How to Help That Annoying “Stuck” Person: Part 1

Let’s call her Sam. Sam has been an average performing employee. She comes to work on time, does her job well, but for some reason has not been getting it lately. She is stuck. You’ve made some suggestions for her on ways to improve her behavior, given her clear direction, but she’s not moving.  Frankly, she is now that annoying person. When she walks in the room you wonder if it is time to let her go or if there is a way you can move her to another department.


Ready for this? You may very well be the some reason she is not getting it! Put another way, I think it’s quite possible that it is your fault she is stuck!

This scenario is why we apprentice leaders versus simply giving clear information and expecting that the person knows what to do. There is a huge difference between apprenticeship and information transfer. Apprenticeship involves the intentional transfer of knowledge, skills, and expertise. Apprenticeship is relational. Information transfer is transactional: Here’s what to do, now go do it. That may work for the very small percentage of high performers, but it certainly does not for the vast majority of people.

Back to Sam. How can you serve her best? We call that situation being in the Pit of Despair. (Princess Bride fans have a different picture of what that looks like, I know. Stay with me). In the Pit of Despair, the person simply doesn’t know what to do. They don’t want to be stuck, but they are. They need you to serve them, to function as the ladder so they can climb out.

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Note: For those of you familiar with our leadership language and tools, you will recognize our apprenticeship square pictured above. It’s easy for people to get stuck moving from conscious incompetence to conscious competence. The process of intentional apprenticeship is the ladder leaders can use to remedy this.

Here are the three key things they need from you:

  1. Time: They will not get out without you walking with them.  They need ongoing connection not momentary transaction.
  2. Vision: Yes, they need a clear vision of what they need to do.  More than that, they need the why behind it.  They need to understand the way you think and have tackled the thing that keeps them stuck.
  3. Grace: They need to know you won’t bail on them.  They need permission to fail, to do it poorly and for you to be vulnerable enough to share how you have been in the same spot.

Follow Up Exercise:

Who is your “Stuck Sam”? What is your action plan to walk with them this week?

In my next post, I will explore 3 key skills that you need to serve someone in climbing out of the pit of despair.

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