Tag Archives: Proverbs 26

Poison on the Team

As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.

Proverbs 26:21 (NIV)

There is a client of mine who had a team that had been struggling for some time. While other teams around them were making great strides in their service performance, this one particular team languished in mediocrity. My quarterly training sessions with this team were sometimes painful. Silence. Arms crossed. No eye contact. No participation.

There was one member of this team who was, by far, the worst performer of the group. His performance on the phone calls we regularly assessed were so bad, that one almost had to willfully try to be that consistently awful to their customers. Over several years, the management team tried just about everything to motivate a change in this person. They tried offering cash bonuses for better performance, they provided remedial coaching (I had the joy of conducting many of the coaching sessions…ugh, also painful), they wrote him up on multiple Performance Improvement Plans with HR, and they made threats to fire him. Nothing worked. The longer this went on, I believe the more convinced he was that he didn’t really have to change and the more stubborn he became.

Coincidentally, I was asked at one point to mentor this team’s new supervisor. The newbie had been a member of the team for a long time and was promoted to his first managerial position. I watched him go through all of the same efforts as his predecessor trying to motivate behavior change in the team’s entrenched curmudgeon.

“What am I going to do with him?” the supervisor eventually asked me directly.

“Fire him,” I responded just as directly.

The supervisor seemed shocked by response. I explained.

Look,” I said, “Your management team has wasted their efforts for years trying to get this person to perform. There is a well-documented track record of a bad attitude, poor performance, and an unwillingness to do any more than the very least that is required to avoid getting fired. His attitude has poisoned the entire team and your team will never be healthy until you get rid of the problem at the source.

I had made this same suggestion multiple times to the supervisor’s predecessor and managers, but they could never take the final step of terminating his employment. I actually expected nothing different from the new supervisor, because he was new and firing a team member went against this client’s corporate culture.

I was, therefore, surprised to learn that my managerial protégé took my advice and fired the team member a short time later. Wouldn’t you know it? That year the team that had been mired in mediocrity reached their service quality performance goal for the very first time. I handed out more year-end performance awards to members of that team than ever. The team that had been so painful to train for so many years was laughing, cheering, clapping, and celebrating.

In today’s chapter, Solomon wisely says that a quarrelsome and contentious person is like adding wood to a fire. It spreads. My client’s entire team was stuck in their contentious mediocrity and poor performance because of one team member’s poisonous attitude. I wish I could say that this is the only example I’ve seen in my years of helping my clients improve the quality of their customer service, but it’s not. It’s actually fairly common. What isn’t common is a client’s willingness to do the right thing for everyone (especially their customers) and decisively extract the poison from the system whether it is firing the person or moving them to a different job with a different team that might be a better fit.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about other poisonous team members I’ve encountered in my vocational journey and the reticence, even in my own company, of confronting it. What I’ve observed over time is that these individuals really don’t want to be in their positions. Sometimes getting rid of a poisonous team member actually frees that person to find something better for themselves. I have followed the careers of a few fired team members on social media and it appears that they are much happier after finding a job that better suits their talents, desires, and personalities. And, some appear to be tragically angry and contentious people in any role no matter where they work.

At least a company can fire such a person. When the contentious and quarrelsome individual is part of a family system, it’s a far more difficult situation. Solomon had another proverb for such tragic circumstances:

To have a fool for a child brings grief;
    there is no joy for the parent of a godless fool.

<— Click on Solomon for an indexed list of previous chapter-a-day posts from this series from Proverbs!

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Time Reveals Truth

Wendy and me in front of a portrait of H.P. Scholte.
Wendy and me in front of a portrait of H.P. Scholte.

Smooth words may hide a wicked heart,
just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot
.
Proverbs 26:23 (NLT)

This past week I portrayed one of our town’s founders, H.P. Scholte, in a one act play at our local Opera House. In preparation for portraying the man (whom I’ve now played in three separate productions) I’ve done plenty of research into his past and his story. Scholte was a fascinating man. The son of a wealthy industrialist in Holland, he began as an art student but soon gave up his paintbrush for the pulpit. He was a brilliant scholar, a gifted preacher, and a charismatic leader. Having run afoul of the state church of the Netherlands (for which he was imprisoned multiple times), Scholte convinced nearly 800 of his followers to invest their life savings with him, accompany him on a perilous journey to the American frontier and build an entire town where there was nothing but prairie grass.

As I read accounts and letters of his followers to the new world, two very different pictures emerge. Many saw Scholte as a charlatan and scam-artist. They were convinced that he took advantage of his followers, used their money for his personal gain and lied to them about the prosperity of American before leading them to hell on earth. Others never wavered in their trust of Scholte and his vision. They followed him faithfully. I have always been amazed at the two very different men described by Scholte’s followers. It begs the question: Was he a vessel of God, or was he a glazed pot described in the proverb above? I have been so captivated by the matter that I even wrote my own one act play that exploring the question.

Fast forward 160 years. Our community gathers each year to celebrate its heritage and tens of thousands of people gather from around the world to experience it. Look around and you will find a prosperous small town with a thriving economy, a quality educational system and a deep appreciation for the values of family and faith. Scholte’s vision and commitment have been realized. He proved to be a useful vessel who accomplished much for which countless residents owe their thanks through many generations. Scholte wasn’t perfect, to be sure, but time and reality have proven that he wasn’t and empty, glazed crack-pot.

I look back over the years and think of the occasional times that I have been accused of things. Anyone in any position of leadership will experience this. Many have looked at me and accused me of being a glazed pot. It’s never fun when your motives and character are questioned and maligned. In these times I think about people like Scholte. I can’t control what others think and say. I can’t change the perception of others. I can only continue to follow the path and do my best each day to live out the course God has laid for me.

Time reveals truth.

[An index of all Tom’s chapter-a-day posts covering every book and chapter]

 

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 26

image by redslmdr via Flickr

A quarrelsome person starts fights 
      as easily as hot embers light charcoal or fire lights wood.
Proverbs 26:21 (NLT)

I’m a firm believer in discourse. I think dialogue is a healthy thing. As a blogger, I’ve had plenty of people disagree with me on various posts through the years. When people jot a comment to respectfully contradict, correct or state an opposite opinion I always approve the comment and will typically respond.

What I have little tolerance for, however, is the person good King Solomon describes as a “quarrelsome person.” I don’t believe in picking fights for the sake of fighting. I can’t stand the unnecessary stirring of the pot, demonizing of others, or bitter words meant as a verbal poke in the chest in challenge. That goes for people on either side of an issue, whether I happen to agree with their view of an issue or not. At one time in life I was a talk radio junkie, but I wearied of the bombastic monologues, incessant name calling and subversive barbs that seem necessary to make it on the air.

I sometimes think the internet and the blogosphere has enflamed and multiplied quarrelsome people of all persuasions by providing them opportunity to anonymously spread their own anger, hatred and vitriol. At least in my little corner of the blogosphere I get a chance to flag the quarrelsome person’s comment before anyone else sees it. I take my humble role as editor of comments seriously.

Today, I’m grateful for honest discourse among seekers of truth. I’m praying for discernment in my interactions with the quarrelsome people I encounter in life. I’m asking for the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent.