#278 from Innovative Leader Volume 6, Number 5          May 1997

FORUM—from our readers

Too Uncertain for You?

I am president of an old, and still successful company.  My business, like many, has been undergoing dramatic changes these past few years.  Unfortunately, about half of my senior managers, who had been doing a wonderful job in the “good old days,” are not up to dealing with the current situation.  They cannot make key decisions and have problems prioritizing.  They seem bewildered much of the time.

These individuals are not slacking off.  Most have enrolled in leadership and management seminars and courses; but they still are unable to adapt.  So now I’m in the process of “demoting” them.  It’s not easy, as we’ve gotten pretty close over the years.  I know that they are going to be demoralized, and I know that their families, who I am very familiar with, are going to be upset.  But I’ve got a responsibility—to the company—that overrides dedication to my cohorts. 

I also see several mid-level managers, eager to take on senior positions, who probably will be more comfortable, in their new roles, than the managers they’ll be replacing.

The way I see it is that today’s normal environment for my type of business includes these fast-coming and difficult challenges: unexpected competition, demand for rapid decisions and greater uncertainty about future strategies.  That’s quite different than the rather predictable environment we’ve enjoyed for decades previously.

Some people can lead during rapid change, while others can’t.  Of the latter, it seems that this deficiency is ingrained in their personalities and cannot be easily learned, no matter how many seminars or courses they take over a period of a year or two.

My hope was that training would turn them around.  But the promise of training has just dragged out the inevitable.  Perhaps I’m writing this Forum to assuage my feelings of guilt for not being able to help the perplexed senior managers. 

One message, therefore, is that all managers should prepare themselves for surviving a fast-paced environment.  Preparation should begin early, long before they find themselves being swallowed up by the whirlpool.  The other message is that when you interview people applying for managerial positions, get a feeling for their ability to deal with high pressure and uncertainty—even if the position isn’t that high pressure now.


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