Management material

December 17, 2018

I've always hated the phrase management material; it implies a static view of human nature, that some will make it, while others won't, or can't. Not only is that distasteful, it's also untrue; Angela Duckworth's Grit explains at length how powerfully what she calls "high-grit environments", like special forces training, can motivate high performance.

And yet, I'm dealing with a situation where someone I'm responsible for just isn't performing at the level where they need to be. I've coached them, tried to be encouraging, offered assistance, and none of it seems to help. The worst part is that they don't even seem to realize how far short of the mark they are.

The situation has made me realize two things.

One: there is perhaps a grain of truth in the spirit of management material—no matter how distasteful—that for whatever reason, motivation, ability, whatever, not everyone is going to get there. Try all you want; it just won't happen. For whatever reason, I find that kind of limitation easier to accept in physical endeavors like athletics, than in social/mental contexts, like business leadership—perhaps a more arbitrary distinction than I'd realized.

Two: I wonder when I've been pigeonholed like this? I'm sure it's happened, as I've worked a lot of places. It hurts to think about, but it seems likely at some point that a manager or other superior has written me off. I can't help wondering: in what way was I written off, and what did I do—what straw broke the camel's back?

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