Every organization I’ve ever owned, consulted with, or been involved with in some other way – whether businesses, schools, families, governments, or churches – has had four distinct groups of people. When you understand these four groups and how they impact the organization, it becomes much easier to know how to deal with them and to lead effectively.

Imagine four concentric circles. The inside circle is the inner core, the next one is the core, the one surrounding those two circles is the lean-inners, and the circle on the outside rung is the lean-outers. Each circle contains a specific group of people who impact the other circles of groups.   

Inner Core 

The first group is the inner core. Typically, this would be the management or leadership team. The inner core consists of those on the team who have bought into the vision. They’re pursuing that vision wholeheartedly. 


The next concentric circle of people around the inner core is a group called the core. These people may not be a part of those management meetings or the vision meetings in which the inner core engages, but they’re totally bought in. More than likely, they report to someone who is in the inner core. They’re moving forward with you. 


The challenge lies in the two other groups that are in every organization I’ve ever seen. The first one is called the leaninners. They’re looking in at the core and saying through their actions and words that they want to be a part of that. But, for some reason, they’re just not quite ready to jump in all the way. Why might that be? Well, it might be a hippocampus issue based on their past experiences that causes them to be hesitant. Maybe they’re thinking that they’ve seen this kind of thing before and they’re just not quite convinced you’re for real and that you’re going to finish strong. Maybe it’s something else, like a trust issue. They’re waiting for you to build a little more trust before they say they’re all in, but they’re thinking about it. 


The fourth group is the real problem. Those are the leanouters. They’re the ones who have no intention of ever getting in. They’re the ones who pull the pin on the grenade and toss it right into the middle of the group. Why do they do that? Because right now, they are exercising control over the culture. They enjoy that control, and they don’t want to give it up. 

Good News and Bad News 

Fortunately, it only takes 3% to 15% of any organization to shift the culture. Unfortunately, it only takes 3% to 15% of an organization to shift the culture. So, every leader must ask themselves which 3% to 15% is controlling the culture in this organization. Here’s the problem. If you allow a lot of lean-outers to stay in your organization, they will negatively affect the lean-inners who will join them and become lean-outers. Sometimes, the lean-inners will even refuse to lean on in because they see that the inner core and the core are not dealing with the lean-outers and they don’t trust that the inner core and the core will ever deal with them. However, when we remove the lean-outers or get them to lean on into the core, the lean-inners will see that and then be willing themselves to jump into the core. 

What would happen if you had an organization that had no lean-outers and almost no lean-inners, but a lot of inner core and core? You would have team members who are high performers and who have healthier relationships among your team. 

The Impact of Lean-Outers 

Unfortunately, the lean-outers will often be some of your top performers. Nevertheless, they are dragging down your organization. Have you ever noticed that most organizations write almost all of their policies and procedures manuals based on the lean-outers? So, the responsibility lies on the leaders to issue firm discipline and either to lean the lean-outers totally out of your organization or to lean them into the core, but they can’t remain as lean-outers or even as lean-inners. They have to decide. You can allow them to make the choice: 1) to get on board or 2) to find another organization. 

Here’s how allowing lean-outers to remain in your organization works. Have you ever been hard at work while the person on your team next to you wasn’t working hard, so you begin to think what difference does it make whether I work hard or not. Maybe you’ve worked in an organization in which you tried to have a good attitude, but someone around you (maybe even a whole group of people) didn’t have a good attitude. When or if nobody dealt with that person’s bad attitude, you and others began to think why should we be the only ones trying to keep a positive attitude. Then what happened is that you and others around you exchanged your good attitudes for bad ones. Maybe you were the one who was always on time for work, but one of your teammates came in fifteen minutes late every day. You started questioning why should you have to be at work on time.  

In scenarios like these, it becomes easy for good people to drop into that lean-outer category. 

Leaning Out a LeanOuter  

Our company once bought a company that was doing about $60 million in sales annually, but they were not doing well. Our intention was to buy this company, fix it, turn it around, build a management team, and let that management team run the company using the leadership tools we use in Transformational Leadership and those I’ve been sharing with you in these blogs. 

On our first day working in this company, we were teaching many of these relactional leadership concepts, the kind of leadership that combines the focus on both the transactional needs of the organization as well as the relationship needs, both of which are important to build strong teams and to ensure the company’s success. During a break about halfway through the day, the vice-president of sales called me into her office. When I entered, she threw her keys on the table, signaling her resignation.   

I picked up her keys and gently said, “OK. Clean out your office and be out of here by 5:00 today.” She seemed confused, so I asked her why she threw her keys on the table.   

And she said that meant she was quitting. So, I repeated, “Well, then, that means you don’t have a job here anymore. So, go ahead and clean your office.” She responded with confidence, telling me that this organization couldn’t survive without her and reminding me that out of the $60 million in sales the company had she personally generated $55 million of that total and that all those relationships were hers. I reassured her that, of course, I knew that because we had done our due diligence before we had bought the company. Her response to me was that our way won’t work. I was thinking to myself that we wouldn’t even be here if her way was working and that we had bought this company because her way hasn’t been working. But, I then asked her why she would even want to work here if our way won’t work. I told her she should just go ahead and leave and that I was okay with that and told her to go ahead and clean out her office. 

But she started crying then and asked me where would she ever find another job that paid her $250,000 a year in base pay plus commissions. I told her she probably wouldn’t. And she started pleading for another chance. I told her, “You know… You just met me today, so I’m going to do something for you I’ve never done before. I’m going to give your keys back with two stipulations: 1) If you ever throw your keys on the table again, you’re gone. And 2) If I ever hear from anybody that I gave your keys back including even your mother, you’re gone. We won’t do business this way. We don’t accept it. We do something totally different than that.” She assured me she understood and agreed. 

About three months later, guess what she did. In a moment of anger, she threw her keys on the table again. I guess her epinephrine kicked in. I immediately grabbed her keys. In an attempt to grab her keys back before I could take them, she scratched my hand. I told her, “Young lady, you’re gone. We do not do business this way.” Remember, she made the choice when she threw the keys on the table the second time. I did not make that choice for her. I had told her that if she ever did that again it would be over, and now it was. 

Within about three months of her being gone, the sales were reduced by $5 million, but we increased our profits by 11%. Many times, those lean-outers in an organization are the problem, but the previous owner and president believed there would be no way the company could succeed without her because she had been generating so many sales. In reality, she was the problem. 
As transformational leaders, if we deal with those lean-outers, the lean-inners will jump into the core, and your organization will reach a new level of effectiveness. Others, especially the lean-inners, will see that you care enough and are strong enough to exercise discipline when and where it is needed, and the lean-outers will no longer be influencing the culture of your organization. Developing this kind of transformational culture will help you build a healthy and productive organization.  

Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.