The Myth of The White Knight

Note: Dwight is currently out on leave so we are running some “best of” blog posts from his writing for the Vistage Executive Street blog that you may not have seen before. Enjoy!

When big issues arise, it is tempting to immediately jump to “I’ve got to replace our current person with someone better,” or more fashionably, “we’ve got to get the right person on the bus.”

When the decision is made that it’s time to bring someone in, shiny new applicants with fabulous resumes are methodically interviewed and eventually one is deemed “the white knight” that will ride in and solve the problems – “when {insert name here} gets here, all will be well.”

The problem is white knights are concepts from mythology. Any new hire is like the rest of us, human, except we don’t know them, we’re infatuated, and we haven’t yet noticed their warts. No one person, at any level, is going to come in and single-handedly fix core issues in an organization.

What leaders who turn to white knight solutions generally overlook is that every organization has its own culture and team dynamics. The new hire will inevitably be pulled into the dynamic of whatever has been going on. In the worst case scenarios, the new hire will be quickly driven off by other team members or deemed a failure by the hiring executive and “chased off.” In less aggressive scenarios they hang on and are absorbed into the existing condition.

Even heroic efforts rarely fix everything the white knight was originally expected to fix. The new hire fails because expectations were unrealistic, the key connections necessary for collaboration are not made, and the team is not supportive.

Unfortunately, what has often happened is that leadership has failed to understand the real underlying or driving issues, has been unwilling to address them, or has dismissed them as irrelevant or even non-existent.Problems were seen through the lens of people and talent rather than systems and teamwork.

Trying to solve deep business issues or problematic team dynamics can be tricky and time consuming. In many cases everyone is so busy they don’t have time to pause and reflect on what’s really going on. Just because people are high results producing team members, it does not mean that they have the perspectives, personalities, or interests necessary to be detectives and problem solvers. Most often systems and processes are the real issue rather than a failure to have enough heroes in the organization. Real breakthrough solutions may be beyond the skills of “those on the inside.”

If you find you want to bring in a new person to fix things, why not pause and take the time to reflect on what’s really going on? Perhaps bring in a pair of fresh, expert, consulting eyes and ears to reflect, inquire, analyze, and redefine the issues with you before you go down the firing/hiring track.

Vistage group members provide this type of feedback for other members at every monthly meeting. There are also a variety of coaches and consultants that can help you diagnose, confront, and solve real issues that are going on…even if the real issue is you.