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Positional Deafness

by Miki Saxon

3740791077_0de85962b9_mI’ve written several times referencing Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and it’s come up in numerous conversations I’ve had.

Each time I hear that Gladwell’s premise is flawed and that if a person is determined enough they will succeed blah, blah, blah.

They claim this holds true whatever the location, including gang-ridden inner cities or third world countries; work hard enough and you will overcome.

My typical response to their rhetoric is “bullshit.”

A few days ago TechCrunch published The Chilling Story of Genius in a Land of Chronic Unemployment; a comparison between Ibrahim Boakye and Max Levchin.

It is elegant proof of what Gladwell says, as well as a warning call to the stupidity of wasting our world’s human resources.

On a much smaller scale managers waste their human resources every day through “positional deafness,” i.e., only soliciting and/or hearing thoughts, ideas and suggestions from those at X level or higher.

I’ve never understood why managers expect workers who were consistently ignored and shut down to suddenly start contributing because they receive a promotion.

  • Nobody suddenly develops a brain as a result of being promoted.
  • If they were good enough to promote then they should have been good enough to listen to in their previous positions.
  • If they can’t contribute in the position for which they were hired, why hire them at all?
  • Even new grads hired for their potential need to be heard; they are like eggs and like eggs they must be cared for if they are to hatch.

Managers afflicted by positional deafness often experience high turnover and lament the lack of loyalty, especially in “more junior workers.”

But the term ‘junior’ is very subjective; for some managers it refers to those with just a couple of years of experience, for others it’s a level within the company and for still others it’s relative, with the baseline how long it took them to finally be heard.

It’s easy to know if you suffer from positional deafness, just consider the sources of your input over the last quarter and what you did with it.

Better yet, ask the people you trust to tell you the truth, not just what you want to hear.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/waiferx/3740791077/

One Response to “Positional Deafness”
  1. The People Equation hosts the June 2011 Leadership Development Carnival — The People Equation Says:

    […] Saxon from Mapping Company Success takes on the issue of Positional Deafness, remarking, “I’ve never understood why managers expect workers who were consistently ignored […]

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