Always confront toxic team members

Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.

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Merriam-Webster defines a benchmark as “something that serves as a standard by which others may be measured or judged.” I agree with this definition. However, when we speak of benchmarks, we usually think of standards that take the form of numbers. Business benchmarks come in many shapes and sizes. There are benchmarks in the form of profitability ratios, debt ratios, financial ratios, production standards, etc. The most important of these we refer to as critical numbers. These numeric benchmarks are quantifiable, analytical and objective. We measure them with a calculator.

There’s a second group of benchmarks that I call intuitive benchmarks. These standards deal with the quality of one’s life. They are more real than their quantifiable counterparts because you don’t measure them with a calculator, but by means of direct experience.

intuitive benchmarks.

To explain intuitive benchmarks, consider the following qualities of life:

  • Peace (tranquility, stillness of soul) as compared to anxious.
  • Faith (hope that the future will be good) as compared to despairing.
  • Purpose and meaning as compared to aimlessness and frustration.
  • Joyful as compared to morose.
  • Freedom, independent as compared to inhibited, enslaved.
There are more such standards, but I think these provide some understanding on them.
The concept of Flourishing.

Merriam-Webster defines flourishing as: “marked by vigorous and healthy growth.” You, as a human and landscape professional, should flourish in all areas of your life. You measure these areas intuitively by monitoring the emotional and spiritual state. You know it in your gut, so to speak. Are you stressed? Do you hate your job? Are you in bondage to bad habits? Or are you enjoyable to be around? You experience these qualities rather than calculate them. If the benchmark is to flourish in all areas of life and your experience tells you otherwise, first recognize this fact. Then take corrective action.

in the field.

Bill was 50/50 partners with Ted. They each received the same salary. However, Bill worked late hours and bore the brunt of running the company while Ted went home at 4:30 p.m. every day. Bill knew things had to change but he couldn’t bring himself to change things.

Eric had a great company, but he had weak middle managers. His brother, Justin, was one of the managers who was given special treatment. He’d show up late for work, not complete his tasks and enjoy extra time off. It was a bad example for the other managers. Eric knew this was a problem, but he refused to take corrective action. Justin’s poor performance is a hidden cancer that is destroying the company culture.

Jacob’s dad, Wendell, founded the company 50 years ago and was its sole owner. Jacob grew up working for his dad. He hoped to one day take over the family business. Wendell was an angry control freak who wasn’t necessarily a good business man. He made many mistakes, but everyone was afraid to say something or else they would incur the wrath of Wendell. Fortunately, he relinquished ownership to Jacob. The change was immediate and refreshing.

Barbara had built a great company with a great team – except for her father. Dad did not have any ownership in the business but he had helped Barbara build it over the years. His presence in the business had become toxic and he was destroying the team atmosphere by undermining Barbara’s authority. She knew she had to fire her dad but the thought of doing so was emotionally stressful.

Jake and his brother, William, were 50/50 partners. However, William had a serious substance abuse problem. Numerous interventions and stints in rehab failed to improve the situation. William’s irresponsible behavior had potential legal implications for the business and Jake’s future.


In each of the above scenarios, a responsible landscape professional and owner faced a toxic situation with a close friend or family member. These situations caused an inordinate amount of stress for these entrepreneurs and preventing them from flourishing. First, these individuals had to recognize this fact. Second, they had to obtain emotional support. Third, they had to remove the toxic person from the business. Some did so. Some still have not. It’s like facing a bully in the school yard: get a team to back you up then face down the bully.

If you find yourself in a similar situation with a toxic friend or family member, get help and take action. The emotional stress that you’ll go through confronting and dealing with a toxic person will be far exceeded by the joy and freedom you’ll experience once you remove them from your business.

Jim Huston runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm.

March 2018
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