Free the Village

Free the Village: Adobe Stock

Free the village, be they people, processes, or systems.

Lessons from Beowulf on Dealing with Disruptive Behavior

First off, to be clear, I do not see people as beasts or monsters but as one’s that God sees as having great worth in His eyes. How we treat others helps them remember their infinite worth as children of the living God.   We should do this even when they are disruptive, to help them learn about the God who loves them and created them in His image to do good and not evil.

Beowulf, the Old English poem, sets an interesting parallel for more effective operational leadership.  Beowulf, the champion commissioned by the King of the Danes, frees the village from the beast Grendel and the people once again flourish.  “Grendels” creep around in all organizations as people, processes or systems.  These monsters can limit innovation, productivity, and talent.

The King of the Danes, after continued attacks, realized it was his responsibility to slay the beasts and restore order to the land. Consider this: just how afraid of beasts are today’s leaders?  Performance coaches are often hired to address people who behave badly, processes that are not working and systems that are ineffective. The processes and the systems take time to fix and, typically, the end yields better and sustainable results.  But what’s to be done about those people who are behaving badly?

What are the consequences of not dealing with people of the disruptive behavior?  Be they teens on the street, employees in the office, or family.

Are you Tolerating Bad Behavior?

Many leaders tolerate bad behavior because they are afraid of the consequences. Leaders need to ask themselves “What are the consequences of not dealing with the bad behavior?”  To build perspective around the issue, consider the disruption in the organization.  The disrupter is someone who generates unsupported or disorderly views of the company, its leaders, or peers, regardless of the guidance or support they have received.  The disrupter isn’t happy and thinks the organization is responsible for his or her happiness (or unhappiness), and generally wants to commiserate with skeptical colleagues. Despite attempts to engage the sceptic and overcome objections, he or she continues to be disruptive.  Suddenly, the swamp has a growing number of Grendels and not enough Beowulfs.

As the leader if you are not willing to deal with the distraction to your organization, you will be held hostage to the disrupter and the behavior will be victorious.  As a leader, do you want to be a victim or the King of the Danes?

For most leaders, the answer is obvious.  In practice though, many leaders yield to the path of least resistance…tell the villagers to stay home.  So, I am telling you something you already know.  And, while you may despise reading the obvious, healthy reminders often give us the momentum to do what we subconsciously know needs to be done.   Free the village!

3 steps to Free the village before it is too late.

  1. Do not ignore negative controlling behavior. Leaders are responsible for results including bottom line revenue, and likewise responsible for employee development and a constructive culture.  The latter will enhance the culture.
  2. Handle the unwanted behavior immediately, discretely, and factually. Don’t get caught up in debates.  Help them see the behavior and correct it.
  3. Do not let disrupters usurp your success. One of the hardest tasks for a leader is deciding when to terminate or discipline. Sometimes, when behavior cannot or does not change, you need to make the right decision.  Your people deserve your leadership and need and want you to lead.   When you terminate someone, let him or her know why.   It’s easy to claim at-will employment or a restructuring or punishment as a reason for termination.  But is that the message you want your people to hear?

If you are afraid or perhaps unsure how to free the village, do what the King of the Danes did: get help from your Beowulf (the HR or legal team).  Asking for help is a sign of a good leader! Be strong and courageous; it’s time to slay the beasts and free the village.

I love this poem about Beowulf and began to think more deeply about this not only for businesses but also for schools, communities, and cities.  Our streets are being overrun by disruption and violence.  It’s time for leaders to step up and address freeing the villages.

If you’re struggling with disruptive behavior in your organization, don’t hesitate to seek help from Career Development Partners. Our team of experts can assist with outplacement services, human resource development, and leadership training to help you free your village from disruptive forces and create a more constructive culture. Contact us today to learn more.

Travis Jones - CEO of Career Development Partners

Written By Travis Jones

Travis has been an entrepreneur and business owner in Tulsa for over 30 years. He is a well-known community servant and is dedicated to providing world-class service for everyone we encounter at Career Development Partners.

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