MVP Seminars Blogs

Employees who do dumb things can be good entertainment unless of course they’re your people.  Getting the bill for stupidity is no laughing matter.  If costly mistakes were not bad enough, consider all the expensive side effects like; loss of performance, absenteeism, loss of company reputation, penalties, insurance costs, legal fees and crashing morale.

I could go on, but I’m sure you could come up with a few examples on your own.  I don’t mean to be a total downer, but the truth is, as the captain of the ship, it’s probably your fault.  I know that sounds harsh, but I’m not here to sugarcoat anything.  Its monkey see, monkey do, and if your people watch you make bad choices, well, they will too.  Funny how inspiration works?

I was asked once if I could do a keynote on preventing bad decisions?  The truth is if someone (leadership or staff) are making chronic bad decisions, it’s a symptom of a much larger set of dysfunctional issues.  An I not taking about management ordering the wrong style of t-shirts for the company softball team kind of mistakes, I mean full pro F ups that can include attorneys, insurance companies, federal regulators and the media. 

Let’s step away from the ledge now so I can give you some good news.  If someone is dysfunctional and making bad decisions to prove it, it because they are operating on their own authority without complete information, trust, communication or consequences.  Wait, that was not the good news part, here it is, dysfunctionality can be fixed if it is not continually allowed.

Here’s the short answer:  Are they trainable?  If so help them prevent stupidity by providing additional training and consultation.  If they are not trainable, set them free to ruin someone else’s day.  If you can’t train them or fire them, better remind them of that big reason or goal to do everything right.  Better yet, lead by example, if they see you successful, maybe your dysfunctionally fun crew will stop and think before getting drunk with the intern at the next company party.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Jack W. Peters

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We’ve all been there —

  • Coming out of a meeting where you felt beat up but you never saw the punches coming.
  • Watching someone win over a group of leaders with inspiring plans that actually only promote their own agenda.
  • Sitting with co-workers and listening to elaborate conspiracy theories about why certain people haven’t been fired yet (she knows what they did last summer!).

Yep, we’ve all had our 15 minutes up close and personal with dysfunction. And for many of us, it has lasted a lot longer than 15 minutes!

So, how do you survive a leader or environment that can get so dysfunctional and negative?

Here are 4 tips to help you survive a dysfunctional workplace:


It is easy to get sucked into a complaining fest and begin to view the world as “out to get you.”

No matter how uncertain or conspiracy-oriented others are, you don’t have to go there! Don’t get sidetracked into the endless streams of speculations and doubt. Focus on what matters to your customers and your team.

Focus on what matters to your career. Focus on what matters to your family. Focus on the real stuff. Ground yourself in the difference you can make each day and not the fleeting and often uninspiring comments of others.


Much like pigs to mud, dysfunction loves extreme competition and conflict. The attitude is all about me, at the expense of the group. People who exhibit dysfunctional behavior can often love the heat of the battle, the thrill of adrenaline producing drama.

You need to resist the natural urge to fight back in every battle, even when every discussion or email is potential combat. The great leadership gem applies here:

You may need to lose a few battles to win the war.

You may get farther by letting them win. Be very selective when you engage in full combat?—?it is rarely worth it. Take the higher road and secure a stronger, more lasting victory.


Feeling alone and picked on is never fun. I was recently watching the original Karate Kid with my son, a classic film.

The story is of a kid from New York who moves to LA and gets picked on the second he arrives. Luckily, he develops trusted relationships with his mom, girlfriend, and of course his coach/mentor Mr. Miyagi.

Through the course of the film, he relies on others to overcome his nemesis?—?the karate thugs at school. Who do you have at work that builds you up? What friends can you seek counsel from and who can mentor you in your hour of stress?

Build your support network. Reach out and have a trusted colleague at work, build interests outside of work, and strengthen relationship with family and friends.


At the end of the day, you need to be true to what matters most to you. Look at yourself in the mirror and make sure that you are not slowly losing what you stand for.

I remember a great cartoon in the New Yorker Magazine where the job candidate says to the hiring manager,

“I’m looking for a position where I can slowly lose my sense of self…with benefits.”

Identify what you value most and make sure your work environment can support that.

  • Can you manage to remain true to your goals in the current workplace?
  • Can you influence and change things enough so you can add value? If not, then don’t sit around waiting for another paycheck and lose your sense of self. It is time to start planning and looking at other opportunities.


As dysfunctional behaviors occur in your work space, resist, resist, resist! Don’t give in. Stay true to the strengths that you have to offer.

We always have a choice as to how to we live as a leader. What choice would you like to make?


Click here to download The Dysfunctional Workplace Survival Guide with these 4 tips and guidance on how to work and survive in a company where fear, negativity and self-interest can run a muck.

Note: This article first appeared onLinkedIn.

About Daniel

Daniel Stewart a Leadership, Talent, and Change Consultant at Stewart Leadership.

He thrives in supporting top performing companies manage and retain exceptional talent, and coach the leaders of tomorrow.

About Stewart Leadership

Stewart Leadership is a talent management and leadership development consulting, coaching, and training company building leaders in start-ups to the Fortune 500. Click here to contact us and discover how we could partner with you.

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Several years ago I read in a book this quote. ”The answer to the question is always there before the question is asked”. This past weekend the answers to three of my questions that have been eating away at me appeared in a most unlikely spot. My wife and I were in the wonderful small Texas town of Fredericksburg . While strolling done the side walk we went into a gift shop. There I saw a little plaque hanging on the wall that had the answer to the three questions that has been frustrating me for the past several weeks. I work for a huge bureaucracy and I've come up with three solutions to problems we have in our prison unit. The solutions would cost the State no money and would be very easy to institute and solve the problems we have for each of the three situation. I talked to the person in charge of the first department. Before I was able to take my first breath after finishing my suggestion I was told, no that won't work. I had a similar result with the second supervisor on serious situation. I got a similar answer but it was even more quickly delivered, “No that won't work. We can't do that”. We have another area that is a security risk where I work and I came up with an idea which would solve several problems. Again I was told no without any time taken for reflective thought. How could my solutions be turned down without some thoughtful examination? I just want to help my unit be better safer place and be more efficient for the tax payers. My frustration level was affecting my wonderful Sunday afternoon with my wife when I saw the plaque that I mentioned earlier in the gift shop. It answered my questions. The plaque read, “Great Spirit Have Always Encountered Violent Opposition From Mediocre Minds.” Amen. This is why government is so inefficient. Great spirits are feared and violently opposed by lesser minds. Great spirits don't work for the government. I have to find work else ware soon.
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Dysfunctional is a matter of interpretation, isn’t it? What is dysfunctional, how do we know if we and our business are dysfunctional and what do we do about it? Dysfunctional families breed individuals who to some degree are dysfunctional, and without a doubt they bring that dysfunction with them into everything they create; they build friendships, careers, empires around their dysfunction and attract others into their web. At some point, though, as we know with most empires, they all come crashing down, because the limitations that come with their dysfunction will inevitably destroy what they’ve created. Dysfunction essentially means something is working to the detriment of the outcome desired. To the degree to which I’m dysfunctional is the degree to which I’m in denial of my dysfunction and the dysfunction of my organization. When in denial I’m not willing to acknowledge responsibility for what’s showing up in my organization or business; I’ll blame others for my demise and the demise of my company; I’ll fail rather than admit to and deal with my underlying attachments to family patterns and the secret world that’s been hidden inside me for a life time; and, I’m unwilling to risk losing what I consider to be rightfully mine for the sake of the business, my investors and employees. I’ll take it all down with me, rather than lose face with myself. We may have come from the most supportive and loving families possible – one’s we consider highly functioning. These highly functioning families have some important dynamics in place: Open communication; respect for each members individual needs and desires, thoughts and feelings; a sense of humor; safety and trust;  a capacity to admit when they are wrong; open to outside support; boundaries that provide healthy limits at the same time provide openness to expansion and change. And, every healthy family also provides limiting patterns and beliefs, which at some point will be to the detriment of the individual member. Funny how that works. Even the healthiest families can’t make it all right. I’ve just been hired by a company in Silicon Valley to work with a number individuals who are important – even vital to the project at hand, yet bring behavior patterns that if not shifted will devastate their current project and the entire organization. In discussing my role with HR, I questioned the degree to which the company itself and the executives running the company are willing to look at own their contribution to what’s occurring with their employees. In this conversation I described how quite often employees act out, much like children in a family. Too often parents will send their children to therapy to get straightened out, but won’t go themselves, though the parents are actually the ones generating the dysfunctional environment within which the children live and operate. Unless the parents come into therapy the environment will remain the same and the children will either revert back to the old patterns, or cultivated healthier dynamics they may choose to leave. So the company itself will mostly need coaching too if it’s really wanting fulfillment and success. We know tons of parents that lose their children because they can’t manage and be responsible for their little creations. Similarly, I know tons of organizations that have had to fire their founders because they were interfering with the growth and development of the vision they created. And, I know even more organization whose success is minimized by the dysfunction of the business and the humans that run it. Every family system generates enmeshment; think of a fish not knowing itself separate from the water it swims in. It doesn’t matter how this enmeshed system developed, what it’s about or how it functions – none of that matters. What matters is cultivating an environment that allows for the process of de-enmeshment; empowering them to differentiate and individuate themselves so as to allow a greater capacity to choose to choose what they choose in service to their own well-being and the fullest expression of Self and inevitably and hopefully to the organization they work for. It doesn’t matter at what sort of organization we are working with – an individual, family, small business or the largest corporations, religions, and governments, we are dealing with the process of distinguishing individuals from patterns that limit their growth potential and the growth potential of the organizations they serve. Companies fail, I believe because individuals are actually not invested enough in the success they are attempting to achieve. So, it’s not that they are truly failing; it’s that they succeed at maintaining the environment that generates the undesired outcome, which appears as failure. This sounds paradoxical, however it’s what all of us do consistently, over time until we wake up to the fact that we are creating our own demise. When we can see this from a logical perspective it becomes a no-brainer to choose to think differently, cultivate a way of being that generates an environment that generates the outcome we are wanting. It’s not a big-hairy-monster deal to take the steps to make this happen. It actually becomes fun and very rewarding. The Dilemma: Willingness to risk what’s at stake for the desired outcome. What’s at stake on the one hand can be the revealing of hidden agendas, hidden survival mechanisms, hidden alliances; all sorts of hiddens that we may not even know we are aligned to. On the other hand, what’s at stake is the project, the business, investor’s confidence and their money, your reputation; all sorts of circumstantial elements that clearly we are attached to. This is not an either/or proposition. This is a requirement of the inclusion of both in service to and the honoring of all at stake. Both have to be unconcealed, revealed, recognized and acknowledged, and both have to be dealt with openly, with respect, trust, commitment to the vision of the outcome desired, as well as a large measure of humor. What I love about working with companies and organizations is that the people at the table are powerful, intelligent, high stakes players. The outcome of the choices they make are life changing for themselves and all the people invested in them and their choice-making capacity. Allowing their dysfunctional survival mechanism to expand to include more functional strategies will provide them with unimaginable success in their projects and careers, if that’s what they are truly wanting.
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What is happening worldwide is that the world’s central bankers (the Fed in the U.S.) are trying to fight a global excess of debt by stimulating more debt.  The are creating a bigger and larger debt bubble.  This debt bubble like the previous two will burst.  The previous two bubbles were the stock market bubble which burst in 2001 and the housing bubble which burst in 2007. When the debt bubble burst (not if), the result will be a serious global economic contraction.   This contraction will be deflationary.  Those individuals and businesses that are over leveraged will get wiped-out.   When governments try to use their  printing presses to inflate themselves out of economic quagmires,  deflation and hard times always win out in the end.  And why not? There is no such thing as a free lunch.  A price has to be paid for bad policy.  The price can be delayed but then the downside is larger.
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