Changing a Crabby Culture

compassionate culture Jan 15, 2023

by Aubrey Patterson


Leaders understand that a positive culture relies most upon the person looking back at them in the mirror.

Modelling a positive attitude is a choice we have every day, but it isn't always easy. 

Most leaders have at least one Mr. Crankypants or Ms. Whataboutme on their team. 

Crabs in a Bucket

There’s an interesting phenomenon that plays out when a number of live crabs find themselves in a bucket. If alone, most crabs would easily pull themselves up and out of their current situation, but once in a group, their natural inclination is thwarted by other crabs who pull them down.  

A slightly more optimistic, but still unpleasant, perspective is that the crabs act in this manner out of ignorance, and they are simply pulling on anything in a desperate situation. 

Crabs in a bucket syndrome is analogous to toxic culture. 

It takes little thought to extend this image to the jealousies, thoughtless actions, and harsh words that can infect mindsets and pull down team members. 

But people aren’t crabs; we shouldn't to be too quick to apply this label to those who demonstrate negative behaviors.  

Rather, we should take a deep breath and ask ourselves whether we might be misdiagnosing colleagues as crabs, when they might be fearful and desperately seeking help. 

There's only one thing more contagious than a good attitude and that's a bad attitude. (John Maxwell)

Everyone loses in a culture that insists upon operating from the lowest common denominator.

We should never accept individuals pulling down others.

Impactful leaders model empathy and encourage a team to look for ways to boost one another.

 It’s better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness. (Confucius) 

A great starting point would be discussing the crabs in a bucket metaphor and asking each person to offer a way they could boost others for the remainder of the year.  


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