When do you give up on people? When do you build (help re-build) people? – A Leadership Question


An Everyone CultureI was reading the sample pages of An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Culture. The book described the difference approaches different companies take with people. They described a practice at Bridgewater, an unquestionably successful company. One of their keys is this:

Bridgewater’s leaders believe you become a one-in-ten-thousand company by hiring one-in-ten-thousand-type people.

But, the book also says this: that Bridgewater will get rid of certain people in a very quick heartbeat. From the book:

“We are up to growing people, not rehabilitating them; some people have to go.”

I do get this. Underperforming people, especially people in need of some rehabilitation, drag everyone down, and can become almost toxic.

But, I’m not quite sure how to react to this quote, this stance at Bridgewater. Sometimes people need a little help in life — don’t they? Isn’t it the essence of leading people that some of the people being led need to be given a little help along the way.

Josh Meets Donna
Josh meets Donna

I thought back to the first meeting between Josh Lyman and Donna Moss. If you are a West Wing fan, you will remember it vividly. It is from the second of the two episodes In the Shadow to Two Gunmen. Josh is working for candidate Bartlett. He walks into his office, and discovers Donna answering his phone. He had never met her; never seen her. They have some dialogue about her desire to work for Bartlett, and he pulls out of her that she had recently broken up with her boyfriend, and then (from the script)…

JOSH
Donna, this is a campaign for the Presidency, and there’s nothing I take more seriously than that. This can’t be a place where people come to find their confidence and start over.

DONNA
Why not?

JOSH
I’m sorry?

DONNA
Why can’t it be those things?

JOSH
Because —

DONNA
What, is it going to interfere with my typing?

Maybe this provides the right window to look at this challenge. A job is a place to gain, to re-gain ones confidence. A place to start over. So many people, in this crazy world of no-longer-long-term-career security, are always handling just a little too much. Maybe a lot of people have lost their confidence. Maybe we are all in the helping-people-regain-their-confidence business.

So, “if it doesn’t interfere with their typing” – if they can do their job while they re-gain some footing and build some confidence, maybe that is what work should be about. At least for many.

So, maybe the rule could be this: get your work done, and work to re-build your confidence, your life…

And maybe leaders should help create places where this can happen.

Just a thought.

And by the way, by the last episode of the West Wing, Donna was as good a professional as anyone!

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