Two Toxic Issues On Your Team (and What to Do About It)

Problem Number 1: Garret Is Toxic.

He comes to rehearsal late, is negative, and has 745 excuses for why he isn’t prepared. He’s actually a good bass player, and a decent guy just to talk to him after church or when you see him on the soccer fields. He’s always been a bit of a pessimist, but lately he’s just been been sucking the life out of rehearsals and sound checks.

Problem Number 2: Garret Is Your Only Bass Player.

Two or three times a year, when Garret is on vacation or sick, one of your guitar players will pick up the bass and fill in. But he’s not as good as Garret, so he doesn’t bother playing other times. Actually, he’s never really gotten a chance at other times. Garret’s THE bass player. 

Of all the “people” issues that come with working with a worship team, two of the most prevalent are burnout and entitlement. When they come wrapped in the same package, hold on, because it’s about to get bumpy.

I’ve written about both of these issues before. One post is called, “How to Recognize Burnout on Your Team.” And I wrote a few different posts on entitlement. Here are two that cover that subject pretty well:

10 Symptoms of the MEs

Is Your Team Full of Renters, Squatters or Stewards?

But I want to look at the relationship between the two issues. They aren’t mutually exclusive, however. In fact, one will often lead to the other.

Let’s start with entitlement. Entitlement is a sense of deserving certain privileges, namely, “my” position on the team. It results in being possessive of that position. I call it the MEs – Musician Entitlement Syndrome.

Garret has a case of the MEs. He is the best–and only “real”–bass player on your team. So it’s natural for him to see that as “his” role. But that constant state of being “on” will wear anyone down.

Now he’s conflicted: on one hand, he’s trying to hold on to the position (because it’s his). On the other hand, that position feels like a weight around his neck.

Another scenario comes at it from the reverse. If you read the true-but-changed-details account of Lois from “How to Recognize Burnout on Your Team.” Lois didn’t start with a sense of entitlement. But after awhile, the burnout from playing so long resulted in self-focused symptoms that resembled entitlement.

Don’t misunderstand: she would have been happy to give up her seat on the team. That wasn’t the issue. But she did feel justified to show up late, not prepare, and stop the team’s forward progress with emotional outbursts.

Three Ways To Deal With It

So what can you do as a leader?

1. Don’t Assume Anything. Actually, that’s not quite true. Assume the best. Lead with mercy and grace and give the benefit of the doubt.

2. Have A Conversation, No Matter How Hard.

Always start with questions, and these should be observation-driven: “I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed very happy at rehearsals lately, what’s the reason for that?” And don’t let a “nothing” or “I’m fine” answer kill the conversation. Keep pressing.

3. Take The Hit.

Whatever is required to help this person get healthy, do it. It might mean only scheduling him once a month and going without on the off weeks. It might mean taking him off the schedule against his wishes.

Do what it takes. And you aren’t just doing it for that person. The burnout and/or entitlement is a bacteria that’s infecting the entire team.

For discussion: So how have you seen entitlement and burnout on your team – and how have you dealt with it?

Jon Nicol