The Gangrene Effect

A startup company in Houston is facing a crisis. Their top thinker and engineer, Jason, isn’t contributing to the project the way he used to. He’s creating a crisis within the company and taking a great deal of managements time, attention and energy in attempt to solve the problems associated with this one specific and special employee. The executive team truly loves and appreciates this fellow and wants him to stay with the company; at the same time, they realize that doing so may cost them more than letting him go.

Jason has been one of the most significant contributors to the company and to their project, yet for the past six months he’s a bit of a loose cannon, and in this current moment, the directors don’t know what to do to fully manage Jason and the circumstances effectively. How will they choose to choose what’s in the best interest of their company and their employee?

The Dilemma

When speaking to the execs about their situation, I used the analogy of an individual who, due to improper care of their body, has gangrene in their foot. Gangrene is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that arises when body tissue dies. This individual is extremely distressed about this, for without intense therapy his foot will have to be amputated in order to save his body. At what point does the individual realize that he can no longer risk the health of the whole for the sake of the part?

Choosing to lose Jason who has been with the company from its inception and has been so essential to the growth and functioning of a company is much like having to choose to cut off a foot. The decision makers are loyal to Jason and feel powerless in facing their current dilemma. Their loyalty keeps them choosing to keep Jason (the foot attached), though it may contribute to further disability in the organization. They feel a sense of failure and guilt that somehow they’ve let Jason down. They feel limited in their capacity to deal with the situation in a way that supports health in Jason, and at the same time minimize the dis-ease in other employees in the immediate vicinity to Jason.

Jason, is angry and feels betrayed by the decision makers. He believes they didn’t do enough to support growth and well-being for the entire organization and that he is just one of the victims of this company. He believes that their incompetence will inevitably kill the company. He wants to get healthy and return to the well-being he had prior to joining this organization. From his perspective, it is the body that is sick and is what contributed to his level of dis-ease. He may have to choose to amputate the body from himself in order to get well.

As a coach, my job is not to find fault or blame in Jason or the company. My job is to empower my clients, both the company and Jason, to view the current circumstances as a tremendous opportunity for learning and growing. It’s the perfect set of circumstance for every individual to explore, discover and acknowledge how their own way of being human contributes to this scenario. By doing so, the outcome will contribute to the growth and development of each individual and the company, as well as its investors and perhaps corporate culture at large.

The company worries about its identity and its capacity to function without Jason. It worries about its loss of credibility. It is concerned that is will seem less viable and less attractive to investors. These are important to consider, yet the hierarchy of needs have to be distinguished. Concerns regarding our identity have to come second to life itself. Do we choose to choose what will have us to live or choose to choose what will kill us?

That an organization makes an executive decision in service to its life is crucial. That is has the capacity to make these types of decisions is the question. I believe what distinguishes a company that will be successful and prosperous has everything to do with its ability to make hard choices. My job as an executive coach is to empower my clients to discover what may be interfering with them making those most challenging choices.

Though I’m speaking of one particular company, all companies and executives face these challenges. The newer and smaller companies have greater challenges because there are personal ties to every one “ they know each person and know that their executive choices will impact on these people. In larger companies it may be easier because the impact on people is not so obvious. Newer companies as they grow and develop rely heavily on the foundation upon which they built the company. They haven’t the evidence over time yet to support that they do make good and healthy decisions in service to their initial vision and mission. We are so much like children; we know we have the capacity to walk and move forward, at the same time we lack experience and confidence to be with the challenges and adversity that inevitably come our way. Only time creates opportunity for wisdom and maturity to grow.

This company faces a choice-point. There is no right or wrong decision; there is no guarantee that the choice they make will be the most effective. Facing the dilemma fully conscious of what’s at stake is to exercise muscles of wisdom, maturity and experience. Acting in the highest good of the organization will bring about the highest good for Jason and everyone else. Choosing to choose what’s in the highest good of all takes courage and faith and an enormous amount of trust in one’s own capability to risk what’s known against the unknown. Both Jason and his company are in mid flight of a leap of faith. Uncertainty is the wind and hope lifts and inspires them to fulfill their vision. It can’t be any other way.

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