Bare Knuckle People Management is a clever, straight-forward, practical guide to understanding and managing each of your people to get the most out of them. A refreshing break from ‘leadership books’ that insist the key to management success is a one-size-fits-all formula. Finally, a book that speaks directly to the manager for the real world.

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The Exterminator

mouseI’ll start by saying I’m not proud of the story I’m about to tell you.

Ok, that’s not true –I’m not proud about the fact that I am proud of the story I’m about to tell you. This is a mostly true story about an unlikely hero – me. It’s not a fairy tale or feel-good story. But it’s an important one that needs to be told. The names of the not-so-innocent and the deceased have been changed…

I had just stepped into the shower after a grueling late-fall jog. I planned to let steamy hot water heal me for a long time, when my wife Erin suddenly stuck her head in the bathroom:

Erin:       “Sean, hurry up.”

Me:        “Why?”

Erin:       “Ellen (our neighbor) called and is freaking out. Said there’s a mouse on the counter in her kitchen. Jason (her husband) is out of town. She needs you to help.”

Me:        “Me?! What the hell am I supposed to do, jump on a chair and freak out alongside of her? Can’t I just stay in the shower? Can’t she just call an exterminator? Animal control? Anyone else?…Please?

Erin:       “No, don’t be ridiculous. It’s a freaking mouse, for God’s sake. C’mon, hurry up. Ellen needs to deal with this before her party this evening.”

Me:        “Shit.”

I won’t say I’m afraid of mice (though I am positively terrified of their relatives – rats and squirrels). But the thought of having to “deal” with one – kill it? – in a freaking-out friend’s kitchen was seriously anxiety provoking. Was I ready for this?

My choice was clear: (i) Cower there in the shower or (ii) Man up and aid a friend in distress.

Screw it. I was the unlikeliest of heroes, but Ellen needed me, and I wouldn’t let her down. This was my time – Sean time. I could feel it.

I counted to 10 (or 20), shut the water off, bundled up in several layers of protective clothing, and shuffled slowly towards Ellen’s house.

I wasn’t at all prepared for what I saw there. Ellen truly was freaking out – it was clear she had been crying hysterically. You could cut the tension with a knife. I grabbed a broom in the foyer – I intuitively knew I’d need it.

                Ellen:     “Oh, Sean, thank God you’re here. Look at him. Over there. On the counter. Oh God.”

                Me:        “Ok, Ellen, chill. It’s going to be ok. Wait, where is he?…Oh shit, I see him.”

He was moving confidently and slowly right there on the counter, munching boldly on cereal crumbs. He wasn’t big, but he looked really, really strong and humanly clever. I inhaled deeply, raised my broom high, and started into the kitchen. This was it – Sean time.

                Ellen:     “Wait! Sean, what the hell are you doing?!”

                Me:        “Um, I’m going to fell that mouse. Or at least sweep him towards the door.”

                Ellen:     “But what’s the plan? We need a plan. Look at the way he’s moving. I think he might be rabid. And therefore he must die. If that mouse gets away alive, I’ll need to move….immediately.”

                Me:        “Dude. Really?”

                Ellen:     “Yes, DUDE. Really. Make a fucking plan…And kill him.”

If one of the two of you still reading this is an animal lover, I urge you to stop reading this instant. The end is not pretty – for the mouse, at least. For this isn’t a love story – as I mentioned above, it’s a story about an unlikely hero and his reluctant acceptance of a challenging task he is forced to tackle.

Me:        “Fair enough. Here’s the plan. I’m going directly towards him. The mouse is going to scurry back to the wall and realize he has nowhere to go. I’ll strike him swiftly but firmly with this broom, and that will be it.”

Ellen:     “But what if he’s rabid and aggressive and lunges?”

Me:        “Ellen, if that mouse lunges at me, I’ll scream like a school girl, race through that door, and head straight to a psychiatrist for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. And then you’ll just have to move.”

Armed with a broom and my protective clothing, I crept toward the intruder. He seemed not to notice me, but as soon as I got within striking distance, he scurried behind a cereal box against the tiled wall. Ellen gasped and nearly fainted.

My plan was foiled, so I did what any hero would do – I improvised.

I swiftly and forcefully pressed the broom into the box and squished the mouse between the box and the wall, flicked the box aside and soundly thumped the incapacitated villain. I then swept him into a Stop & Shop bag, tied a knot on top, and made my way to the door.

Ellen was huddled there, trembling. “Is he…dead?” she whispered.

“As a door nail,” I said, breathless. “I’m done here,” and placed the bag with the dead mouse at Ellen’s feet.

“Sean,” Ellen said, “Thank you.”

“Ellen,” I uttered quietly, “Please…call me The Exterminator.”

I leaned the broom against the wall and shuffled slowly all the way home and up into my bed and under my covers.

I was exhausted.

I was also changed forever.

I knew I wouldn’t be seeking out other heroic roles any time soon, but also knew that when they found me, even if I felt woefully ill-equipped to handle them, I would nevertheless step up and deliver the best result I could.

About Sean O’Neil

Sean O’Neil is a workplace and team dynamics expert. He is also Principal and CEO of Bare Knuckle People Management (, a sales and management training firm with clients that include the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer, News Corporation, First Data, ADP, Royal Bank of Scotland, and the Oakland Raiders. Sean and John Kulisek co-authored Bare Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have – Winners, Losers, Misfits and All, which was published in May 2011. Sean has contributed to or been featured in, among others, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Selling Power Magazine,, HR Morning Magazine, Leadership Excellence Magazine, Training Magazine, the Dallas Morning News, the Sports Business Journal, and Incentive Magazine. Sean appears regularly on radio and television programs, including Fox Business Network and Imus in the Morning, mostly about workplace communications and management issues. Sean is a nationally-recognized speaker on everything concerning people and the way they interact with each other. He can also frequently be seen pacing the sidelines of a youth team he’s coaching.

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