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Stretching People to the Breaking Point

You know that you’re successful if people ask for you by name when they need something important done.  When that happens it means that you have arrived at the point wherein people have a certain comfort zone – a strong confidence – that you are the best person for the job and you will do the needful to get it done.  Clearly the reward for such success and popularity is more work.  Unfortunately it’s usually more of the tough work that you’d rather not deal with, but here you find yourself in the middle of such a wonderful mess once more because of your proven capability to deliver.

A healthy sense of cruelty is important in order to operate a business.  You need the courage to sometimes make tough and unpopular decisions in order move the enterprise forward and ensure its success.  If you are weak in making and executing difficult decisions then you will miserably fail.  This includes asking people to do more even if they’re already doing a lot.

I think about the situation of a number of the people around me in these unusual days, and everyone is stretched!  People are getting pulled in many directions to help out in priorities that are happening all over the place.  On top of that, there’s no hesitation to pass and drop additional work for some of them to absorb, either because the people delegating the work don’t want to do the work for whatever reason (usually they don’t have capacity – just like these people who inherited their mess now as a result!), or they don’t have a choice since it’s most logical for these other people to take point for the work (they couldn’t find anyone better that could do it).

It’s insulting when you’re remembered whenever there’s dirty work to be done, considering how underappreciated you can sometimes get for the good work you do that you’re rarely recognized for.  It would have been preferable not to get any new work at all, but unfortunately that just makes things worse because it would put into question the existence and need for you in the organization in the first place.  In a way, people can get used, abused, and taken for granted, and it’s ironic and tragic that this needs to happen otherwise one could be in a worse position.

A good leader balances between business and people.  Too much focus on people and you lead them nowhere.  Too much focus on business and no one follows you.


For what it’s worth, stretching people does help them realize their potential.  Potential is useless if it remains just that and is not applied to something good.  Stretching a person forces him to go out of his comfort zone to do amazing things that will even surprise him.  It makes a person realize that he is bigger, better, and greater than he originally thought he is, and that he can go further than he ever thought possible.

Stretching people by foisting additional responsibility on their shoulders also gives them the opportunity to take advantage of the situation they find themselves in to set the direction and influence the outcome of events.  They have an opportunity to not just be a part of history as a spectator but to also make it, and thus leave their own legacy in doing so.

It’s a sad reality of life that if you want to get ahead in your career, it does help a lot to be a jerk about it.  The aggression is part of the job, even necessary, to get things done.  You won’t be successful and you won’t go very far if you won’t be pushy about your own agenda.  And sometimes (or oftentimes?) that includes pushing people to do more, because the 100% of their time working on tasks fit for more than one person and assigned to them isn’t enough.  Of course the deadline for all these newly assigned tasks was yesterday; it could not have been set any other way.

All things considered, be careful in stretching people, most especially when it comes to your best people.  They can only go so far before they break and burn out, which is the last thing you want because this leaves you in a very bad position.  With disgruntled people around you handling your work, it just makes the success of your project more precarious.  And in this day and age, it’s unfortunate that this needs to be said, because it’s no longer obvious to the ones who force people to stretch.

Stretch people if you absolutely must, but be wary not to break them; break them, and be ready to suffer the consequences.

Categories: Ideas and Philosophy
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  1. October 31, 2017 at 6:53 pm

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