Case Study: The Rise and Fall of a High Potential Manager

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Case Study: The Rise and Fall of a High Potential Manager

It was just 3 or maybe 4 years ago that Randy applied for a manager’s position at your company. He interviewed brilliantly. He demonstrated intelligence, resourcefulness and an ability to innovate. He displayed a quick wit and a dazzling ability to charm you and everyone he met. Randy was a surely a winner.

Randy appeared to have it all. He was on the fast-track for promotion into a senior position. He went to the right schools, graduated with honors, lettered in several sports, received quite a few leadership awards, and was active in his church and community. In fact, word around the company was that Randy was being groomed to be the successor to the boss.

Zoom forward to today when the wheels have begun to fall off the “Randy-career-express”. It is a dangerous illusion that people have about themselves that often leads to fatal overconfidence. And when that happens, it is like someone else inhabits your body and takes over your mind.

What once was valued as Randy’s drive for results is now viewed as a need to win at any and all costs – even when he is wrong. Randy was hired for his competitiveness and rewarded for his “2nd place is the 1st place for losers” attitude. His penchant for innovation and resourcefulness led to his favorite quote: “rules are for fools”.

In the beginning his managers praised his candor and willingness to question the status quo. Now he was being criticized for always testing the limits and taking unnecessary risks. When Randy couldn’t go through the front door, he always found a back door – or a side door if he had to – even if they were off limits. Golden-boy Randy now considered himself exempt from rules that govern other people’s behavior. He stopped paying attention to others around him, squashing anyone who disagreed with them.

This wasn’t entirely Randy’s fault since management encouraged and rewarded his behavior for the past 3 years. “Why can’t you act more like Randy” was the mantra from management. His file was filled with exemplary standard performance appraisals from Randy’s managers. Too bad no one checked with his peers.

His resourcefulness became exposed as conniving and cunning. His ability to innovate crossed the line into creative accounting, budgeting and deal-making. His quick wit became sarcasm. His charm became seductive and Randy’s previously admired hustle now conjured up thoughts of the “hustler”.

The life cycle of Randy-like employees is repeated day after day in thousands of businesses every day. What takes place when a potential super-star gets drunk with his own success? How and why does this happen? Was Randy, with all his talent and smarts, a victim of the organizational culture or was his behavior predictable and inevitable?

We all have shortcomings. Our natural tendency is to ignore them or cover them up. Talented candidates and employees have become more skilled at highlighting their strengths and covering up their flaws than interviewers and background checkers are at exposing them.

Natural talent only takes an individual so far. As employees assume more responsibility and move up the career ladder, two things must take place. First the employee must recognize that what got them in the door and to the place they are today may not be good enough to get them where they want and need to go. Continuing to rely only on the skills and talent that got them hired and promoted and ignoring their undeveloped or poorly developed skills eventually sinks their ship.

But just learning new skills and minimizing your weaknesses is not enough. Having the skills is one thing. Knowing when to use them is another. The difference between being cooperative and competitive, tolerant and tough-minded, patient and decisive, or candid and discreet is what separates the best from the rest. It is similar to the difference between the week-end warrior handyman who owns a garage full of the very best tools and the craftsman whose handiwork rivals art.

Pre-employment testing and leadership assessments do more than just gauge personality fit.  The right employee test helps managers assess current job fit and future potential.  Most importantly,  employee assessments can identify potential innate weaknesses that generally don’t show up in performance until it’s too late.

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