Is there such a thing as being ‘too good’ at your job?

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Once upon a time the nagas or serpents had taken shelter in the dark waters of the river Yamuna to escape the talons of the dreaded eagle Garuda. They lived in peace deep inside the river far from the gaze of their predator.  Yamuna was such a dark river that even sunlight could not penetrate it and so Garuda could not see its prey that hid underwater. And so, for hundreds of years, Nagas lived in peace, without fear of Garuda.

Then one day, a young Naga called Kalakeya sprouted a gem on his hood. It was the great Nagamani that appears rarely on the hood of a serpent . It was a beautiful gem, so beautiful that all male Nagas started admiring Kalakeya and all female Nagas fell in love with him. "Lead us," said the male Nagas. "Marry us," said the female Nagas.  Kalakeya could not believe his luck. His life changed from the day the gem appeared on his hood. He was the chosen one, the favourite, the object of everyone’s affection. But what he did not realise was that the gem was so brilliant that it lit up the entire river. Now, Garuda, flying high in the sky, could see the Yamuna’s riverbed. He could see the Nagas who had eluded him for centuries slithering beneath its waters. He swooped down and grabbed a couple and ate them to his heart’s content. This he did every day.

At first the Nagas could not understand how Garuda had discovered their location under the Yamuna. They could not fathom how his attacks were so precise, until a wise old Naga pointed out to the Nagamani of Kalakeya. "That is the source of our problems. It has lit a path for our predator directly to our homes."
The Nagas were furious. Suddenly Kalakeya was no leader or lover, he was the problem. Enraged, the serpents, male and female , attacked Kalakeya. He tried to escape but they caught hold of his tail, smashed his hood and wrenched out the gem and buried it under water. The river Yamuna became dark once again. The Nagas were safe for they were out of Garuda’s sight.

This story draws attention to one thing we often forget- our strengths are often also our weaknesses. Rani Roopmati was famous for her beauty, but that beauty was the cause of her kingdom being attacked and her husband being killed by other men who desired to possess her.  When Aseem took up the job of a pharma sales representative, he discovered he was a natural sales man. He was the best in his team. By the following year, he was the best salesman in the zone. The year after that, he was best in all of India. He was moved to another division. There too, he performed well. He was a star salesman. Every business head wanted him in his team. He earned great bonuses and his company sent him on many foreign trips to reward him for his performance. He was gradually made team leader then area manager and finally regional manager.

In his mid-thirties , after nearly eighteen years in the sales field, Aseem felt he should do something else. Maybe marketing. He broached the subject to his business unit head. The business unit head said, "Then who will do my sales?" Aseem realized he was now trapped in his role. The sales team would not let him go because he was very good. And the marketing team would not accept him because he had no marketing experience. He was a sales guy. He felt angry and cheated. He could do nothing about it.

By contrast, Sundar, the head of the marketing team, was told that he was not given the post of CEO & Managing director because he had only headed marketing functions in his thirty-year career. "You have no sales experience and we need a leader who has a strong sense of numbers, who is more tactical and less strategic," is what the head of the Asia Pacific team told him. Sundar was angry. He was without doubt the best marketing man in the business, but it had cost him the job he felt he deserved. Sundar, in fact, is like the Naga Kalakeya in more ways than one. He is a great believer in systems and processes. But that very skill makes him a terrible people’s person. He believes more in reports than in conversations. This is what has made him a great Marketing Manager but it is also what has resulted in him having too few friends who would recommend him for the top post. If only he had listened to his boss fifteen years ago: "Never be too good in what you do. An expert rarely becomes leader”.