Cynics and Champions

Cynics and ChampionsHave you noticed –  cynics love to cluster.

Whether in cyber chat forums or staking turf in office staff rooms, individuals gather to share their non-contributing views on the world.

In the workplace this group can be viewed as a petty annoyance.

But come to that conclusion at your peril.

By nature, cynic clusters are aggressive recruiters.  Invitations are openly extended, knowing the gain when potential recruits can be brought near.  Once in striking distance, all that is needed is to tap into the right vein of an individual’s sense of alienation, complaint, or injustice.

Newcomers to an organization are presented a different face.  Their invitation promises ready inclusion and acceptance.  In time they will be indoctrinated in similar fashion to the frog in the slowly heated, anaesthetizing pot.  Before long, they will be completely transformed having no clue such a thing has happened – soon indistinguishable from those who have populated this group for many years.

Having a positive outlook on life, you can’t begin to relate.   Sitting around dwelling on the negative isn’t your way of doing life.   So let them do as they will, it makes no difference for you.

Therein lies the problem.

Those predisposed to positive engagement are busy seeking out the best in life.  They see what others can’t and pursue what others won’t.

Though often escaping attention, our companies and organizations are filled with these positive individuals.  Their entrepreneurial spirit unobtrusively seeks out one worthy activity after another.  It isn’t uncommon for their activities to go unnoticed other than by those directly impacted.

But while these soloists invest in the lives of others, the cynic cluster collectively gathers to add to its strength.  Though appearing geographically contained, it is anything but.  The cluster strategically feeds its toxins and then believers disperse with missionary intent.

Ignored long enough, this group slowly but surely exerts influence until eventually your organization’s culture is determined.

By the time those in leadership notice, they have established a firm grip.   Echoes of cynicism, entitlement, and complaint come from various quarters.

In response, well-intentioned but uninformed solution seekers reply with direct action.  Confront the cluster.  Administer suitable consequences.  Break up its parts.  Then demand people return to tasks at hand.

Occasionally this intervention works but if time has given opportunity for sufficient spread, these efforts will fail.  Even if a turnaround occurs, effects are short lived.   Re-engaging task without re-igniting vision cannot sustain lasting passion and restore needed purpose.

In fact more often that not, identify and disable strategies do the very opposite of what is intended.  Fueled by feelings of injustice and validated by what can easily be represented as a draconian response, cynic cluster members now have specific complaints to share with whomever will listen.  Resistance isn’t extinguished, it merely has been driven underground, where it finds other ways to spread.

So what do you do?

First:   be certain not to direct actions at the wrong target.  Rather than spending valuable time disassembling what you don’t want, understand that you will rarely get to the regenerative core so instead devote your time and energy to creating the workplace you desire.  That means, despite what strong emotions may be telling you, don’t allow the cynic cluster to become the focus of attention.  So take a second breath before you rush in to squeeze down at this place.  The last thing you want to do is increase the spread.

Second:  a more compelling way of reducing the power of the cynic cluster is to assemble a group of champions that have the ability to influence and attract in ways the cynic cluster can’t.  This effectively restricts the fuel that keeps the cluster group alive by creating another resource which draws heavily on the fuel supply.  Far more importantly, you are now actively involved in shaping your future culture.

This necessitates gathering your organization’s positive change agents and finding ways to bring their individualism into a collective.  Unfortunately many of these action-oriented champions are so busy that it never occurs to them to gather as a group.  However, if their contributions aren’t brought together with the common purpose of shaping a positive workplace culture, the cynic cluster, by default, has been given permission to dictate the shape and attitudes of the workplace.

These positive change agents need to be empowered so they own a vision of their impact.  Together they can inspire, shape, and enable others to be better than they are.  They can establish a tone in the workplace that doesn’t ignore the concerns but doesn’t allow those concerns to determine focus, attitude, and action.

Be clear, what is being suggested is primarily not about strategies and programs.  It is about a vision, an attitude, and an action that will allow everyone to be better as a result of a work culture that promotes restoration, encouragement, and success.  It doesn’t withdraw because of setback or failure or walk away in times of loss.  This culture accepts what is to be learned, re-strategizes, and then actively re-engages.

At first bringing these individualistic champions together might feel as if you are taking the reins of free and unrestricted thoroughbreds and hitching them to a lesser purpose.  Be clear – don’t engage this group in endless meetings and strategy sessions because their passion is fed by doing not talking.

But you must bring them together.

They need to inspire and re-energize one another.   These thoroughbreds are visionaries who take joy in the running.  As individuals they have failed to see the impact they can have when the race is run together.  Some blessed with different temperaments and skills will be tasked with different courses to run but the destination to the finish line is the same.

When actions flow from this kind of authentic vision, others will be excited to link hands for a common purpose.

Champions who provide purpose, direction, and hope giving vision will always find a following.  And when they do, the cynic culture is left gasping for breath.

by Rob Inrig

Copyright © 2011 All Rights Reserved.

I welcome your feedback as well as your observations about how you or someone you know became a culture shaper, and the lessons you have learned.  Submissions are made with the understanding that they may be freely and without obligation be used in any future publications by Rob Inrig.

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