That rabbit in the headlights is… perfectly balanced

19 05 2014

Just reflecting on something that happened in Birkman Training recently. It was a group of experienced Birkman Consultants who happened to be experienced managers and leaders as well. I was illustrating a simple point, namely that too much of anything can be a problem in an organisational setting, using the example of a Senior team I worked with who were all extremely central on the Birkman Life Style Grid. It would be easy to make the point using one of the extremes – a group of reds who do better and better that which never should have been done in the first place, or a group of blues who have produced a dozen of the best new products that never happened and so on; but it is useful to make the point that the middle of the Grid is just what it is, not better or more normal than anywhere else.

Anyway, this central (on both Usual and Needs) group had a business that was heading ever further into danger. Too many ideas and little projects, too little action. Intellectually every single one of them could acknowledge this, and the concomitant likely need for drastic action. But emotionally – no can do. These Central / Central leaders unfortunately reinforced in each other the Central tenet of “nothing to any extreme, everything in balance”. I even stood before them at one offsite and told them exactly what they were doing. They themselves had agreed on their problem and what the solution involved, but would then dissipate the will to act. And they simply said, “No, you are going too far with that Jon. We can’t do that to our people…”

Except of course they did in the end. Or their successors had to, after most of the leaders had also lost their jobs. Far more of the rank and file suffered job losses than would have been the case if they had acted immediately. So: moral of the story is, beware of any group of leaders who are too homogenous, even if what they have in common is their balanced view of things.

At which point one of the participants in the training had an epiphany; a Central / Central person himself, he suddenly saw his whole managerial career with a major FMCG brand flash before his eyes. “That’s why I could never quite grasp the nettle…”

So the wider moral is that, if we all need people around who complement us, the perfectly balanced may need a person or two who tilts them off-balance and into action, if they aren’t to end up as rabbits in the headlights