January 30, 2017
I just got over what we are pretty sure was the norovirus. No vulgarity necessary - I slept in the bathroom one night, and basically forgot what day it was.
It felt crazy. Odd to me that sickness like this sweeps across the nation regularly, by the way.
Interesting thing about the norovirus - or maybe not interesting, but a fact nonetheless - it’s incredibly contagious.
As in, even after you’re good and before you ever have symptoms, you could be carrying the norovirus.
Of course it’s not super serious if you’re not a tiny child or an elderly adult. It’s a bit more serious in our household since Lauren is pregnant.
(That doesn’t mean it’s tame, by any means… It was quite violent and very unpleasant, and a few days later my stomach still isn’t back to 100% strength even though all the symptoms are gone.)
As a result, we started being extremely careful around the house. She’s washed her hands upwards of 160 times since I got the virus. I’ve done the same.
You know, we use this word, contagious, to describe viruses all the time… the idea that one thing can be “caught” from the simple interactions - the mundane things we do with one another. Shaking hands, hugging, touching a doorknob. It’s so simple, and yet that one action is literally what spreads that virus from one to two, and two to four, etcetera, until the norovirus sweeps the United States.
I started thinking a lot about this phenomenon of contagiousness laying sick in bed.
What else is contagious?
Certainly we’ve used this word to describe “viral” media. But I don’t want to talk about ways to succeed - I want to examine a cautionary perspective, in similar alarmed fashion to the Cutrell household bleaching extravaganza over the last few days.
I believe that in similar fashion to passing a disease, as a leader especially, your words and actions are contagious.
Whether interfacing with a local competitor at the coffee shop, emailing with a client, or talking with a colleague - every interaction you have carries consequence, and more than you’ve expected in the past.
And when you recognize that your words are contagious, you’ll also realize that when you are supporting a team, the virality of your attitude and messaging to that team is going to be painfully clear.
Those you lead will pick up on small things you say - small things you do. They will pick up on the linguistic ceremonies you promote and perpetuate around the office. They will pick up on your phone and texting and emailing habits. What’s even more alarming is that - sticking with the metaphor here - the virus will mutate into something worse than you intended.
If you communicate slight negativity, it will likely expand in your team to full-blown negativity. If you communicate frustration with a client, you can generally expect your team will talk poorly of that client over lunch.
So, what does this mean?
It means that you, the leader - you have the job of knowing the impact of your words and your actions. You are contagious, and it’s up to you what you spread.
Written by Jonathan Cutrell, engineer and podcast host amongst other things. You can follow him on Twitter at @jcutrell.