iStock_000012618633SmallDoctors have found my “suspect component.”

I’ve had two back surgeries in the distant past. Over the past couple of years I have experienced some discomfort in my lower back.

I didn’t think much about it. I travel for a living so have accepted the impact that long plane rides and various bed qualities have on back health.

In fact, the Cleveland Clinic reports that lower back pain is the most common cause of disability in people below age 45. In the US, 80% of the population will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime.

My physician referred me to a neurologist who ordered MRIs of my lower back. My “suspect component”? The disks in my lower spine are virtually gone due to degenerative disk disease. I met with a neurosurgeon for further review. He ordered more MRIs (of the cervical & thoracic spine and of the neck).

We’ll review those images in a few weeks. Spinal fusion is the surgical solution being discussed. I’m not jumping into that quite yet; we’ll see how it all plays out.

There are “suspect components” in many areas of life. In his book, Lone Survivor, Marcus Luttrell described how Navy SEAL boot camp was a ruthless elimination process for an elite fighting force that “cannot tolerate a suspect component.” The incredible physical and mental demands on SEAL candidates ensured that only the strongest made it through. The weaker candidates self-selected out.

I had the timing belt changed on my 2006 Honda Ridgeline last month. Though that critical part has an expected lifespan of 100,000 miles (and mine only has 89,000 miles on it), it’s age caused it to be considered a “suspect component” that could fail at any time. A broken timing belt can cause incredible damage inside a motor. Rather than risk the belt breaking, I had it replaced.

We see suspect components in workplaces. A team member who over-promises and under-delivers erodes team performance as well as team member confidence in his or her ability to carry their load. S/he is a suspect component.

Bosses who manage by fear and intimidation may generate short-term results from their team. Long term, though, they experience inconsistent service levels, team members quitting and leaving (or quitting and staying), and little proactive problem solving by team members. These bosses are a suspect component – a key but weak part that could break and cause significant damage.

How do you identify suspect components in your team or company? First you have to formally define expected performance and expected valued behaviors. This specifies what an “A+” contributor looks, acts, and sounds like.

With those expectations in place, you observe leaders and players closely. When you see missed performance expectations, you engage, investigate, and coach back to standard. When you see less-than-desired values and citizenship, you engage, investigate, and coach back to standard.

You don’t let up. You hold yourself and everyone else in the organization accountable for both performance and values, every day, in every interaction.

In that environment, suspect components must choose to step up and deliver or to self-select out. If they don’t step up and don’t self-select out, you must lovingly set them free.

What do you think? How have your great bosses dealt with suspect components in the past? What other costs have suspect components created in your work teams? Share your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarJoy Guthrie says

    Hope that you are soon pain free, Chris. Every “fix” can have it’s own suspect moments whether it’s one’s back, a part in a car, or a problem workplace. Enjoyed your post; but, do hope you are soon feeling better.

    • S. Chris EdmondsS. Chris Edmonds says

      Thank you so much, Joy – you are a blessing in my life!

      You’re absolutely right – every decision has beneficial, intended consequences as well as detrimental, unintended consequences, in the workplace, in a car engine, or in the surgery center!

      Color me doing lots of stretching, lots of walking, and lots of consideration of next steps.



      S. Chris Edmonds  MacBook Air & iMac

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