Putting the Dead Rat on the Table


Crossing the bridge from being an employee to being a true leader is the willingness to put the dead rat on the table and then own that dead rat. Even if it’s not yours.

A very effective way to test the true power of a team is to measure the willingness and speed with which the team members are able to put the dead rat on the table.
Putting a dead rat on the table means talking about the uncomfortable things. The things nobody wants to hear but what everybody needs to hear.

Dead rats are the things that stink, that everybody can smell, but nobody wants to address. Dead rats under the table are one of the main reason companies fail.

The partners that hate each other, the critical project that’s in trouble, the declining numbers of clients, the lack of inspired people in the company, the lack of innovation, the lack of integrity amongst the senior leaders, the unwillingness to be open and candid with each other, the lack of clear communication. All dead rats.

I have worked with numerous teams that wanted to bring me in to teach them about goal setting, time management and doing projects more effectively. But it is never really about that. It’s almost never the things they have to start doing, it’s almost always the things they are not doing that stops them. It’s lack of trust, the unwillingness to be uncomfortable, it’s the “what will they think of me” kind of thinking that prevents them from true greatness.

So it’s an excellent strategy to put the dead rat on the table, but then you got to OWN the dead rat.

Basically there are 2 ways to put a dead rat on the table.

As a victim
As an owner
When a victim does it, it goes something like this “Here’s what’s really not working and you are to blame.”

For example: “I know our margins have been bad these last couple of months but it’s because sales has become lazy and they lack vision.” Or “We cannot get more clients in the door, because everybody knows how much our customer service department stinks.”
Or “We cannot move forward because this organisation lacks a clear vision.” Or “I don’t feel like we’re moving in the right direction and we first need X or Y to fix it before we can.”

The owner speaks and acts like this: “This is what I am no longer willing to shut up about, here’s what I really need to address in order to move this team forward, and here are my Top 3 ideas on what to do about it. I am totally open to discuss opportunities to move this company forward.”

Example: “I no longer wish to participate in meetings where we are all polite to each other and where we walk out with less energy than what we came it with. It doesn’t serve our purpose to work like this, I don’t feel energised and I want to work here because I love this company. From now on you can count on me to bring my best energise into this room, from now on you can count on me to speak about things that matter to me most and I am fully coachable around this by everybody in this room. You can count on me to play full out, hide nothing and leave no stone unturned.”

Or “as VP of sales I can say that we had a bad time bringing in new clients during this last quarter. The feedback I keep getting is that potential clients are not willing to work with us because they don’t trust us. What you can count on me for is that I’m going to talk to Customer Service to bring our departments to their next level of excellence while increasing the amount of direct client contacts. I will be totally open to feedback from everyone and I will personally visit all our key accounts to speak about this topic. You can count on me to have significant improvements before the end of this quarter. This is so important to me, and the future of the company, that I am willing to put my job on the line for this.”

Both the owner and the victim are putting a dead rat on the table. Which is hugely important and a good start. But one of them is taking away energy from the organisation and the other one is inspiring a whole organisation.

Can you guess who’s bottom line is better?
Can you guess who attracts and holds the best talent?
Can you guess who you wanna spend more time with?

Crossing the bridge from being an employee to being a true leader is the willingness to put the dead rat on the table and then own that dead rat. Even if it’s not yours. And soon you’ll become the most powerful version of your team you’ve ever experienced.