Workplace Disaster

Workplace Disaster

By Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA / Published October 2023

Photo by Somsuk

John and Mike resigned. Robin moved on. Carolyn left twice. Barbara was so hurt she quit. Jim gave up and Don gave in. All were good key staff people and volunteers. In the past five years, they have all gone. No one really noticed, but Ron’s still there.

     In today’s world of high technology, competition, and an unstable economy, high-touch service is hard to find. In analyzing resumes, budgets, job descriptions, and insurance quotes, overlooking people is easy. Thinking about how to get along with others is not usually urgent—important, but not urgent. In management, learning how to pay attention to the people in your organization is considered a “soft skill.” And soft skills seem so soft. Being touchy-feely scares people.

     Add negative behaviors, pride, greed, ego, and fear of  the high-tech, low-touch work environment, and they spell workplace disaster.

     John, Mike, Robin, Carolyn, Barbara, Jim, and Don are workplace disasters. The common denominator—Ron. 

     They could have made a great team. So, why did they leave? Why so many? What went wrong? When the disasters were all sorted out and the damage assessed, the conclusions were as follows. Let these be a warning to you and your board of directors.


     Culture is the underlying emotional environment of your office and community. Is it positive or negative, affirming or critical, interested or apathetic, and organized or disorganized? It should go without saying that a positive, affirming, interested, and organized environment will produce happier employees and volunteers who work hard to do a good job. Here is the culture that had been created by Ron:

  • An unclear and confusing chain of command
  • A lack of emotional support
  • No mentoring or training
  • Continuous usurping of authority
  • Knee-jerk responses to residents’ issues
  • Defensive attitudes of each decision
  • No healthy debate in staff meetings (there was no permission to ask questions)
  • A failure to honestly ask the hard questions
  • A negative and critical work environment where blame was always assessed
  • Poorly developed leadership skills
  • Apathetic attitudes; no collaborative efforts
  • Working as individuals and not as a team
  • Continued reluctance to communicate with the volunteers and residents

     Ron even kept a list on a legal pad of all the mistakes made by each staff member. His individual meetings with them were spent going over the list. This was not a positive, affirming, interested, and organized culture.

Core values

     What you believe about leadership is impossible to determine with a simple conversation, but it becomes noticeable when there is a crisis. The differences in core values of leadership might fall into the following categories:

  • who is in charge (the chain of command)
  • what are the goals for decisions (mission statement)
  • when are decisions discussed with others involved (staff, volunteers, residents)
  • where are decisions made (behind closed doors or in open meetings)
  • why are the decisions being made (personal gain, self-dealing, or the good of the community)
  • how decisions will be made (individually or corporately)

     Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, says exceptional leaders gather the right team members around them and then decide where to drive the bus. In other words, a leader gathers qualified individuals who are not afraid to explore, debate, or disagree. Then when a decision is made, everyone supports it.

     This view is different (though not wrong) to that of other popular leadership writers. They say the leader of the organization receives the vision (decides in what direction to go) and then gathers a team that agrees with him. The leader decides first where to go and then hand-picks others who agree. 

     While either of these methods of leadership can lead to a successful team, everybody on the team should have an understanding of which leadership model is being used. Otherwise, there is disaster. Such was the case with Ron and his staff.


     Dr. Robert Rohm is president of Personality Insights in Atlanta, Georgia, and he says,  “demonstrating a gentle spirit towards someone first in any situation is really the best way to go . . . rather than with harshness . . . or anger. When we begin with gentleness, it sets the tone for trying to resolve issues in a way that is helpful and peaceful for everyone concerned.”

  Add to gentleness the quality of humility—the ability to say, “I am sorry, I was wrong.” Everyone makes mistakes every day. There are things we forget to do, slips of the tongue, sarcastic remarks, and just plain thoughtlessness. It’s obvious to others when YOU make a mistake. So go ahead and admit your mistake and correct it as soon as possible. When OTHERS make mistakes, don’t publicly humiliate them. If you do, resentment grows, and resentment leads to poor work performance and a very poor attitude.

     Add to gentleness and humility the quality of trust. You cannot expect good work from your staff if you don’t trust them. If you are constantly checking on them or micromanaging, they will perceive that lack of trust. If you don’t believe you can trust them, don’t hire them in the first place. Most employees will work harder for you if they feel trusted. Even originally happy and productive employees and volunteers will perform poorly when you fail to show trust. Lack of trust in your staff produces fear. Daily fear produces poor work performance.

     So let Ron’s poor example be a warning to you! Be intentional. Create a positive culture. Make sure you, your staff, board members, and volunteers understand the leadership model. Lead with gentleness, humility, and trust.

     (Writer’s note: Now, I can hear some of you saying, “She doesn’t know the people on my staff or in my community. They will eat me alive if I am gentle, humble, and trusting.” I am not talking about those types of people. I am talking about the other kind—the ones who are just trying to get through the day, do the right thing, keep a job, and get along.)

Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA

Owner, Florida CAM Schools

     Betsy Barbieux, CAM, CFCAM, CMCA, guides managers, board members, and service providers in handling daily operations of their communities while dealing with different communication styles, difficult personalities, and conflict. Effective communication and efficient management are her goals. Since 1999 Betsy has educated thousands of managers, directors, and service providers. She is your trainer for life! Betsy is the author of Boardmanship, a columnist in the Florida Community Association Journal, and a former member of the Regulatory Council for Community Association Managers. Subscribe to CAM MattersTM at For more information, contact, call 352-326-8365, or visit