Breaking Through Apathy and Skepticism

Eyes roll. Posture slouches. Arms cross. That’s the reaction I saw in a follower when a leader sat down to explain the company’s new performance management system. The leader did a very good job casting vision, expressing interest in the development of the follower, and showing commitment to the organization’s vision and goals. The follower’s reaction was telling. It said volumes, but not about the follower or the leader. It said a lot about the organization.

The follower’s body language, when translated, said, “Yeah. I’ve seen this before. Not this, but it’s really no different than all the other performance plans HR and the execs have dreamed up. This won’t be any different and I’m not really going to pay attention to it.”

In other words, the follower has been trained into a state of apathy and skepticism.
Apathy—I don’t really care about this because it’s essentially no different than the last system or the one before that.
Skepticism—I don’t believe anyone is going to follow through with this; no one has in the past.

You’re a different leader, though. You care about your team. You really do want to see each person develop to their full potential because you know that it is best for the employee and it is best for the organization. You see the performance management system as a tool for strategic conversations and development planning.

How do you break through the apathy and skepticism?

Apathy and skepticism are pretty big walls. They are perhaps the most efficient and effective of all walls. They take little to no energy to erect and their presence is self-reinforcing.

Leaders break through the walls of apathy and skepticism with vision, insight, and action.

Apathy and skepticism are very tall walls that block light. They shroud the follower in darkness and prevent them from seeing a brighter future. As a leader, one who isn’t bound by those walls, you need to be that person’s eyes. You need to tell them what is on the other side of the wall. You need to give them a vision of what the future could be if you work together.

The mortar that holds together the brick walls of apathy and skepticism is almost always lies, or at least half-truths. You, the leader, need to see the truth. You especially need to see the truth about that person because the mortar-lies are almost always about themselves. They believe lies about their identity, their ability, their value, and their potential. Truth dissolves those lies over time. You need to persist in telling them truth about their identity, ability, value, and potential.

You and the follower need to act together to break down the apathy and skepticism. As the mortar-lies are weakened with truth, action will begin to crumble the walls. At first, the follower will not likely join you in action. You need to persist. Keep casting vision. Keep speaking truth. Weaken the wall. Soon your team member will join you and take their own swing at the wall, creating a hole.

Once apathy and skepticism are broken down, the environment for working together has great potential. I’m not saying all problems are solved by removing these walls, but the situation is far better. You are better able to have honest conversations about reality and potential.

As a fellow leader, I know how important it is to help your followers grow, both personally and professionally. For me it is a blessing to help others discover their gifting and to see how they can use that to make others’ lives better and contribute to the success of a team. We can’t do that when apathy and skepticism are factors. Your vision, insight, and action will help create an atmosphere where the best is possible.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at] with your questions.

Photo by Martin Wessely. Photo available at Unsplash under CC0 license. Image modified for size and space.

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