Everyone knew what she had done and that she’d be fired. This is a true story so I won’t use her name. She was the top sales rep on the team, but she got greedy.
She found a loophole in a sales contest and gained a huge lead by cheating. This wasn’t even necessary. She had the most talent and would have won on her own, but unfortunately, she couldn’t resist.
Another employee found out and word spread like wildfire. She was the best agents I had and I was sure my boss would make me fire her.
But then my boss told me something I’ll never forget. He said,
You can’t break wild minds, you can only corral them…Plug the hole she found. Build policy around it and use her creativity to find other weaknesses.
He saw one of his employees “outsmarting” his system as a gift.
We were a young department, we were naive. Our policies hadn’t been ironed out to protect us from situations like this. We didn’t see our gray areas and she exposed our vulnerability.
Those that push the limits of what’s possible, often start by pushing the limits of what’s allowed.
Mark Zuckerberg hacked into Harvard’s database before starting Facebook. My favorite scene in, “The Social Network” is when the actor playing Zuckerberg is in front of the school board about to be disciplined. He tells them, “I think you should be thanking me.”
Even the FBI uses rehabilitated criminals to dissect the behavior of other criminals. Remember Frank Abagnale’s story from the movie “Catch Me If You Can?” He went on to help the FBI solve hundreds of cases by teaching them to look at patterns and behaviors they just couldn’t see yet.
I’m not saying we should go forth and reward cheats and thieves.
But as leaders, we should be excited when we find the type of brain that pushes the boundaries of what’s acceptable — Often, it’s that brain that pushes the limits of what’s possible.
By embracing mischievous minds we have the opportunity to:
- Challenge the complacency of programs and other team members
- Learn from them. They will hold a mirror up to our weakness for us to see before a bigger enemies come along.
- Learn how instill loyalty
So what happened to her?
We sent her home for the week without pay and disqualified her from the contest. When she came back to work, we sat her down and went over each program and policy we had. We told her to start poking holes.
We asked her, “What are other ways someone can burn us? How can we protect ourselves from people like you?”
A year later and she was one the company’s top sales trainers and went on to help design countless successful programs.