Lions & Lambs (Part 8)

Alfred is the owner of a company that looks to be quite successful.  It has grown nicely in business contracts and staff and appears to have a great future.   Alfred deserves a lot of credit for his accomplishments but will also be the reason his company will hit a ceiling on growth.

In his high school yearbook, Alfred, like many others who were not jocks, might have been classified as a nerd or a geek.  He had the looks, complete with the often broken pair of glasses.  The notation in the yearbook predicted a safe and predictable life as an accountant which in fact was his primary course of study.  He was not listed in any of the popular clubs.  That did not mean that he was not social.  According to my son, the difference between a nerd and a geek is that a geek has social skills.  Alfred did have social skills but they had not yet matured.  In some ways he was socially needy. 

If given the choice between being described as a lion or a lamb, Alfred would always be characterized as a lamb because, while purpose driven, he was never confrontational and often in the background.

His first experiences in the business world were shaped working for others in task oriented positions.  No one knew that within, he harbored dreams in which he was “the man.”  He knew that the day would come when he would lead his own company, bearing his name in the banner, stating his success to the world.  He envisioned celebrity status due to his success in business social circles.   He knew he would have the wits, connections and money to able to make deals happen.  All of this would be accomplished in alignment with a deep moral compass sharing the success with those loyal to him.

Loyalty was a huge part of his personal and business life.  He was loyal to a fault, often carrying weaker performers or excusing the challenges brought by those who did not want to follow the guidelines.  His loyalty also made the circle that he created around himself very tight.  He had great difficulty bringing others into the circle.  Newer and often talented employees were allowed on the margins, but rarely became insiders.  The tightness of the circle became a comfort zone and restrictive in a kind of possessiveness.

Alfred did have a number of qualities that might be attributed to a lion.  When there was something he wanted to pursue, the hunt was on, sometimes irrelevant of the risk or cost.  This side battled with the accountant trained risk adverse side.  To work with both the lion and the lamb in his persona, he found that the area of compromise was in the definition of the target being pursued.  In business deals, the inner circle often weighed in as a part of the balance, but when it came to hiring new key people the pursuit was his alone.

New people had to meet the normal skills and talent criteria, but for Alfred, perhaps driven by his social neediness, it was also about who they knew or the influence they could bring.  They also had to meet the criteria for being able to touch the margins of the inner circle which often boiled down to perceptions of loyalty.  There were great candidates that came along who could have been instrumental in the growth of the business but it often boiled down to who they knew, not how good they were.  

He also could not consider releasing a person who was a limited performer or who was unwilling to change to meet the needs of the business if they were loyal and a part of the inner circle.  Why wouldn’t they be loyal if loyalty is more important and rewarding than their business contribution?  

Growth in acquiring talent and performance from outside the company became a source of angst and concern in more ways than growth.  Because Alfred was also unable to trust in the competence of others he created undue burden on those he trusted, micromanaged and often chose to take on key roles and responsibilities in the company himself rather than delegate, trust or expand the talent pool.    

Today, the company is at a point where key people are maxed out and in danger of burn out.  The inner circle is closed and Alfred, even though he can logically see the need for hiring key people, will not even consider talking to someone that he does not know.  The company will not be able to grow to the next level and even though Alfred talks about an exit strategy, it is unlikely because he cannot trust and he needs the circle of loyalty around him.


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