How to Remove a Spirit Leech


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One of the hazards of fishing swampy rivers is the risk of getting a leech. Unlike many parasites, you cannot feel a leech attaching to your arm or leg. A ritual among river anglers is to always check for the bloodsuckers after emerging from the water. And, the typical way to remove the slimy hitchhiker is with a lighted match or lighter.

Leeches suck the blood from their target; spirit leeches suck the energy and passion from theirs. Some spirit leeches are dark—they remove optimism, hope and confidence. Mention an opportunity and they can tell you why it’s a mistake. Suggest a new approach to resolving a problem and they will tell you all the reasons it won’t work. Some are transparent, preying on personal accountability. They play the blame game or bring out the excuse use. Some are almost invisible, specializing in putting wet blankets on joy.

Spirit leeches are removed the same way real leeches are—with fire. Not a lighted match, of course, but with the warmth and energy of a positive spirit. You do not inherit spirit, acquire spirit or borrow spirit. You choose spirit much like you choose to introduce yourself to a stranger. Those who opt for an upbeat, positive spirit are happier, safer, healthier and more productive. And, they refuse to let spirit leeches attach to them. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”

People with a positive spirit choose the light over the fog. Most people don’t opt for the dark, but often tolerate a fog—those boring, eventless moments. Spirited people demonstrate the courage to show zero tolerance for or compliance with party poopers and spoilsports. Helen Keller advised, “Life is either daring adventure or nothing.”

Spirited people refuse to be a slave to ritual. This does not mean they are rebellious or reckless. They know that breaking “the way we’ve always done it” norm can lead to enrichment, growth and progress. They have learned that the pursuit of excellence means continuous improvement and occasional experimentation. From their hunt for distinction, they learn the power of adaptability and the promise of tenacity.

Spirit leeches are fans of subtraction, not addition. And, in this era of hand wringing pessimism and doomsday gloominess, they seem to have plenty of company. But fans of a positive spirit put challenging times in perspective. Loosing your job, position or home is really tough; but you could be jobless in the early 1930’s or homeless living in Iraq. As inhabitants of the richest country in the world in an era of great medical care and relative prosperity, we are too lucky to act yucky–stop blaming and start aiming.

People with positive spirits are also admirers of humor. Not the Pollyannaish fakes who chuckle on the outside and ache on the inside, but those who look for the lighter side of the gravest situations. Norman Cousins, writing about his own terminal illness in his best-selling book The Anatomy of an Illness, found laughter had a substantial healing influence. “I made the joyous discovery,” he wrote. “Ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.” He enjoyed a steady diet of Marx Brothers films in his hospital bed. Humor can have the same medicinal effect on our response to slow earnings, expense reductions and head count cutbacks.

We live in an era of spirit larceny. Downsizing has robbed colleagues of colleagues, leaving them hollow. Constant reorganizing has not only reshuffled key alliances, it has stolen valued allegiances. And, the heartless hustle for razor thin margins has too often put short term profits at center stage and long term partnerships in the cheap seats. But, advancement can come from the collective spirit of people who opt for optimism and work on the upbeat side. Show spirit leeches your joyful side and watch them disappear!

Chip Bell
Chip R. Bell is the founder of the Chip Bell Group ( and a renowned keynote speaker and customer loyalty consultant. Dr. Bell has authored several best-selling books including The 9 1/2 Principles of Innovative Service and, with John Patterson, Take Their Breath Away. His newest book, Sprinkles: Creating Awesome Experiences Through Innovative Service, will be released in February.


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