Toxic or Tonic

What do you bring to your team?

Toxic. It’s a really powerful word. One dictionary’s definition is “relating to or caused by poison; very bad, unpleasant or harmful …”

I always knew blue-green algae as a superfood—a rich source of proteins, vitamins and minerals. It’s said to help us be more energetic and potentially live longer, healthier lives.

But now blue-green algae has been in the news as a dangerous, highly fertilized, man-made disaster for our environment and economy. Just smelling the bloom of blue-green algae on the Atlantic coast—let alone touching or ingesting it—makes us ill.

What kind of blue-green algae is in your world? What form are you bringing?

Great teams are not just determined by how talented the people are, or how hard they work, or even how motivated they are for their own goals.

All of these are important—indeed, essential. And truly great teams are much better than the sum of their individual talents, efforts and motivations. Great teams and businesses are defined by how well they work together.

Talented, industrious, motivated people can be toxic or tonic to their teams. If they are a team player, they will bring tonic, making each other, your clients and your business better. If they are unpleasant, untrustworthy, boastful or bullying, then they bring toxicity. No matter how talented, they bring pain and costs to the team, your clients and your business.

As leaders, we get to choose what we will be. Self-promoting, pushing ahead, take-no-prisoners attitudes and behaviors can get us to the top. Invariably, they will not keep us or our businesses thriving or sustainable. Our people and clients will get sick of us or tired of us, no matter how well paid they are or how good our products are.

Here’s what we’ve learned truly matters most to making great teams out of talented people:

Deepen trust by being open, honest and consistent in your mood, management and values. Let your people know you—and help them to get to know each other.

Be “powerfully vulnerable” by asking for help, acknowledging fears, challenges and shortcomings. People will really step up when you do so—unless they are toxic. And if they are, you get to make a choice.

Truly listen. Pay attention, respond and bring all of yourself to the important conversations. As the leader, your conversation is important to everyone who meets with you.

Confront issues. Don’t let them fester. Gossip is a blooming toxic algae. If everyone acknowledges and resolves issues in a healthy way, the fertilizer for the algae goes way.

Hold yourself accountable to do what you say you will. Encourage everyone to do the same. Make it the culture of your business.

The choice is ours every day. At every meeting we get to decide: toxic or tonic? What will I be? What will we be?

Here’s to superfood in all our diets.

Steve Garber is director of Third Level Ltd. Contact him at 561.752.5505 or

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