Wed | Feb 19, 2020

The stress of being one of a reliable few

Published:Sunday | February 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Francis Wade, Sunday Business COLUMNIST

Executives, managers and board members are always on the lookout for the handful of employees who are completely reliable.

They come to depend on them, giving them greater responsibilities, while shunning those who are seen as flaky. Is this the best company strategy in the long term, especially if you are one of the reliable few?

The flood of information and time demands employees experience in Jamaican companies has not been matched by an increase in their skill.

Most firms are staffed by a number of flakes: harum-scarum, scatterbrained colleagues who cannot be trusted to complete future tasks. They may be quite likable and well-intended, perhaps even a favourite of many. However, at the end of the day their promised actions are rarely fulfilled.

The experienced professional can tell the difference, but only after being burnt. It's the reason reliable people are never let go, once that has been found.

If you happen to be one of these people, how should you react to the increased workload and responsibilities? There are positive tactics to employ.


Even if you happen to be the most reliable, productive person in your office, the chances are good that you are a big fish in a small pond: still far from world-class standards.

Data gathered in hundreds of self-evaluations in my training tells the truth.

Even weak executives think they are highly accomplished in managing time demands. The truth is, they are not: instead, they are strong at thinking on their feet, learning how to fast-talk their way out of trouble without actually improving a single behaviour.

Few around them have the knowledge or courage to show them otherwise.

Your movement to the next level of performance means giving up these tricks. It also means sacrificing the false comfort of being only better than the small circle of people around you.


If you are someone who is reliable you may have come to believe that no one else can be trusted, so you do everything yourself. You see delegation, which is the same as asking for help, as a weakness. As a result, you end up being stressed.

There is some justification. In the past, you tried to rely on colleagues, only to have them let you down. Time demands fell through the cracks, causing you to work overtime to prevent a disaster from happening. You decided to never again have someone determine your fate, resolving to do everything yourself.

In the beginning, this tactic worked, but no one can escape the fact that there is a limit to the number of time demands even a competent worker can execute. Instead of throwing up your hands in despair, there's another option: rely on others.

This tactic may fly in the face of your experience, but here's a way to mitigate the risk.

First, weed out those who are completely flaky from those who are only sometime flakes. Start to work with the more capable few with a view to building a trusted network of reliable people in the company. Help them experience a sense of autonomy, purpose and mastery, which are the key to deep motivation. Leverage this network to get the best work done, enhancing your reputation.

Within government ministries, our largest employers, skillful permanent secretaries do this by working closely with each other.


Having a network of 'lesser flakes' is just a start. Coach them along by showing them the cost of being unreliable. Ask them to paint a picture of what their life would be like if they were to become more reliable. Then, persuade them to seek out world-class examples of high productivity.

Offer yourself as a living example - without telling them to copy you - sharing the high standards you aspire to in your daily work.

Most will have never read a book on the topic. That's a great place to start for many, who simply don't know what it's like to work in an ultra high-performing team. Show them how to seize opportunities to improve by working with, and learning from, others with superior skills.

Unfortunately, many people won't be interested in this kind of improvement right away, so prepare yourself for a process that may take months. However, at the end, you'll be surrounded by more than the ordinary incompetence that runs rampant. You'll have a networked team that you can rely on, even if none of its members report directly to you. It can make all the difference to your company and your experience working there each day.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: