Book Review: Acting Up Brings Everyone Down

The question of how negative individual behavior affects the workplace has received considerable attention over the past few years. And it’s good that it should do so, for at least two reasons.

First, the adage that a single bad apple can spoil the whole barrel is nowhere more irritatingly true than in an organization where the rest of us apples are just trying to get the work done. And the moral is more than that a single bad actor can obstruct and distract the rest of us; it’s that in the vicinity of such a one others can turn bad as well – and in the vicinity of those more still. This is why this issue is so important to managers.

Second, the increasingly widespread acknowledgment that it is a prominent and vital problem confronted by people at all levels in an organization serves as an antidote to many of the mono-dimensional depictions of organizational culture as the product of individual leaders – or, to be sure, of individual leaders as the only valid focus of our attention for the development of harmonious and productive workplaces. Bad apples don’t seem to subscribe to the whole leadership/followership narrative, perhaps delivering themselves of their only service by thus casting its previously unchallenged validity in to doubt.

Nick McCormick’s wonderful new book, Acting Up Brings Everyone Down: The Impacts of Childish Behavior in the Workplace, addresses the issue of unproductive individual behavior in the workplace in a manner that engagingly and comprehensively addresses both of these perspectives. Moreover, Nick introduces, illustrates, and addresses the problem as more than just the product of inherently bad actors, but – potentially, at least – of all of us in our weaker or less thoughtful moments.

Using, as he did in his previous book Lead Well and Prosper (see review here), the characters of “Joe,” “Wanda,” and others from his blog, Nick walks us through a series of common negative – childish, even – behaviors we all will confess we are sometimes tempted to succumb to in various aspects of our lives. He then offers unmistakable elaborations and illustrations of not only how these temptations are problematic at work, but of how we all are vulnerable to exhibiting them there at one time or another. Having established what these examples are together with our individual relationships to them, each is then followed with refreshingly clear and frank advice and recommendations.

The treatment is friendly, honest, and inescapably engaging. It’s like a conversation with a trusted friend or mentor, one that leaves you open to a more candid assessment of the motives behind your own actions at work, and better equipped to meaningfully – sympathetically – understand and deal with those of your colleagues.

Another gem by Nick McCormick – get your copy of Acting Up today.

Today’s tip: Speaking of the motives behind our questionable behaviors at work, please see this WSJ column about why the criminal prosecutions of options back-daters have been misplaced. The author is correct. But the problem with back-dating isn’t that it might be a crime; it’s that it reflects the unaccountability inherent in modern corporate governance. It is shareholders – not prosecutors  – who should be going after these offenders.

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