Abandoning Ship: Not Just for the Rats

Rat-with-life-preserverIn the past two weeks, I’ve had the great opportunity to have lunch with three of my closest colleagues I’ve known in the past decade.  These are professionals so dedicated to the principles of hard work, intelligent work, and the betterment of themselves, their organizations, and their workplaces that they’d each not only succeed anywhere they went professionally, but any organization would be lucky to have them on the team.  Quite literally, these three individuals are game changers.  They each have the ability to fundamentally alter the trajectory of any project on which they are dedicated.

Fortunately, two of these professionals quickly opted out of their former place of employment.  They left, and in doing so, took their natural talents to a competitor organization.  The third is preparing to follow suit.  You see, the most talented among us will always have opportunities elsewhere, something many executives seem to consistently fail to consider.

But this third colleague is really struggling with the decision (as did the other two).  And it’s not just the feeling of being undervalued for the guidance she could provide.  No, what tears her up even more is the organization’s internal sense of fear that she might actually succeed.  Yes, it’s fear that will drive her on to a competitor.  Not her own fear, mind you, but the fear of organizational leaders with regard to her talent and abilities.

Seems a bit backward, don’t you think?  Here you’ve got unbelievable intelligence, ability, and drive, all qualities that any organization would want, nay need, to succeed in an ever-competitive environment.  Yet, the leaders do fear the very saviors they seek!  Yikes…THAT’s a recipe for disaster!

mediocritydemotivatorBut it’s really not that unusual, unfortunately.  Mediocrity breeds contempt, fear, and ultimately failure.  It’s sadly stereotypical in many ways. Here’s the pattern…

Insecure and only marginally effective leaders hire talented, driven, up-and-comer.  Said new contributor demonstrates a glimpse of their potential value, overshadowing leaders who assume they have risen through the ranks primarily on the wings of their own brilliance.  Executives take notice of this person, who is quickly label “high potential.”  Leaders become more insecure, and as a result, intentionally squash the contributions of this “hi-po” (or subsume her brilliance as their own).  Talented follower is relegated to the back office, so that their talent isn’t as apparent.  Eventually, talented “hi-po” departs, leaving in her wake a stronger culture of insecure, passive-aggressive leadership.  It’s quite the cesspool of mediocrity!

One of my greatest passions is witnessing others’ success.  But to succeed, talent is not enough.  As I’ve said, many companies can attract and land good talent.  We’ve got plenty of examples of that right here in Madison!  But landing top talent isn’t enough.  Nope, if your leadership culture is one that exemplifies insecure self-interest, those are hardly laudable leadership traits.  There’s no inspiration there, trust me!

Organizational success is bred not from the acquisition of top talent, but rather the pairing of top talent with inspired and enlightened leadership.  And ultimately, it’s the lack of enlightenment that has cost many a company the ability, nay the right, to succeed.

rats-fleeingSo, I’ll coach this colleague to find that enlightenment. You see, in sailing it’s important to realize your situation long before the waves are over the gunwales.  It’s not just the rats who a flee a sinking ship….often it’s the brightest who claim the first lifeboats.  To go down with the ship may seem noble, but it’s still not an experience most of us would like to have….

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