In Over Your Head?

Business Proverbs
by Steve Marr

Patrick felt like he was drowning, occasionally getting a gulp of air before sinking again below the surface. After six months as marketing vice-president of a valve manufacturing company, it seemed like he was in way over his head. Likewise, Susan, a newly hired creative writer for a magazine, struggled to produce work acceptable to her publisher. Meanwhile, Mike, the human resources director for an automotive parts manufacturer, was feeling overwhelmed by his company's rapid growth. In every case, for different reasons, experienced managers found themselves in over their heads-and sinking fast. These situations illustrate three common reasons for people to end up in deep water on the job: "Overselling" by the employee when applying for the job; a poor hiring decision based on faulty analysis by the employer; or the needs of the job may have grown over time.

In Patrick's case, his experience was as a sales manager. He was effective in organizing a staff to make calls, finalizing proposals, and closing business. However, when interviewing for his new job, he oversold his past experience by claiming he could do market research, develop strategy, and coordinate advertising campaigns. Once he landed the job, however, he didn't have a clue how to proceed in developing a comprehensive marketing plan.

Patrick decided to confess his shortcomings to the CEO and requested specific training to learn the marketing aspects of the business. The boss agreed to provide training and also coached Patrick to give him the opportunity to grow on the job. Patrick's proactive response to his dilemma demonstrates the truth of Proverbs 28:13: "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion" (NASB). The risk in coming forward is that your boss may decide to terminate your employment, but it's better to confront the issue head on, to either obtain the help needed or move on to another opportunity.

Susan had several years experience editing the work of freelance writers, writing objective news stories, and assisting with basic page layout. Martha, the magazine's publisher, wanted an editor who could write creative stories, determine long range themes for each issue, and design the "look" of each issue. During the hiring process, Martha was impressed by Susan's energy and her ability to manage multiple priorities, but she overlooked Susan's lack of experience in the style of writing and design needed by the magazine.

After three stressful months, Martha scheduled a meeting, intending to terminate Susan immediately. During the ensuing discussion, Susan pointed out that Martha had not articulated clearly how important the creative element was in the new position, and she asked for help in learning to be effective in the position. Martha listened intently, and agreed that she had not been diligent in the hiring process. However, even though she believed that Susan was a great employee in many respects, she lacked the creativity to be effective in her present job. Rather than string out a bad situation, Martha acknowledged her responsibility for the mismatch in hiring, and she provided Susan with a generous severance package to help her while she looked for a different job. As the apostle Paul observed, "For just as we have many members?all the members do not have the same function" (Romans 12:4).

Mike was keenly aware that his knowledge and skill was not keeping up with the company's growth. He scheduled a meeting with the company president, acknowledged he was falling behind, and asked for additional training. The president bluntly said, "I was getting ready to replace you because I see that you are becoming ineffective." However, he agreed to a structured outside training program, and also began to coach Mike personally. The two agreed on short-and long-term goals that Mike must achieve. Put on a short leash, Mike demonstrated his ability to learn quickly and became a strong leader. "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser" (Proverbs 9:9 NASB).

If you have the sinking feeling that you're in too deep, recognize that time is not your ally. Confront your issues quickly and directly, and commit to fixing your shortcomings-fast. Endeavor to make your boss a partner in your growth, rather than a future judge.

Steve Marr is a business/ministry consultant and author of the book Business Proverbs. His daily radio feature, "Business Proverbs" is heard on 1,000 radio stations. He is the former CEO of the fourth largest import-export firm in the United States. Website:

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