King Cobra In the Baby Crib – Are You Protecting the Baby or the Cobra?

Great leaders learn to make the tough decisions to remove counter-culture players from their companies. Counter-culture players are on the wrong side of the rope, creating an unnecessary and costly tug-of-war, as they literally pull against the core values, the leadership directives, and the culture. Those who have led great teams realize that we must remove the culture bandits from our culture. These counter-culture team members can be passive aggressive, or outright bold in their resistance. Because of the poisonous and toxic environment that is created, and the danger they represent to the culture and other team members, I figuratively refer to these counter-culture team members as king cobras. A king cobra will tackle his/her own team on the goal line! Cobras pull for the other side. I have found this analogy to be a very effective teaching tool to help one’s executives and leaders understand the scope and eventual day of reckoning of counter-culture team members.

For perspective, if you walked into your baby’s room, and their was a big king cobra coiled up next to your baby inside the baby crib, what would you do? What is your sense of urgency? Would you call a meeting and talk to the cobra? Would you ask the cobra to behave and ask the baby to stop crying? Are you concerned about the cobra or the baby? Do you turn out the light and come back tomorrow? I dare say no! You would most likely do everything in your power to calmly separate your precious baby from that cobra in such a way that the baby is safe.  You may call in professionals, but then again, you may not have time. This may be life or death for you and the baby. We would save the baby, kill the cobra, and make sure no other cobras are in the crib or the house.

A cobra will tackle his/her own team on the goal line! Cobras pull for the other side.

So let’s paint the picture:

  1. The baby crib represents your company culture
  2. The baby represents:
    1. Your precious team members who are congruent with your culture, and who are GWC (Get-it, Want-it, and have the Capacity to do it)
    2. Your brand
    3. Your clients
  3. The king cobra represents the counter-culture team members who are fighting you to rule the baby crib and who threaten the baby.

Leave no cobras! “Honey, we got rid of all but one cobra in Junior’s baby crib. Let’s go grab some dinner…?” It makes no sense does it? Get them all out of the company.

I know this is a tough subject. I have given presentations to hundreds of top executives over the years on the subject of king cobras in the baby crib. It usually divides the room. Usually approximately 1/2 of the audience will agree with my initial statements of shooting the cobras with relentless focus, conviction and speed. The other half is usually uncomfortable with the premise. Some folks ask, “Why don’t you work with those people and bring them along? Is it not best practice to openly communicate and give them a chance? What if they need to be persuaded?” Other folks suggest, “Maybe these are good people who are improperly cast and are acting out. Why not re-purpose them in the organization? What if they are really talented?” Even others will ask, “What if the cobra is really important to the business and we cannot survive without them?”

Let’s analyze these four groups of executives:

  1. Executives who have the experience and confidence to remove cobras from the business swiftly and without wavering: These executives have wisdom from experience. Maybe they have been mentored well and have benefited from it. They have, no doubt, lived in a counter-culture situation and fought it. In looking at the simplicity of the matter, whether one has been the leader or the baby, those cobras are scary when they gain prowess, power and a following. The health and prowess of the company can be in jeopardy if the counter culture leaders gain too much power. Nip it in the bud rings true when fighting a culture bandit.
  2. “Why don’t you work with those people and bring them along? Is it not best practice to openly communicate and give them a chance? What if they need to be persuaded?” No. Plain and simple. No. Not when it comes to a culture bandit… a cobra. As top executives we should have no tolerance for a person with a bad attitude who is pulling against us and leading others to do the same. There is a difference between a poor performer, or a weak player, or a person experiencing a downturn in his or her life. These team members are befitting a talk, a discussion, and maybe a performance improvement plan. When we are talking about toxic people who are literally on the other side of the rope from us, consciously, pulling against us, they must be removed and fast. They will harm the clients, the good team members and the brand.
  3. “Maybe these are good people who are improperly cast and are acting out. Why not re-purpose them in the organization? What if they are really talented?” I can assure you that cobras can be very talented. They can be very smart. They can be very persuasive and cunning. Cobras can be really good at selling up, and fooling top executives. They can be sweet little cobras until the boss leaves the room, and then they wreak havoc on the crib. This is not about talent or skill. It is about a conscious choice to defy and resist the core values, the vision, the focus, and the direction of the culture. Great leaders have no tolerance for this.
  4. “What if the cobra is really important to the business and we cannot survive without them?” I was recently speaking to 60 chief executives at a conference when asked this question above. My response was, “Well, then we really need to shoot that cobra! We need to fire them all-the-faster. Nothing is worse than a really important cobra who has positioned himself or herself as indispensable and a single point of failure. There is risk every direction in this scenario, but we will risk protecting the baby and the baby crib.” Once again, about half of the room laughed and agreed. The other half struggled with this harsh statement. Surely there is a proper and neat way to handle this, right? Think back to that baby in the baby crib with that mean old cobra coiled up next to the baby. There is but one thing to do. Protect the baby, the crib, and get that cobra out of there.

Do not bite the bait that the remedy is worse than the disease when it comes to culture bandits and cobras. You will marvel at the fresh air that proceeds removing these counter-culture players. Believe that doing the right thing will pay off, and be willing to go through some pain to do it.

Now obviously there are ways to mitigate risk and handle scenarios to prevent everything going sideways. Being weak and allowing a cobra to slither around your culture leading a counter-culture resistance is simply not an option. So start there. Here is how I recommend handling a king cobra in the baby crib scenario:

  • Start with the absolute fact that we are getting that cobra out of the crib and protect the baby.
  • Collaborate as a leadership team via a sound practice such as IDS (an EOS process of Identify, Discuss, Solve). Make the decision. Execute the plan. Be bold.
  • Consider the best practice and wisdom of What? How? When? This is a previous blog post and is incredible at helping teams make bold and impactful decisions.
  • Do not bite the bait that the remedy is worse than the disease when it comes to culture bandits and cobras. You will marvel at the fresh air that proceeds removing these counter-culture players. Believe that doing the right thing will pay off, and be willing to go through some pain to do it.
  • Leave no cobras! “Honey, We got rid of all but one cobra in Junior’s baby crib. Let’s go grab some dinner…?” It makes no sense does it? Get them all out of the company. Every leader should be on the same side of the rope pulling together. All of their players need to be on the same side of the rope with us pulling together. As the top executive and the executive team, we are responsible for that. So make it happen. Teach the good team members why we did it.
  • Be compassionate and good to the good team members. Removing a cobra from the baby crib is only harsh to the cobra. Think about it. It is kind and good to the baby. It returns order, safety, and health to the crib. Remember, in this scenario the baby represents your good team members, your clients and your brand. The crib represents your culture. These are worth fighting for!

One quick point of emphasis is that these counter-culture king cobras come in every shape, size and creed. In no way are we disparaging one group of persons over others. We are focusing on counter-culture behavior for what it is: poisonous, toxic, resistant, deadly, and it can spread. They literally come in every form imaginable, and the only thing they have in common is that they are counter-culture and toxic.

Leadership also involves being a good shepherd. We must fight off the jackals, cobras and culture bandits to protect the flock. That is not fun or easy, but it is necessary for one to be a great leader.

In closing, I know this can be a tough conversation. When I give lectures on this subject, I usually irritate a few folks in the room. I understand. But leadership also involves being a good shepherd. We must fight off the jackals, cobras and culture bandits to protect the flock. That is not fun or easy, but it is necessary for one to be a great leader.

Are you addressing the counter-culture leaders and resistance in your organization? Are you protecting the baby or the cobra? If you need some guidance on this one, maybe I can help.

Until next week, cheers!

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