Continue to let Kirk Grow Into His Role —-How Does That Kind of Decision Impact Any Company’s Growth?

For several weeks now I’ve had opportunity to work closely with a mid/high level manager we’ll call Kirk. He’s a sincere guy with a work ethic anyone would respect and seemed reasonably competent. However, it’s often difficult to know this about Kirk because he fell into the nasty habit of rarely thinking before he spoke. If this self and organizational destructive behavior was limited to Kirk I wouldn’t bother writing about it. However, we’ve all encountered any number of Kirk’s so discussing how he is progressing can be quite useful.

Kirk’s on-the-job behavior fit a very familiar pattern. Pick any subject and he’d instantly tell you he knew all about it, but went no further than that one-liner. Because he was an expert in every field he was extremely busy all day long, “putting out fires” (as he would say) –which is why he just didn’t have time for anyone else or anything else especially in-depth dialogue! Of course, high on the list of things he didn’t have time to evaluate was why his day was dominated by putting out fires in his areas of responsibility. But more insidiously, Kirk the know-it-all had mastered the art of delegating every decision up the ladder, which then relieved him of any accountability. One thing Kirk always seemed to make time for was to bemoan the fact that his boss made some really dumb decisions, which explained why he had to fight so many fires.

In truth and fairness, though, Kirk’s boss and other company executives fed into this nasty cycle because they not only enabled him they created conditions that allowed Kirk to delegate decisions large and small to them while he escaped accountability for anything other than always knowing everything and always being right. Whenever Kirk presented an issue or problem up the chain of company command executive leadership quickly supplied answers, always putting themselves in the middle of the most mundane business matters. Kirk always had time to run into his boss’ office throughout the day or send dozens of emails, always asking for instructions never even making any recommendations. Internally, Kirk was held in high regard because he was such an important employee, always incredibly busy, and to anyone’s knowledge the single most informed human being on any subject. But I write in the past tense for a reason.

Slowly, the tables have been turned in a way that’s benefitting all. due to his obvious brilliance, Kirk was asked to lead a very important company project. Because he had greater knowledge and experience than anyone else could ever imagine he was given full control for developing and implementing an action plan. However, in this case, whenever Kirk tried to delegate his project work up he was met with the same reassuring response: “I really trust your judgment Kirk, what do you think we should do?” Yes, Kirk’s prior pattern of behavior was a great cover-up, a defense mechanism, for a managerial incompetent….and now it was getting exposed.

Early in the process Kirk tried to continue his charade by giving his recommendations. In every instance his ideas bordered on the painful or comical…I mean you could have picked someone at random off the street who knew nothing about the company, someone who had never even worked anywhere before, and that person would have come closer to offering a useful idea than Kirk did. Indeed, he went from not thinking before speaking by serving as a router to not thinking before speaking when he was thrust in the role of accountable leader. But credit to Kirk, in remarkably short order he checked his ego at the door and started to work better with others by sincerely talking to them rather than deflecting and talking at others. Over the course of the past week or so Kirk has done some of his most meaningful work because he is actually now thinking through his own solutions, doing his own research to figure things out, and making himself accountable. He even went as far as telling one of his direct report employees that he didn’t know something! Interesting, but not surprising, the junior employee first reacted in stunned silence–Kirk had never made such an admission before. But that employee then flashed a small smile…yes, she knew Kirk was not the man he pretended to be all along. The two of them then spent 15 minutes diagnosing the problem and coming up with a solid business solution.

While it’s nice to see these small improvements where real progress is being made, it begs a couple of key questions for me…one rather large, and the other as finite as you can get.

The larger issue is how many companies have allowed themselves to similarly get set back, particularly when confronted by the most terrifying business conditions in recent history, how do they quickly recognize and permanently change it?

On the smaller matter, this company’s ownership now has to do some serious thinking of their own. They pay and treat Kirk like a senior manager, but he’s not even close to being one. Do they continue to let him grow into the role or do they replace him with someone who is actually credentialed?

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