Innovation

The art of throwing your star under the bus

Ever felt like you're being asked to do work that could result in the end of your career? In this blog, John M McKee outlines how being "too good" can end up hurting both individual and organization.
I have a new client who is a real star at her organization. She'll be leaving soon.

?? She's a star - but she'll be leaving soon? What's going on?

Here's a quick review the situation: Everyone speaks well of her. Her employees look to her for inspiration and often see greatness. Her boss sees her taking his job in short order.

Too bad she doesn't feel the same way. In the short time I've known this high potential and high performing executive, it's pretty clear that she's stressed, tired, and often wondering if she shouldn't move on.

I think that's likely. In my opinion, the place where she works is about to lose one of their best: Her.

Consider the sad details:

My client has been with the organization for about seven years. She has moved steadily and quickly up the organization chart. Well-educated, smart, attractive, and personable; she's been able to rise through the ranks quickly because she always knows what to do - at the right time.

Interestingly, former peers never hold a grudge at her moving ahead of them, because she is clearly a caring individual who goes out of her way to make things better for her teams.

Former bosses, initially cranky when she moved into the big leagues so quickly, quickly fell for her can-do attitude with a style and dedication to getting along with other department heads.

And each time she was promoted, her new boss always saw the greatness within her.

Sounds good, even super, right? So what's wrong with this picture? And why does she seem destined to bail out?

Ironically, because she is just so excellent, so darn personable, and because she's always come through every situation well; "the organization" has now realized she's the ideal representative to put out-front when things aren't going as well as hoped. In addition to her day job running a huge department, she's now being used to fill a role not unlike the American President's Chief of Communications.

Consequently she's been asked to speak on the behalf of the organization while facing television cameras, the board of directors, and other stakeholders. Always about stuff nobody else wants to deal with publicly. I understand that she's done a great job, and in each case her boss reported afterward that "everyone was pleased" with how she'd handled touchy situations.

So why doesn't she feel good?

"I feel like I keep getting pushed under the bus," she noted in our last session. I know I can deliver bad news better than most people and I'm assuming that's the reason behind assigning me to these difficult tasks. But I can't shake the feeling that my boss would rather let all the negativity from these situations build on me so he's free and clear when everyone is looking at outcomes. It's crappy. I deserve better after all I've done here."

She may or may not be right about her boss. But even if she's not, he's going to lose her because of this perception.

When I asked why she's the go-to person for delivering bad news or dealing with tough issues externally, he was very straight. "She's the best person for this activity, including me. I'm glad we've got her around and intend to continue letting her take point on this."

I noted that he might face a giant unintended consequence (i.e. her resignation) as a result. He said he hoped that didn't happen. But he's not going to change how he uses her.

john

Leadership Coach

About

John M. McKee is the founder and CEO of BusinessSuccessCoach.net, an international consulting and coaching practice with subscribers in 43 countries. One of the founding senior executives of DIRECTV, his hands-on experience includes leading billion d...

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