“Rank does not confer privilege or give power. It imposes responsibility.”Peter Drucker
Paradox means, literally, a finding contrary to received opinion or expectation. (Greek para = distinct from and doxa = opinion). This Thursday Thought presents a paradox about promoting people too soon. On one hand, it might work out, on the other hand, it might not.
Occasionally when we promote people too soon and they have not yet evolved into the position, it can prove very detrimental for the organisation. Without the scar tissue of experience, without earning their stripes, they can spend a lot of their time and energy managing their external image rather than leading their people or building the organisation.
This starts an “emperor’s new clothes” cycle where they surround themselves with people who will not expose their weaknesses. This is ominous for the organisation.
Paradoxically, we can promote someone to a role that far exceeds their current competencies and they will thrive. They will treat their lack of experience as an opportunity. They will work hard to fill the gaps in their skill sets. They will hire people who are smarter than them so they can build a better team.
It is my experience as an executive and corporate coach from working with HR and learning and development professionals from all over the world that we have a prevalent problem.
The problem is that when the organisation tasks you with employee retention, then retention becomes the metric of success rather than effective retention. If retention is the goal, we often keep people who prove detrimental to the organisation. The organisation exacerbates the problem when they incentivise you for retention.
The situation leaves you with elephants in some rooms and naked emperors in others. And all this results in a terrible working environment. Your best people leave and it leaves you with “lions with the hearts of mice”.
The Lion with the Heart of a Mouse
“If you give a ton of gold to an ant, it will only crush the ant.” — Sadhguru
I heard Sadhguru tell a marvellous story once; it went something like this…
There was once a compassionate sage. One day while searching his home, the sage uncovered a mother and five baby mice. Terrified, the mother ran away, leaving the baby mice. The kind sage fed the babies with some grain. One day a mouse came and devoured four of the mice, but one escaped. The old man continued to feed and care for the last baby mouse. The cat came back to finish the job and eat the last mouse, but the sage chased her away. Every time the sage closed his eyes to meditate, the wily cat came back. Eventually, the sage reasoned that this was not sustainable and he could not always protect the cat, so he had an idea.
He used his magical powers to turn the baby mouse into a fierce cat. The idea worked and the cat never came back. However, a wild dog soon discovered there was a tasty cat living with the sage and hung around waiting for an opportunity for a tasty meal. Once again, the sage thought to himself, this is so inconvenient. Once again the sage used his powers and changed the cat, who was once a mouse, into a dog. Again, it worked, but only for a while.
One day, the dog ran home with his tail between his legs. The sage looked out to see that a large panther had been hunting the dog. After chasing the panther away, the sage sat down and thought. This was becoming too troublesome. He had an idea and used his powers one last time. He turned the dog into a lion — after all — a lion is the king of the jungle.
Now, when the lion — who was a mouse, then a cat, and then a dog — roamed through the jungle, all the other animals ran away in fear. However, the lion went through a constant internal struggle. Knowing he was a lion with the heart of a mouse, he thought to himself.
“What if the other animals find out that deep down I am just a mouse? What will they do to me?” The lion realised. The only other person in the world who knows he is a mouse is the sage, so he had an idea. The lion returned home to the sage, intending to kill him. The savvy sage realised what the lion was about to do and apologised to the mouse inside the lion, saying it was wrong of him to change him. And so, the sage turned him back into a mouse.
So what is the moral of the story?
It is natural for a cat to chase a mouse, for a dog to chase a cat, for a panther to chase a dog. If you give them a position far beyond their capabilities for that position, it will bring misery to them and to the person who gave them the position.
Whenever we place someone in a position beyond their abilities, it can rack them with insecurity, fear and doubt. In an organisation, power can poison talented people.
They may suspect that others will doubt their abilities, they will fear that others will find them out.
It happens with Innovation roles all the time. The organisation feels it should reward tenure and “gifts” the Innovation Director or Digital Director roles to executives who do not have digital or innovation in their DNA.
It happens in family-owned organisations because of nepotism. The family member then reigns terror throughout the organisation, sometimes undoing decades of significant work by previous generations.
When we gift opportunities to others when they have not earned those opportunities, it rarely works out well. It is not about depriving the giver or the receiver; it is about the rite of passage.
Everyone has to evolve naturally, hardships, said C. S. Lewis, often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.
So when an employee comes knocking on your door looking for a promotion, the question might be. What do you believe you have done to earn it? Or, perhaps, what do you intend to give to receive?
(This goes for children too, if we give them too much too soon, we can spoil them of the lessons of the struggle.)
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On the Innovation show this week, we speak to Rob Fitzpatrick about his book “The Mom Test, How to talk to customers & learn if your business is a good idea when everyone is lying to you.”
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