I realize that this sounds like a great name for an 80’s Prog Rock band, but this is actually a Leadership phenomenon that I have encountered, and one you might do well to be aware of. First, an explanation. Brad Hibbs is a guy I knew in college, who I believe currently does civil engineering for North Carolina hiways. Please give him a shout out for me if you see him. When we were in school together, I wasn’t as good a friend to him as I should have been, but he was a great guy to know, and someone you could really depend on. I coached intramural basketball one year, and we put together a team that was pretty good. We weren’t great, but we held our own.
Brad was on the team, and to be honest, a pretty good player. His main liability as a player was that he was too nice, too agreeable, and too supportive. As a result, other players who badgered me for playing time got to play a lot more than he did, and I’m sure that we would have won another game or two had I just been willing to play him more. I was willing, but I knew that he wouldn’t hassle me about being on the bench, so I didn’t play him enough. To be fair, I didn’t play myself enough either, but I felt bad about leaving him out so others would be more cooperative.
I think that all of us have a tendency, when leading people, to act that way. Sometimes, people can be harsh and demanding. They may openly question you or your policies and, in so doing, make life difficult. At times like that, it often seems much easier to cater to such people, while passing over your supporters, however well-qualified they might be. In honor of Brad, I’ve called this phenomenon “The Brad Hibbs Effect,” and I’m defining it as “the tendency to disregard supportive people, regardless of their qualifications, in order to protect one’s self from criticism.” Yes, it looks like a failure of courage, or at least a conflict-avoidance mechanism, and it might even be a defense from charges of favoritism, at times,but I believe that it is something with which every leader has to struggle. We don’t want to unnecessarily favor one person over others, but is it really fair to exclude folks because they are supportive?
So, the next time you have to make a choice about who to rely upon; who to use for a particular job; whose perspective you need to show extra attention to, lest you offend; you might want to look deeply at yourself and those people who surround you and ask, “am I giving in to the Brad Hibbs effect?” Sorry, Brad. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to understand this.