Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA
Why are leaders hesitant to do this?
Leaders are an optimistic bunch. They believe they can win anyone over. They are not inclined to give up. They want everyone to support the cause. In their pursuit of total buy in, they often overlook the value of opposition in achieving their ultimate goals. Drawing a sharp contrast between “who is with us and who is not” can force the fence sitters and the disinterested to throw in with the winning side. Isolating the negative people is costly. Once marginalized publicly, they are likely to identify with the permanent opposition. Leaders should always think more than twice before turning hearts to stone.
What is the case for doing it anyway?
There are occasions when isolating negative perceptions must be done whatever the costs. When you are in a competitive fight for your life, you cannot permit traitors to go unpunished. When a colleague has made it clear that he will oppose everything you suggest on partisan grounds alone, you cannot treat him as reasonable. Respectful dissent in the pursuit of exceptional results is an organizational treasure; disruptive dissent is an organizational cancer. If you can’t eliminate it entirely—and you usually cannot—you must quarantine it. That you can do.
How can you do it?
Decide that isolation of negative perceptions is the best option. Take some time to make this tough decision. Consult with others. Never decide this when you are angry or resentful.
Ask other opinion leaders to help you isolate the disruptive dissenters. You will not be able to accomplish this alone. Culling these diseased animals from the herd requires leaders to coordinate their herding efforts and hunt as a pack.
Never allow this leadership tool to become personal. People are entitled to their views. Make it clear that you accept and respect that. Make it equally clear that you are responsible for the final decision about how the organization will proceed.
Find a way to allow the isolated dissenters back into the fold. Sometimes you will turn out to have been wrong. Admit they were right. Invite them to lead an important project they do believe in. So long as they remain net positive, give them a chance to redeem themselves.
Extrude the net-negative people from the organization. Do it fairly, but do it sooner rather than later. This is painful and no leader wants to do it. When temporary isolation does not work, your job as a leader is to isolate them permanently.
How have you successfully isolated those with disruptive perceptions in the workplace?