When I was in high school, one of my favorite things to do in the summer was to go to the Jersey shore with my friends. My friend’s family had a house on the Manasquan River in Point Pleasant with a wooden dock that went out into the river. We spent our days at the end of that dock tying chicken parts to string to catch crabs, then we’d bring the full basket up to the house and cook them for dinner.
In all those summers, we never had to put a cover on the basket as we caught the crabs to keep them from getting away. None of the crabs ever successfully escaped, not that they didn’t try.
Crabs are amazing creatures to watch. As soon as there are a few of them in the basket, they scamper around stepping on and over each other, reaching up with their claws, trying to climb out. They would spend hours snapping, stretching and crawling to the top of the basket and freedom, but as soon as one got close to the top, another crab would reach up from below and pull it back down into the basket.
It was like they all instinctively operated with the mindset, “If I’m not going to make it out, neither will you!”
Unfortunately, crabs aren’t the only ones who do this. I’ve seen the crab mentality at play in the workplace. As soon as a member of the team has a success and starts to get noticed by upper management, there is a current of envy that runs through the group and someone starts a campaign to take the high-achiever down.
A rumor starts that sullies the star’s reputation, people become critical of their work, or the team begins to ostracize them. In subtle and not so subtle ways the team sends the message, “Stop that, you’re making the rest of us look bad.”
Obviously, the team leader must be tuned into the team’s attitude so this mentality can be addressed and channeled in a more positive and supportive direction. Sometimes it means removing a negative team member so the rest of the team can thrive.
I’ve often thought back to those summers and wondered why the crabs didn’t just form a ladder with their bodies and help each other escape. They must not know that success isn’t a zero-sum game.
Are you surrounded by crabs? Take a moment to honestly look at the people you work with and even the friends in your social circle. Do they try to hold you back from greater success or do they lift you up and celebrate your achievements, even if it means they get left behind?
If you recognize crab mentality in those around you don’t worry. Unlike the real crab, you have the ability to get out of the basket and move on.