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Managewhich? What to do With Complete and Utter Incompetence

Photo by Ryan Schultz

Photo by Ryan Schultz

Her name is Oblivia.  She’s nice.  People like her.  And, she can’t get anything done.

Have you ever worked with someone who is Unconsciously Incompetent?  That is to say, that they are so incompetent that they don’t even know that they are incompetent?

It’s rare.  Most of us know when we really, truly suck at something.  However, there are times…

My friend is currently in this situation, and Oblivia is one of her directs who is just… unsuited to the task at hand.  It never should have gone on this long, of course.  She’s reported to manager after manager who never effectively dealt with the fact that she wasn’t able to do her job.   When my friend checked into it, turns out she’s far from the only one to have this opinion.  While most people really like Oblivia,  they tend to go around her when they actually need something done.

One of the challenges of dealing with an Oblivia, is that she really doesn’t “get it.”  It may be that she can’t “get it.”   Unfortunately, she’s never had to “get it.”  This is a strategy/behavior that’s worked well for Oblivia, because generally speaking her management has just given up.

Besides the obvious-to-everyone-except-Oblivia problem that she’s bringing the group down, Oblivia probably will be the first downsized in this kind of economy.  She’ll have trouble landing her next position, because her reputation is as an incompetent.  That translates into fewer introductions and still fewer recommendations.   Chances are, she won’t receive or won’t be able to hear the feedback she needs to correct course, because people want to be “nice.”

As leaders, it’s part of our role to help people find their place.  That’s what makes us leaders worth following.

I tried to do that back in the days that I managed people.  In fact, successfully helping someone into a career that they loved was one of the most satisfying days of my career, and it’s one of the experiences that led me into coaching.  That’s me.  For you, the Managewhich, it’s more about growing yourself as you step up as both a business and a life leader.

There are some fringe benefits to this “habit.”  If  the Managewhich can find that “better job” in the company, the company usually gets a valuable asset in someone who knows what’s going on and who is engaged in doing his best work.  If the Managewhich can’t find that position within the company, she’s effectively managed this person out in a good way.   And, she’s created space for someone better qualified.  The Managewhich also can avoid that demoralizing, paralyzing, time-wasting, energy-sucking performance improvement plan process, when successful in this approach.  And, the former Oblivia is generally happier and appreciates the efforts made on her behalf.  Those people tend to be better partners as we go through this life called business.

My friend has taken more of a “coach approach.”  We are a bit farther down the road in this situation as my friend has already effectively had the feedback conversations.  So, Oblivia does know that from a purely fact-based perspective, Oblivia’s results don’t match the desired results.  Oblivia also feels that her job is “hard,” a good realization.  Now, the challenge is that she continues to want to try new approaches, and she’s out of time.

One of the keys to helping Oblivia find herself is finding out what it is about this position that Oblivia is so attached to.  More than likely, it is one of the following:

  • Security or Comfort.  She’s been promoted past her level of competence and is afraid to take on something new.  Perhaps the thought of making a change is too overwhelming.
  • Prestige.  The brain processes loss of social standing in the same way that it processes a physical threat.
  • Social Connection.  We spend most of our working hours in the office, and for many of us, these people are our extended family.

For this Oblivia, her trigger is prestige.  One of the clues is that as my friend and Oblivia have discussed new roles, Oblivia is attracted to positions because of their prestige factor, as opposed to whether she would enjoy performing in that role.

What we really need here is the Reverend Mother from the Sound of Music to solve the problem like Maria.

My friend will probably take one last pass and then hire a coach to help Oblivia find her what’s next.  The keys are uncovering the talents and marrying them up with Vision and Values.

Be Your Best You Today,

Carolann

p.s. – If Oblivia works for you, I may be able to help.  Email me for a consult.

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