Leadership and the Poisonous Pill
In the world of business and finance, when we refer to the phrase poisonous pill, we are referring to a strategy to fight an unwanted takeover. The purpose is to protect a company from being taken over by implementing an inflated cost that must be paid after the takeover. The idea is to make the cost so prohibitive that the buyer (the aggressor) backs down and goes away because the value of the business with the additional cost doesn’t make business sense any longer.
In the world of fairy tales, we often refer to Snow White who falls into a deep sleep after taking a bite from a poisonous apple given to her by an evil witch with a narcissistic personality disorder. Snow White remains asleep until she is rescued by her prince who finds her unconscious, lays one on her lips, she wakes up, and they live happily ever after.
In both of these scenarios the internal pain is caused by outside factor or cause.
In the context of human interactions, especially when discussing the topic of leadership, there is another perspective on poisonous pills.
Years ago, I found myself in a situation in which I was filled with anger and resentment because I believed that someone had wronged me. I was losing sleep over the matter because in my head, I was repeatedly conducting my own 24-hour courtroom where I played judge, jury, and prosecuting attorney. I took great satisfaction in slamming down the gavel after each case pointing at the accused and shouting “Guilty!” on all charges. It didn’t matter that I was the only person in the courtroom. By the way, for the record I am sure the other party was completely oblivious to my inner courtroom antics and was sleeping quite soundly at night.
I shared the story with one of my best friends at the time who told me something I have never forgotten. He said, “Joe holding onto to resentment is like swallowing a poisonous pill … and waiting for the other guy to die!”
Every time I replayed the scenario, every time I slammed the gavel and shouted “guilty,” I swallowed another dose of poison. The truth was that the poison was having absolutely no impact on the other party … and yet … it was slowing killing me.
My friend was trying to help me see the futility of proving that I was right, justified in my position, or getting a temporary high because I felt “better than” by proclaiming my innocence and the other persons’ guilt. The real value in what he said comes from the realization that unlike the two scenarios above where an external factor was the cause of the poison, my situation was self-induced. Which means I could stop it by simply deciding to have a little humility, swallowing my pride, and letting go of my ego. Yes, as I mentioned in my previous post, it all comes down to ego.
While the problem of holding onto resentment can poison anyone of us, it is even more deadly in a leader. Why? Because a leader is defined as a person who influences others to do or be their best. How can a leader positively influence others if they are being poisoned from the inside out?
Leaders who hold onto resentment are more likely to hold a grudge, be less forgiving, trust others less, act out of a place of retribution when they feel slighted, and create an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ culture within an organization, a department, or a team.
Another way resentment impacts an organization or a team, is If a leader allows resentment to go unchecked because addressing the issue is uncomfortable, then not only are they allowing the poison to damage one or two people, it is just a matter of time before it leaks out and begins to impact the entire rest of the team. As folks attempt to win, be right, and push their opinion or agenda, they will try to align those who are support them and those who don’t. This is how gossip and back channel chatter create the basis cliques, silos, and an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. The end result is a culture of low-trust where people do not feel safe to speak the truth or share their ideas and opinions for fear of retribution, this is referred to as psychological safety. The folks at Google analyzed the key factors responsible for the success of a team and determined that psychological safety was the most important factor found in successful teams who achieved extraordinarily high levels of success.
As with all things you have a choice. You can either:
- Choose to swallow the poisonous pill and wait for other folks to die (be negatively impacted) while it slowly poisons you from the inside out.
- Choose to swallow your pride and let go of your desire to always win, to always prove you are better than everyone else, to be the smartest person in the room, or to always be right, and instead focus on helping others get their needs before your own.
It is my deepest wish that you choose the second option, and in doing so, you will discover that by helping others achieve success, your level of success will multiply … exponentially!
In others words if you choose to be less Sleepy, Dopey, or Grumpy about letting go … you may just realize that by being a little more Bashful … you just might end up being quite Happy!!