Not Everyone Wants to Transform: A Fable

Joyce comes to work on time and for the most part completes her tasks according to spec. She seems willing to do a little extra and seems to smile but you just sense there is something more. You can’t put your finger on it. She offers to give up some of her hours to another employee, saying he says, “Needs the hours more than me.” She even volunteers for behind-the-scene jobs that others shy away from. Overall, she doesn’t seem to rock the boat and admirably earns her paycheck.

Yet, you notice at times she’s distracted. Her conversations turn to troubled family members and sick pets. The most disgruntled employees are drawn to want to do a job with her more than anyone else. While she never seems to initiate gossip, she attracts it like a summer bug to light.

On a particularly challenging day at work with time-crunched deadlines looming, Joyce ignores her manager’s urging to “pick up the pace.” In the midst of the fray she launches into a story with another manager about her home-life. As the deadline draws closer her pace and mood do not rise to the challenge. She’s just “there.” Another manager, noticing the laissez-faire approach, steps in to get the job done and complete the task. Problem averted? Not so fast.

A major piece of the component was missing when it was shipped to the client. Within minutes of arrival the disgruntled customer contacted the front office and Joyce’s manager had to face the reality. Frustrated by the low performance of his team and his lackluster approach to leadership, he invited Joyce and her team-mates to a meeting. Joyce was annoyed. In some of her responses the manager could sense a “what’s the big deal” attitude. He concluded by saying, “I have to document this for upper management.” Joyce was livid and her toxic attitude seeped into the room as she spewed, “This has never happened to me before!”

It’s been two weeks and she’s still ticked off about it. Her body language is closed. Her forced smiles are twisted with cynicism and her repeated message is, “I just want my freak’n paycheck.”

I confess, as a personal coach I would want Joyce to change. I would want to come alongside of her and offer a safe space for her to transform her life. However, I have to face my reality: not everyone wants to transform. Some people would rather make the choice to be toxic than to change. Being negative is comfortable for them. Dr. Phil would say “it’s working” for them.

People like Joyce won’t fit into an open system where personal responsibility is encouraged and serving beyond your self-interests is valued. At the end of the day she will not make the choice for the greater good. Does this mean Joyce is not valued as a human being? Absolutely not, she is valued. However, that does not mean that she is the RIGHT PERSON for the culture.

John C. Johnson, Ph.D., says, “Though we would like to change people what we really need to focus on is the culture of the organization.” People like Joyce will play bumper cars with a healthy culture as a subconscious past-time.

Dr. Johnson exposes the choice a transformational leader may indeed have to face, “The culture will be healthier when this type of person is removed.”