Lesson 052: Helping the underperformer
TV Series: Star Trek - The Next Generation
Season/Episode: 3/21 ('Hollow Pursuits')


Low performing and under achieving Lt. Reginald Barclay in engineering on board the Enterprise is receiving a lot of bad reports about his performance. Barclay's manager, LaForge tells Capt. Picard that he (LaForge) has tried his best to help Barclay and despite all of his efforts, Barclay is just not improving in his performance.

LaForge admits that it may be the best for all concerned if Barclay were to be transferred to another ship. Capt. Picard responds that it is always far too easy to transfer a problem to someone else. He tells LaForge to try harder at salvaging a member of his team who needs help and find someway for Barclay to make a positive contribution.

Capt. Picard goes so far as to tell LaForge to make Barclay his best friend and to get to know Barclay better. As LaForge begins to explain that he can barely tolerate Barclay, let alone befriend him, Capt. Picard interrupts LaForge and gives him a direct order to put his personal discomfort aside and help Barclay to improve.


This is one of the foundational tenets of great leadership and management.

A driving principal of great management and leadership is to recognize that everyone deserves proper guidance to produce their peak performance, and that everyone has something to contribute to the task and the organization.

In order to recognize if an individual is right for a position, it is fundamentally important to find the optimal performance level of the individual.

Part of the management duty is to provide mentoring to help individuals to rise above their current limitations to meet their objectives. One of the main goals of leadership and management is to find the right fit for the right individuals within the organization.

It is important to exercise caution when evaluating the appropriate fitness of individuals for assignments based on their performance. Much like the categorization of apples and oranges, evaluations must be carried out with varying degrees of measurement.

An employee working strictly an 8-hour day and never expending any extra effort, even in the face of fire-drill situations, may not necessarily be an under performer or under achiever. If the quality of their work during their regular 8-hour work-days is exemplary, then allocate their responsibilities accordingly and never expect any more from them. However, be sure to parallel the individual's recognitions and rewards accordingly, with a plateau in promotions and any future salary increases, for such benefits belong to only those who perform above and beyond expectations.

In the case of true under performers and under achievers, too often do they get overlooked and bypassed by those in charge of their career future.

In a parallel situation, this is one of the calamities of today's education system. Too many kids end up graduating High School without learning to even read or write, just because their teachers were incompetent or too lazy, and passed them off to the next class without ever trying to help the child to improve.

In the movie, A Few Good Men, it was clearly noted in several scenes that it was the duty of fellow Marines, and especially officers, to help underachieving recruits in improving their level of performance. Simply transferring the underachiever to another division was not acceptable.

Although the 'Code Red' hazing disaster, which took the life of an underachieving Marine, was the center spotlight in the movie, the underlying notion of not bypassing failing individuals still prevailed, right up to the very final scene.

As a final statement, one of the Marines accused of complicity in the 'Code Red' death, recognizes that it was the duty of the Marines to help those who could not help themselves - those like the underachieving Marine who was killed.

Passing the buck in the responsibility to properly mentor says more about the inability and ineffectiveness of the manager to manage, or teacher to teach, than the individual staff member or student to perform properly.

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