Ahhhh, the loose cannon in the workplace. In our experiences and research, we have seen that almost every work team across the spectrum of businesses, industries, and professions has at least one, if not more. The Wall Street Journal reports that 98% of workers experience incivility on the job, with 50% reporting they engage in rude exchanges at least weekly. This behavior affects everyone around them, causing negative emotions to ripple through teams everywhere, diminishing productivity and job performance. This is the work of the loose cannon.
What exactly is a Loose Cannon?
We know from experience and research that the behavior we observe in the workplace is a function of how people interact with the work environment. The loose cannon is an individual who walks around the workplace crushing people left and right both on their team and other teams. They are toxic. If you don’t know what a toxic worker is, it is someone who harms the organization from a fiscal or human capital viewpoint. Our research suggests that a toxic worker can have more impact on performance than a “superstar.” From a leadership perspective, an organization’s people are its biggest and only sustainable competitive advantage if they focus on their continuous development, learning and well-being.
Toxic workers seem to induce others to be toxic across teams and organizations which is the ripple affect of the loose cannon and if an organizations people are its biggest competitive advantage, the loose cannon weakens that advantage with every toxic interaction that takes place. Businesses invest a lot of resources to recruit, hire, and develop their talent; loose cannons and other toxic workers ruin the investment return.
Research by Jon Gottman from the Gottman Institute suggests that focusing on relationship-enhancing behaviors can counter the impacts of negative interactions and amplify the effects of positive interactions. Their research on couples suggests a stable relationship has a positive-negative ratio of 5 positive interactions to every negative interaction. Though their research focused on married couples, it provides insight into workplace relationships and behaviors that negatively shape the climate of work teams and entire organizations. Toxic workers like the loose cannon make it challenging to counter the negative interaction with positive ones.
Toxic work cultures destroy relationships and are a primary reason employees leave organizations. One sign of toxic work culture is the presence of the relationship killers Gottman’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” The Horsemen: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling contribute to a toxic culture created by nonsecure, anxiety-driven, avoidant co-workers and supervisors.
Organizations can significantly benefit from shaping and developing their culture to include initiatives to ensure that stable, secure, collaborative, and most importantly, authentic relationships exist between all team members. Emotional responsiveness, availability, and engagement are critical to the quality of professional relationships, just as they are essential to personal relationships. Viewing an organization such as a business or nonprofit as a network of relationships and teams, rather than an entity under the influence of one individual, acknowledges that organizational leadership is a continuous interaction and emotional connection between managers, supervisors and their people.
When managers and supervisors practice relationship-based leadership throughout an organization, it reinforces and strengthens the culture, creates relationship-enhancing behaviors, and more positive interactions is an effective defense against the Four Horsemen.
What do you DO with a Loose Cannon?
Well, there are two options available to you.
Option 1: Do Nothing.
You can let them go, and HOPE the problem will go away eventually. This usually doesn’t turn out well for the loose cannon or the organization.
Option 2: Get to work.
Our research and experience show that team thriving is a choice and action to be taken, as much as it is a state of being. You can invest in the development of the individual and the team or workgroup they belong. Yes, this means work, but it can be done and we are here to help. Just focusing on the toxic worker is reductionist approach and won’t solve the problem. We take a systems-based approach and explore the work environment in which the loose cannon and their work group or team operate in to see how the interaction patterns drive behavior.
It is important to note, not every loose cannon has a toxic intent behind their behavior. They are reacting (not responding) to the environment they work in and are not always aware of the impact they are having on the work place.
If you chose Option 2, and we hope you did, then let’s get started with some assessments and team coaching to gain self-awareness and foster growth! Depending on the particular situation with your organizations loose cannon, one of the following assessments might be appropriate:
· ESCI 360
· EQ-I 2.0
· EQ- 360
These assessments will give a snapshot of how your Loose Cannon operates emotionally and also how the environment around them influences their behavior. We can help you determine that when you contact us.
With the assessment done we can then begin the developmental initiatives to transform them from loose cannon to thriving employee and team member.
Teams and organizations are human systems.Bringing in a team transformation coach for the loose cannon and their team helps the individual and the team see and understand the system. The data from the assessments and will give the loose cannon a better picture of how others “see” them, how they impact others, and how others impact them. With this information and understanding the “loose cannon” can then realize the need to learn and change to improve performance or behavior. When this moment of self-discovery happens, the learning and developmental journey can begin for the loose cannon and their team as well.
You might be thinking “How do you avoid being a loose cannon yourself?”
1.Know yourself and know how you impact others and how they impact you both positively and negatively. Remember Gottman’s 5:1 ratio.
They have to live with you. How do you think they experience it?
2.Know your strengths and areas that need development.
Contrary to popular opinion, you can’t operate in areas of strength all the time. It is impossible in work environments where the context of the job and environment change on a regular basis. Understand what frustrates you and what doesn’t. Everyone has a derailer; no one is perfectly composed all the time. We offer the Neethling Brain Instrument (NBI) to help leaders and teams understand their strengths and what derails them.
3.Understand what your derailers are so you can work on measures to counter them with a coach, peer, supervisor, or mentor. The most mature and composed leaders and team members have an understanding of themselves, their impact on others, and their derailers.
The Thriving Teams Institute is ready to help you and your team understand how you experience each other, and how you can improve your emotional intelligence to obtain a more positive work environment which leads to better business results.