Paul Butler | Virus at work

Paul Butler: Going the Extra Mile
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There’s a pervasive and intrusive virus that continues to infect us at our workplaces. It blew through our fields of labor during the agrarian age; whistled through our production factories of the industrial age, and now streams across our screens in today’s informational age. 

Unfortunately, this virus will continue to replicate itself. There will never be a cure for it. It’s so deeply entrenched within the very DNA of our human condition that it will never be adequately removed.  

The virus is named G.O.S.S.I.P. 

It has sub-variants too, namely, “back-stabbing,” “white lies,” and “throwing someone under the bus,” but they can each be traced back to G.O.S.S.I.P. 

G.O.S.S.I.P. kills trust, stifles innovation, and destroys teams. 

So, what’s our great hope? How can we fight the good fight against that which often pulls people apart? 

My observation has been that there are two potential salves that can seep through our collective skins and soothe the sting of G.O.S.S.I.P.  

The first is the strength of our personal constitution: I’ve noticed that when an individual has a strong personal north-pointing compass running through them, they tend not to engage in G.O.S.S.I.P.  

Because such an individual knows whose they are; they know who they are. They’re never completely cured of the potential to engage in G.O.S.S.I.P., but they fall from grace far less frequently than those who haven’t received such a change of heart. 

Secondly, I’ve noticed that leaders of high character and high competence are able to hold back the advances of G.O.S.S.I.P. from debilitating their teams. Through their formal, explicit authority, they’re able to positively influence and therefore, inoculate many. By being a leader of high character and high competence, they set a “tone at the top” for others to follow. If the leader doesn’t have a bad case of G.O.S.S.I.P., usually the team is able to keep the illness at bay, too. 

I was talking to one of the construction supervisors within our new housing development recently and asked him if his team had ever fallen sick to G.O.S.S.I.P. 

He told me that in the construction industry, they have their own sub-variant named “bad mud.” “Mud,” of course, is an insider term for concrete. If someone is using “bad mud” the structure they are building will eventually collapse. Likewise with worker relationships. The construction supervisor knew that in their industry if one worker talks negatively about another, they become someone who can’t be trusted themselves. The work relationships crumble. 

By bad-mouthing someone, the person thinks they’re building trust, but they’re not. Those being infected with G.O.S.S.I.P. know when there’s a strain on the relationship between the person dishing the dirt and themselves; they sense that person would talk ill of them, too. Hence the name of this sub-variant (“bad mud”) because the bond is weak and it breaks.  

So why do we have a proclivity for G.O.S.S.I.P.? Is it a lack of character or a lack of competence? I’m no doctor of philosophy, but I’d like to inject the idea that it’s both a lack of character and a lack of competence. 

For someone to engage in G.O.S.S.I.P. it displays a lack of character. A right-standing person would go directly to the other who’s caused the often-imagined offense. They would also have the internal fortitude to not pass along some juicy tidbit, be it true or false. 

For someone to engage in G.O.S.S.I.P. it displays a lack of competence. A right-standing person isn’t threatened by the brilliance of others around them. They have no need to tear down those who may be out-performing them. 

This is why I define G.O.S.S.I.P. as a “disease.” It’s the people who are not at ease with themselves, (i.e., dis-ease) who are most susceptible to suffer from the sickness of G.O.S.S.I.P and spread the sickness. 

I don’t see a cure on the horizon this side of eternity. The cure is outside of us and not within us. Only a change of heart can affect our human tendency to suffer and struggle with G.O.S.S.I.P. My only other hope to fight the good fight against this divisive disease lies in those people of such strong internal constitution and the leaders who lead them well. 

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaftd.com). For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]. 

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