, not as a babysitter hired to cajole others into getting on board. I thought that happened when they signed the offer letter and exchanged money for activity.

This rationale was a result of my upbringing with Charlie "Tremendous" (no thumb suckers!) and my time in the military (insubordination was conduct unbecoming, and disobeying a direct verbal order could lead to a court-martial). Still, it was clear to me early on that you have to be a chronological adult to be in the workforce. Along with “adulting” is the individual’s ownership at bringing the self-awareness and self-discipline to control their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in their professional setting.

This presupposition of responsibility and professionalism works for the bulk of the population. However, some will refuse to engage in any enterprise’s game of following the leader. Dr. John Maxwell refers to them as the "unsalvageable," and Dr. Henry Cloud calls them “evil” in his book Necessary Endings. Now and then, you come face to face, or should I say head-to-head with what the Bible calls, a stiff-necked person.

God Himself gave us the label of a stiff-necked people in the 32nd chapter of Exodus. The meaning since then has involved antagonism, stubbornness, argumentative, and going into minute detail to distinguish our point of view from others. In other words, they are wise in their own eyes and refuse to be led. Always resisting, constantly arguing, continuously stirring up strife, these people are the bane of your organization’s existence.

Nothing you do as a leader to try and help the individual will register with them because their focus is inward. I have worked in numerous entities of all sizes across the globe over the past forty years. I have been in countless personal and familial groupings as well. Unfortunately, I have experienced this type of hard-hearted resistance across all sizes and types of industry, as well as nationality. As leaders, our instinct is to try and fix the issue. You can't fix it because we are responsible to people and not for people.

I can’t make you engaged at work any more than I can make you happy at home. That’s on you. My job as the leader is to create the enabling resources but, as my father said, “If you ain’t happy where you is, it’s a cinch you won’t be happy where you ain’t.” You see, an inharmonious disposition has nothing to do with the leader or manager. So, we need to stop telling those with direct reports to alter the DNA of a cantankerous character and make it a collaborative one. It ain’t gonna happen!

The best thing we, as leaders, can do is to identify the behavior, call it out for what it is, and eliminate it from the workplace. In the end, we have one of two options; evolve or evacuate. And if you have someone on your “team” who doesn’t contribute to the team spirit, they need to be let go. I studied crisis leadership for my doctoral dissertation. The biggest differentiator that told the leader whether the person was ready to charge the hill or prepared to jump or sink the ship was their willingness to be led. In short, people react one of two ways when faced with change, the unknown, a crisis, or anything else that comes across our routine desks during the workday. They become excited or entrenched. Your stiff-necks will double down and refuse to budge. So don't waste your time, resources, or energy. Helping someone leave an organization where they are miserable is a blessing and not a curse. And that fact is one of the most challenging leadership lessons of all.

Check out my latest release Burnett or Bridgett: A Tale of Two Employees for more discussion on this tremendous topic!!

Disengaged employeesDisgruntled employeesEmployee engagementEmployee motivationHow to be a great employeePoor attitude

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