The Law of the Bad Apple

Rotten Attitudes Ruin a Team


It goes without saying that skill is necessary to give a team victory. But that’s not all a team needs. “The winner's edge is not in a gifted birth, a high IQ, or in talent. The winner's edge is all in the attitude, not aptitude. Attitude is the criterion for success,” says Denis Waitley in his book, The Winner’s Edge. In order to win, a team must have a winning attitude, which can be developed through coaching and training from our Minneapolis office.

The following five certainties about attitude shed light on how it influences teamwork.

1. Attitudes Have the Strength of Influence to Destroy or Elevate a Team

Sylvester Stallone expresses it well, “No one will hit you harder than life itself. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit back. It’s about how much you can take, and keep fighting, how much you can suffer and keep moving forward. That’s how you win.”

Talent by itself (or talent and experience) is not enough. We know this because there are a lot of talented people in the world, but not everyone is as successful as they could be. Think about this: the same talented person could adopt one of several attitudes and come out with different results:

The same is true for teams. A dazzling team outcome requires talented people with terrific attitudes. When attitudes are lifted, so goes the promise of the team.

2. An Attitude Multiplies When Revealed to Other People

A few things on a team are not catching. Skill. Experience. Motivation to practice. But one thing is; attitude is contagious. When a team member is trainable and their humbleness is compensated by progress, others on the team are apt to mimic them. When a leader is optimistic in a dispiriting situation, people respect that trait and want to be like them. When a person exhibits a strong work ethic and starts to positively impact a team, teammates are likely to emulate them. Role models inspire. People tend to embrace the approaches of those they hang out with – to take on their outlook, principles, and attitudes to challenges. Attitudes are catching!

3. Negative Attitudes Multiply More Quickly Than Positive Ones

A bad attitude is more catching than a good attitude. Maybe this is because some people believe it is trendy to be pessimistic. They might believe they are being clever or adding value. But, in fact, an adverse attitude damages rather than supports the person who has it. And it also damages the people close to him.

4. Attitudes Are Subjective, So Recognizing an Unsuitable One Can Be Problematic


Have you ever spoken for the first time with a person and guessed that their attitude was bad, yet you were incapable of figuring out exactly what was wrong? Enough people have that experience that I believe it needs to be discussed.

The basis of people’s misgivings about their reflections on other people’s attitudes is that attitudes are subjective. A person with a negative attitude may not do anything dishonest or immoral. However, their attitude may still be destroying the team.

A person displays in their attitude their mood on the inside. A person’s attitude is truthfully who they are. Attitude spills over into what a person says and does. Permit me to reveal to you typically bad attitudes that destroy a team. That way you can recognize them when you hear them.

A failure to acknowledge misconduct. It’s difficult being around a person who never admits wrongdoing, don’t you agree? Someone who thinks he’s flawless is not the best teammate. Their bad attitude generates discord.

Refusing to forgive. Retaining bad feelings towards another is never constructive or right. When unresolved bitterness arises between teammates, it’s sure to injure the team.

Petty jealousy. An attitude that certainly destroys a team is a longing for equal treatment that fosters petty jealousy. The people with this approach think everyone deserves identical treatment, irrespective of skill, accomplishment or effect. Yet the problem is just that. Everyone is treated identically, irrespective of skill, accomplishment or effect. This approach does not take into account that we are all distinctly fashioned, and need to each be treated differently to bring out our best.

Self-importance. Problems arise when one team member believes they are the most important person on the team. This attitude, whether revealed openly or felt in the background, destroys team spirit. Babe Ruth commented, "The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime."

A critical spirit. When a person on the team displays a judgmental nature, everyone on the team suffers, because everybody on the team is criticized.

Taking all the credit. Another bad attitude that results in dissension is from the person who constantly hogs the credit. Their teammates feel slighted and unappreciated, making for short tempers.

These are a few of the most ordinary bad attitudes. I believe they result from people overcompensating for feelings of inferiority. But whatever the origin, if a teammate demonstrates any of these bad attitudes, you can be sure there will be problems.

5. To enable success, rotten attitudes must be addressed

A teammate with a bad attitude cannot be ignored. Left alone, they willspread discord, anger, rifts and confrontations between teammates. The quickest way to change a bad attitude is to approach it directly.

Because attitudes seem so subjective, and a bad apple is not easy to deal with, a leader may doubt their instinctive reaction to a person with a bad attitude. If you believe it’s only your view that they have a bad attitude, then you may believe you have no right to deal with it. However, it’s a leader’s job to deal with situations that are bringing the team down. If you see or hear a bad attitude, approach that person and have a discussion.


Remarked John Wooden, the winningest college basketball coach in his day, “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” Great attitudes make for a great team. Help your team members to see that bad attitudes have no place on a winning team.

Sometimes a poor attitude cannot be changed. In that case, it may be time for a trade. Otherwise, the bad attitude will ruin the team and you’ll find out the hard way about the Law of the Bad Apple.

Be a Better Team Member

Look to yourself first when observing attitude. How do you rate? Fill in the circle next to any of the following that sounds like you. For instance, do you . . .

o Believe the team would fall apart without you?

o Think that the latest team wins are the product of your hard work rather than the entire team’s?

o Not confess when you make a misstep? (If you think you don’t make slip-ups, fill in this circle.)

o Withhold praise of other teammates when they do well?

o Recount previous mistakes of team members?

o Doubt you’re being paid what you’re worth?

If you filled in even one circle, your attitude needs an adjustment.

Speak to your teammates to discover if your attitude is hurting the team. Speak to your team leader. If you truly believe your compensation is unfair, speak to your employer to find out how they see it. Whenever an association is out of balance, it is in danger of disintegrating, anyway. See what you can do to make the relationship equitable.

Caution! If you leave your job for a greener pasture, and it turns out to be not so green, then you probably misjudged your worth at your old job. Or else you took too lightly what your old company was doing to aid your success.

Be a Better Team Leader

If you have identified a bad apple on your team, you need to discuss their attitude with them. Discussing it correctly is crucial. Be diplomatic. Communicate what you have noticed but allow the team member his dignity. Approach it from the perspective that you may be mistaken and that you want to clear up the confusion. (If there are a couple of bad apples on your team, begin with the agitator.) If the discussion reveals that it was a misperception on your part, and it wasn’t damaging the team, then you haven’t harmed the relationship, instead you smoothed it out. But, if your observation turns out to be accurate and the individual’s approach is questionable, provide them clear-cut expectations and a chance to adjust. Then hold them responsible for their words and actions. If they adjust, the team is better. If they don’t, take them off the team. A team is better off without a bad apple.

The ideas in this blog post were taken from John Maxwell’s book, The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork.

Stephen Crawford