When Johnny Pawn (not his real name) was very little, his parents made decisions for him. Since Johnny was just a baby at the time, this was a good thing. They were good-hearted, caring people and only wanted the best for him.
Then the day came when Johnny decided he wanted to make some of his own decisions. He was still very little, but that was OK because the decisions he wanted to make were very simple. However, his parents decided it would be best if they kept making even simple decisions for Johnny.
For example, one day he decided he was not finished playing with his little toy car and was not ready to put it away. He wasn’t paying much attention to the toy at the time, but his intention was to get back to it in a minute. His parents felt otherwise, and decided it was time to put the toy away. Johnny was still too young to talk, so he couldn’t explain in words to his parents that he would rather leave the toy out where he could see it and play with it when he felt like it.
After repeated attempts to get his parents to understand his decision, he gave up and accepted the fact that it must be time to quit playing with the toy.
Events similar to this happened more often as he got older. He noticed that if he accepted his parent’s decisions sooner rather than later, it pleased them immensely. He decided that, in general, it was probably best to go along with everyone. Overall, his strategy worked well for him except for the ongoing feelings of frustration.
As John got older, he got better at pleasing people. He was an excellent student and made excellent grades. Because of his stellar academic performance, he got a great job when he graduated from school and went to work for a top firm in his chosen field of expertise. He was quickly labeled a fast tracker.
Basically, he figured out that all he needed to do was “keep his nose clean” and please the people who made promotion decisions. He eventually became manager of his own department. It was the “New York, New York” of departments. If he could make it there, he could make it anywhere in the firm.
In less than six months, John’s world crumbled. The departmental bottom line plummeted. Workplace warfare broke out among his staff. Employee turnover skyrocketed. To make matters worse, the most talented people left and only the mediocre people stayed.
John’s boss fired him. When John asked why he was being fired, his boss said, “John, we’ve already been over this many times. Your inability to make a decision has created utter chaos in your department.”
Like many people, John failed to escape the gravitational pull of some of his childhood experiences. What did you learn as a child that is no longer serving you as a leader/manager? What are you going to do about it?
Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.