Hurry – the train is leaving!

You might think that this is a ‘shaggy dog’ story – an urban myth.  If I didn’t personally know all of the players involved I’d be sceptical myself.  This is exactly what happened…

House Sitting: 
A girl from Dublin, 22 years old, was ‘in between’ jobs. In U2 parlance, she hadn’t found what she was looking for. So, when the opportunity arose to ‘house sit’ in London (good money and 3 weeks to do absolutely nothing except walk a dog) she jumped at it. What could go wrong?

K-9 Surprise:
She arrived at the house about 6 hours after the family had departed on a camping holiday to the South of France. The dog was dead, in his box, completely still.  Her first dilemma was whether to tell the family. She didn’t want them to think that she was responsible. So, taking the risk of ruining their holiday, she rang the mobile. Somewhere, on a French motorway, the following conversation took place.

“Hi. Just to let you know that I’m here. But… there’s a bit of bad news.  When I got here, Rex was just lying in his box. I couldn’t wake him. I think he’s passed away”.

“Oh, that’s awful. I’m so sad. The kids will be devastated. Look, I’m glad you rang. He hasn’t been well for ages.  And he was 12. That’s a good innings in dog years.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Eh, call the Vet? He’s been treating Rex over the past couple of months. His number is stuck on the side of the fridge. He’ll tell you what to do. Thanks. ”

Frosty Call: 
Relieved about the call, she contacted the Vet as instructed. The reception was ‘frosty’. Having listened to the story, the Vet said: “What exactly do you expect me to do about it?”  When she explained her predicament (house sitting, no transport, no way to dispose of the body) he said: “Get him over to us and I’ll take care of it” and hung up.  Must have been a bad day dealing with neurotic Poodles.  From his business card she was able to figure out that the Clinic was about 5 miles from the house but, luckily, just a couple of stops along the Tube line.  She didn’t have any spare cash for Cab fare, so a plan was starting to form.

Dog in a Suitcase:
Let me ask you a direct question here. Have you ever lifted a fully grown Labrador in a suitcase? No, I didn’t think so. It’s not easy, even if the case has wheels. A male dog weights between 27 and 40 kilos.  If you took a dead Labrador on a Ryanair flight, you’d definitely have to pay the excess. Using both hands, she hauled the case to the Underground entrance and began to make her way down 2 very steep escalators. At the end of the first one, exhausted, she was questioning how she got into this situation. A man, seeing her distress, approached and asked if everything was OK?  Rather than trying to explain, she blurted out “boyfriend trouble”. He nodded sympathetically and asked where she was going. She indicated the lower level and he offered to carry the suitcase down the 2nd escalator. Yes, the age of chivalry is alive and well!

All Aboard:
Despite his relatively small size, he was strong and got to the end of the escalator remarkably quickly.  Then, with the suitcase in hand, he jumped aboard a departing tube just as the doors were closing and sped off.  At first, she couldn’t believe it. He’d seemed quite genuine. Then she laughed out loud, thinking about the scene as he opened the suitcase to reveal the stolen ‘treasures’.  There wouldn’t be much to celebrate in Fagin’s lair that night.

Impact on You:
What’s all this got to do with you? I meet executives all the time who take up new roles. They are promoted to senior positions (CEO, CTO, CFO) and so on. But, because of the recession the organisation suggests something along the following lines: “You are the perfect Man/Woman for this job. But, we’re under the gun financially. So, you won’t actually have any PA, Budget, Staff, Travel, Consulting Expertise, Pay Rise (delete as appropriate) to help you. Let me stress that we have 120% confidence in your ability to get things done. We know you can do it.”

Just like the girl in London, these executives are given an impossible mission.And they’re often not quite sure how to respond. Faced with this dilemma, they are unlikely to turn the job down and don’t want to seem ‘ungrateful’ for the opportunity. So, like overgrown schoolboys, the executives say Yes, I Can!  I can take on a task without the necessary resources to complete this. Like Cinderella, they’ve been asked to the Ball but no-one is stumping up for the dress (for the record, female executives are every bit as bad in this assertiveness space). Central Point: You sell yourself short by accepting a job without the necessary ammo to win.

Downside Risk:
The risk here is that you end up being a 1-day hero when accepting the job and a complete chump when you miss the targets set. And, lets be clear on this. Everyone will suffer from ‘walking amnesia’. They won’t say:  “Well it was a huge challenge and Joe/Joan was great to take it on under those particular circumstances”. They will say: “It’s a shame that s/he didn’t work out. Looked good on paper, but not everyone survives at this level”.

Your Response:
“If you want me to do this job, I need the following resources (add your list of requirements here).  Neither of us is interested in an 82% solution.”

I know that your Mother will be absolutely delighted when she hears about the promotion. But, don’t let that moment of fame blind you to the fact that executives need resources to get things done. As John Donne might have said: “No Executive is an Island”.  Burnout is a chronic condition where perceived demands outweigh perceived resources (Gentry and Baranowsky, 1988). Don’t tear off on an impossible mission – regardless of how flattered you are by the offer. That job could turn out to be a real dog!



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