Bad Employee Behavior: You’re Either Coaching It or Allowing It

My husband and I were watching the Thursday night Browns-Steelers game (he is a life-long Browns fan, poor man), and we witnessed the already infamous fight between Myles Garrett and Steelers’ quarterback Mason Rudolph. (In my opinion, that entire game was a hot mess—full of penalties and poor sportsmanship on both sides.)

What struck me in the aftermath was a statement made by Todd Haley, the Browns’ former offensive coordinator. “This comes back to coaching. This falls squarely right on the head coach. Because the head coach talks to every assistant coach, who then talk to their group of players. And there’s an old saying in coaching: ‘You’re either coaching it or you’re allowing it to happen.’” (

You’re either coaching it (the negative behavior) or allowing it to happen. Profound and right on target for today’s business leaders.

What behaviors in your firm are you coaching—either directly or indirectly, by your explicit instructions (“Do whatever it takes to make the sale”), by implication (not asking questions when your most productive employee doubles the numbers of the next in line), or by your own actions (giving some clients less than your best because they aren’t as lucrative as others).

Or are you allowing the negative behaviors of your employees by inaction or, worse, fear. Myles Garrett is (well, was, before the league suspended him for the rest of the year) the Browns’ best defensive player and one of the best pass rushers in the league. He’d also been fined already this season for other incidents. If you’re his coach, especially a young, inexperienced coach, do you discipline him and risk that he’ll stop performing, or do you let him do his thing and keep winning?

Many pick the latter, afraid to rock the boat. But that’s how you create an inequitable system of privilege. We’ve all worked in those companies where the high performers wander in late, treat their teammates with disrespect and disregard, and generally come off as arrogant and nasty human beings—and face no consequences, because, well, they’re the superstars. Meanwhile, average producers face discipline and even termination for much lesser trespasses. This is an instant morale killer.

It’s like those parents who let their kids run around restaurants, grocery stores, and what have you, causing mayhem and endangering everyone else’s safety—because they’re afraid to discipline them. These kinds of parents and coaches—and bosses—are not doing their charges any favors. They are simply enabling bad behaviors—which affect the bottom line.

Are you enabling bad behaviors by ignoring them, by staying quiet, by being afraid to challenge your employees when required? One of my favorite business mantras has always been: to be a leader, you have to have the tough conversations.

There’s another saying in sports my ex-coach husband shared with me: When things are spiraling out of control, it’s often because the coach has “lost the locker room.” In other words, the coach has lost the team’s respect, and the team starts acting like a junior high class with a substitute teacher. Spitball fight! You can’t lead without the respect of your team.

Have you lost the locker room? If so, how can you get it back?

Every business owner is super busy – we all have a thousand responsibilities and items to check off our to-do lists every day. Those duties can suck up our entire day (or more) if we let them. (In the last five minutes, nine new emails and a voice mail popped into my phone.)

Sure, these tasks need to be done, but burying your head in the weeds is not leadership. It’s funny. Many business owners tell me they’re tired of “babysitting” their staff—that their staff should know what to do on their own.

Hold the phone. If you’re the owner/boss, it’s your job to engage with your employees. That’s what leadership is. You set the expectations, values, goals, mission, and culture of the firm. And how else are you going to do so other than by communication, training, coaching, example—by engaging with your employees? Leadership by osmosis is rarely effective. If that’s what you rely on, then you really have no control over what your employees absorb. Wouldn’t you rather guide your employees to do what you want them to than leave it to chance?

As Deepak Chopra and others say: “Language creates reality.” What if we changed the word “babysitting” (I’ve also heard “coddling” and “hand-holding”) to “mentoring,” “coaching,” and “leadership.” That changes everything. Now it is not only your responsibility but your privilege to inspire your employees to do their best work, to reach their highest aspirations.

But leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s like any other skill—it takes time, care, and intention. Some people are born leaders and others have leadership thrust upon them. If you are a business owner, you’ve had leadership thrust upon you whether you like it or not. Think of it this way—the reason you are so busy is that those same employees are supporting your business by fulfilling their functions while you go out and bring in new business, work with your clients, or squint at your financials. In this way, your employees should be your NUMBER ONE priority, because without them, you wouldn’t be successful—you wouldn’t be a business at all. I have been preaching this concept for years, and I am not alone. Richard Branson famously asserts: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

So I ask you again, what negative employee behaviors are you coaching, but not admitting as your responsibility? What negative behaviors are you allowing and not challenging and correcting? If you don’t like your employees’ disruptive behavior, examine your own role. They may simply be doing what you’re telling them to do, whether directly or indirectly. Now that Myles Garrett is out for the rest of the season, he won’t do the Browns much good, will he? This “challenge” might have been prevented with strong and active leadership from the start. 

When you take care of your employees, whether by coaching them in a positive way, working with them on their professional development, providing a collaborative and professional culture and atmosphere, or challenging them when they go off the playbook, you are building a stronger culture and more effective—and profitable— company.

I’m often asked how to create just this kind of positive culture to drive the business forward. That’s the fun of it. Every firm’s culture is different because every business owner is different—each one brings his or her distinct personality to the firm. The answer is to hire people who embody your values and mission and then lead them in an active, not passive, way—coaching in the positive behaviors that help your business thrive; coaching out the negative behaviors that run counter to your mission; and not leaving things to chance by passive omission.

When you hire the right people, leadership is far less of a chore. Let Structure for Success help you hire the right people and structure strong and active leadership into the DNA of your organization.

Let’s schedule time to talk about your goals, your staff and personnel plans, and your leadership challenges.

Together, we can elevate your game in 2020.