Cautionary Tales For Managers (with apologies to Hilaire Belloc)

No. 1: Samantha, who refused to delegate and was ‘disappeared’


Samantha Tamsin Thornton-Briar

Was a corporate high-flier.

Hand-picked from University

Her progress through the hierarchy

Was rather quick, I have to say.

Succession planning paved the way

For her to be divisional head

(“And well deserved” - so HR said).


Now something that is clear to all

(At least to those people who scrawl

Their own notes in the margins of

The self-help books they dearly love)

Is this: there is a direct link,

In those who stand poised on the brink

Of corporate success, between

Their outward sharp, professional sheen

And something they all try to hide:

An insecurity inside…


And that was poor Samantha’s bluff;

She feared she wasn’t good enough.

She feared one day they’d find this out.

“The one way to remove their doubt,”

Thought Sam, “Would be to make them see

That everything’s best done by me!”


So from that day, whatever task

Popped up, Samantha never asked

Her followers to do what she

Could do herself.  First two, then three

Hours extra every night they saw

Her silhouetted through her door

With in-trays stacked on every side.

She sent out emails far and wide

In which she let her colleagues know

That anything they cared to throw

At her would be ‘no problem’; and

That if they wanted to expand

Her duties they must feel free.

(She hoped by this that they would see

How competent she was, and so

The fear she felt would surely go).


As is the way with all such things

A little too much hubris brings

About a fall.  Samantha’s team

Were, to a man and woman, keen

To pull together like the crew

Of some rainforest tribe’s canoe

(A simile they had been forced

To learn on a teambuilding course).

So much they yearned to do their best

That Sam became profoundly stressed

To think they might do more than she.

The worst thing she could do would be

To coach them to bring on their skills:

The very thought gave her the chills.

So every time they tried to solve

A problem, Sam would not involve

Them, saying merely: “I will see

What I can do; leave it with me!”


After several months had passed

You’d scarce believe the stark contrast:

The team were listless; half had left

And all the others were bereft

Of motivation; they would do

The minimum you asked them to.

And as for Sam, she finally cracked

From all the monkeys on her back

(I trust this concept’s known to you:

It comes from a well-known guru).

Her bosses were all quite upset

In case Sam’s failure caused a threat

To their share price; but happily

That dark result was not to be.

So they agreed they wouldn’t dump her,

But transferred her to Kuala Lumpur.


And so, dear reader, please beware:

And think of Sam, while I declare

The moral of this tale of woe

- or two, in fact – before I go:


It’s not much of a corporate perk

To kill yourself through overwork


And good performers, managed poorly

Will usually leave prematurely.


(c) Phil Lowe 2003.  All rights reserved