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“I swear, Talia is doing everything she can to mess me up,” Gordon, the chief executive officer of a small startup, grumbled. He was the final decision-maker on everything. Not for the lack of trying to delegate that to the rest of the team. But, for some reason, he always ended up making all the critical decisions.

Even the ones Talia, his head of engineering, should be owning herself.

Gordon looked up at a knock on his door and waved Pam in. His head of sales, Pam was the one person who seemed comfortable making decisions without his oversight. “Hey, Pam, come on in. What’s up?”

“I have a shortlist of promo candidates for your approval,” Pam replied, rolling up to Gordon’s desk.

“Great! I always enjoy rewarding good salespeople. We can’t have enough of those.”

After glancing through Pam’s recommendations and asking a few questions about each candidate, Gordon said, “Approved. I’ll announce promotions at Friday’s all hands.”

“Thanks,” Pam replied. “I know my people will be excited to hear that. How is everyone else coming with their promotion lists?”

“Mostly pretty well. I’m having a little back and forth with Dennis about his recommendations for HR, but nothing out of the ordinary. Except for Talia. She seems to be doing everything she can to make this a horrible process.”

“Really?” Pam was surprised. She’d always found Talia to be eminently reasonable. “Anything I can help with?”

“Can you lock her in the supply cabinet for the next week? Or hogtie her and drag her behind you for a few laps around the parking lot?”

“Umm, I’m not sure whether you’re joking,” Pam said hesitantly. “Regardless, I’m not up for doing either of those. I’m happy to listen, though, if you’d like to talk about it? Maybe I can help you find another way.”

Gordon never opened up to his employees. He felt that he must show confidence and decisiveness in all situations, and if people knew how often he felt neither of those, they would surely kick him out. But, he was at his wit’s end, so….

“Wow, I had no idea,” Pam said half an hour later, when Gordon finally stopped talking. “This is way bigger than just which engineers are getting promoted. You seem to be involved in every decision anyone in Engineering makes.”

“Yes, and I’m incredibly frustrated. I have to weigh in on every little thing. And, so much of the time, convince them that their ideas are wrong. It’s like they’re little children. I’m not running a kindergarten here.”

“Do you mind if I ask a few questions?” Pam asked. Gordon waved his acceptance. “Your background is in business; do I remember that correctly?”

“Yes, that’s right,” Gordon said, reeling off a string of credentials and degrees.

“Thanks for confirming. You’ve taught yourself programming and software design, then?”

“No, I’ve never been interested in that.”

Pam eyed Gordon momentarily, wondering how to ask her next question diplomatically. She decided to approach it indirectly. “Okay, great. I know you weigh in on all our hiring decisions. So, I assume our engineers are all smart and know their stuff.”

“Absolutely. We have the best in the business.”

“Right. The tech world seems to change at the speed of light. I’m always hearing about some new technology or tool or approach.”

“Oh yeah, it’s always moving forward. I don’t know how anyone keeps track of it all.”

“Well, then, I’m a little perplexed. I know you’re trying to do what’s right for the company. How does overruling the decisions of all these genius engineers make us better?”

“I don’t overrule every decision. Or any decision. I just convince them there’s a better way.”

“What signals tell you that your way is better?”

“It’s obvious. Anyone who knows what they’re doing can see it.”

“Do you believe I know what I’m doing?”

“Sure. That’s why you’re in charge of sales.”

“Well, it’s not clear to me that your ideas are always better. In fact, most of the examples you related to me earlier seemed to require a deep knowledge of the problem space. Which you just said you don’t have.”

Gordon was silent for a long time. Long enough that Pam started to become worried she had just flipped her own bozo bit for Gordon and she was about to lose her job. Then, Gordon said wonderingly, “Am I really being this idiotic?” His worldview was threatening a titanic upheaval, and he wasn’t sure whether he wanted to lock that down or accelerate it.

“You’ve been trying to be helpful,” Pam reiterated. “And maybe that intent hasn’t been realized in these cases.”

Gordon opted for a middle road between ignoring the insights raining down on him and encouraging them to sweep him away in a flood and accepted the situation. “I’ve been an idiot,” he said, collapsing back in his chair with a thud. “No wonder Talia has been so troublesome. Everything I do overrules everything she does. I’m not letting her do her or her people do their jobs.” He shook his head resignedly. “I can’t believe I’ve been doing this.”

Uncertain about how to help Gordon through the significant shift he was clearly experiencing, Pam decided simply witnessing might be best. She sat quietly and waited.

“Why hasn’t anyone told me?” Gordon asked.

“I don’t know,” Pam replied. “Maybe they’ve tried, and you haven’t heard them. Maybe they decided it wouldn’t be worth the effort because you would again tell them they were wrong. Maybe all sorts of reasons. I’m not the person you should be asking.”

“You’re right,” Gordon said. “Talia and her team are who I should be asking. I’ll do that right now. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Pam said. “And, would you like some feedback?”


“I am impressed at how fast you are coming to terms with this. I was a little worried I had you completely steamed and that you would fire me. I understand now why you’re the CEO.”

“Well, you were just trying to be helpful,” Gordon said with a chuckle. “And I appreciate you helping me recognize this. A big chunk of my self-image is collapsing and recreating itself right now. I’m a little surprised myself at how well I’m handling this. Thank you.”

“You are welcome.” She quirked an eyebrow. “Any more insights I can help you achieve today?”

Gordon chuckled again. “This one is more than enough for now, thank you.”

“Alrighty, then. I’ll just see myself out.”

As Pam turned around and left Gordon’s office, she thought to herself, “Now, where am I doing something like this?”

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