How to Succeed with Mules in a Beauty Pageant

Mules come in many forms. Some are loud, opinionated, and adversarial.

A pleasant mule is stubborn in a beauty queen’s skin.

Beauty queen mules are more dangerous than conspicuous resistance. You end up tolerating negative behaviors and poor results because you falsely believe performance will improve.

Beauty queen mules seem humble, even as they kick back.

3 qualities of beauty queen mules:

  1. Subtle forms of blame are normal and pervasive. Beauty queen mules can’t accept the thought that they’re responsible.
  2. Suggestions or ideas that might improve performance are seldom, if ever, good enough.
  3. Justification for poor choices is normal. They don’t say, “I was wrong.”

Hope is destructive when disappointment becomes a pattern. 

Things mules say:

  1. “I don’t really have time to work on this right now.”
  2. “The reason Betty’s projects come in under budget is she has a better team than I have.”
  3. “That’s a great idea.” (But in the end, nothing changes.)

5 things to do with beauty queen mules:

#1. Stop defending your ideas. Beauty queen mules love explaining why your ideas won’t work. Input isn’t good enough to cause them to actually change their behavior.

#2. Stop offering advice. The moment you realize that suggestions are never good enough, stop offering suggestions. Stiff-necks don’t want to change. They want others to change.

#3. Let them be right. “You know, you’re right. My suggestion was off base. Your way is probably better.”

#4. Establish consequences. “This is what’s going to happen if things don’t improve.” The only thing that might help a stiff-neck is suffering.

#5. Set a deadline and remove them if performance or relationships don’t improve. Don’t let hope be the reason you tolerate a mule while others suffer.

Shielding mules from consequences rewards stubbornness, prolongs irresponsibility, and discourages teams.

How might leaders identify and deal with beauty queen mules?