Never Underestimate The Impact Of A Rotten Apple

rotten apple
3 min read

What do you think is more likely to happen when a lazy person joins a highly productive team?

  • Option A: The lazy person gets inspired by the productive people and their positive mindset. The lazy person automatically gets elevated to their level.
  • Option B: The productive people in the team become lazy over time.

It can’t be scenario B, right?! That’s not how it works. The lazy person is by himself. There’s no way he can influence the whole group!

When the lazy person is surrounded by productive people, he’ll be inspired to do more work as well. That’s what most of us think will happen.

But in my experience, and from what I’ve learned from others, the opposite happens.

One negative person can easily destroys the group dynamic. So why do many of us believe that Option A will happen? It’s because you look at yourself.

When you have good intentions…

You expect that other people are also like that. I get emails from frustrated readers all the time.

Leaders who can’t seem to inspire their team. Men and women who are tired of their partner’s destructive behavior. Parents who can’t watch their child throwing away their future.

These problems are serious and happen to every person who aims up in life. If you are positive and try to make the best of your life, you expect that it will rub off on other people.

That’s because people like you and I have good intentions. We want the best for others and for ourselves. When you treat yourself with respect, you can’t imagine that others are screwing up their life.

How one person destroys the collective

I always thought you could pull up people to a higher level. After all, I’ve always lived that way myself. I looked at people who were ahead of me and got inspired by them. I’m still like that.

Good people make you better. But that’s not how it works for rotten apples; people who gave up on life. It took me many years to accept that harsh reality about life.

In Poor Richard’s Almanack, Benjamin Franklin wrote this in the 18th century:

“The rotten apple spoils his companion.”

When you allow a rotten apple in your life, you are accepting their behavior. It’s not on them. It’s on us. We are the ones who enable them. I’ve made this mistake as well. And in fact, in the past, I’ve behaved like a rotten apple as well. That’s how I know it has a such a big impact on people.

But because I changed, I thought that you should others indefinite chances. That only screws up the group dynamic. Remember, life is not about you. It’s about the common good.

So what happens when you allow a single rotten apple in your group? The group falls apart. One of my friends, who’s the CEO of a mid-sized company, recently told me about making the mistake to hire a negative person. His sales team performed great and posted double-digit growth 5 years straight and he wanted to expand.

The guy he hired had a great resume and performed well during the interview process. Within the first 6 months, he even made several sales. But after that, he started slacking off, gossiping, and acting negatively towards leadership. And gradually, the other sales execs started doing the same. These were people who performed well before.

Over an 18 month period, sales of almost all team members declined. When I talked to my friend recently, he finally had fired the negative person. But it was already too late. He had to rebuild his team. He said that, in hindsight, he should have gotten rid of that person earlier.

He said that, in hindsight, he should have done something earlier.

It’s not all bad

Look, this is one of the most difficult things in life. I’ve experienced situations like that as well. A single bad employee can set your company back for years.

And how often do you see that a single bad relationship screws up all your future ones?

But all of the above does NOT mean people are inherently bad. Far from it. People are good. I sincerely believe that. And we shouldn’t let bad experiences with people make us go sour. Otherwise, we risk becoming the rotten apple.

The most successful societies in the world are based on trust. We need to do everything in our power to keep it like that. And we must improve ourselves so our civilization improves over time. Gandhi famously said:

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.”

Even though with social media today, it doesn’t look like it, but the majority of people are still good. Do not forget that. And if we are also good, those few rotten apples will eventually only spoil each other.

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