The Puppy in the Basket

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Sixteen years ago, my husband and I headed to the Oregon coast to get a Chocolate Lab puppy. We were able to select from two options, each completely adorable, but with distinctly different personalities. One of the puppies took my pant leg in her tiny mouth, tugged on the fabric and made the cutest little growl I had ever heard. The other puppy proceeded to climb into a basket and fall asleep.

At that point, we had to decide which puppy to take home.

Honestly, they both met the criteria we had for filling the position of new addition to our family. Adorable? Check. Sweet? Check. Able to bring tons of chocolatey love and joy into our lives? Check and double check.

But we could only take one home as there was another family coming later that weekend to get their puppy; the one we didn’t select.

As it came time to go, there was zero doubt in my mind as to which puppy we would be leaving with. In this case, it wasn’t my choice, it was the puppy that actually made the decision. That tiny little bossy baby that tugged on my pants and my heart was our girl, Bella.

For almost fourteen years we loved her more than words could adequately describe. She was the smartest girl in the world and had the biggest heart you ever encountered. But every once in a while, she would be naughty and we would then joke that “maybe we should have picked the puppy in the basket.” In our minds, the single point of data that we had (puppy climbing into basket and falling asleep) translated to a lifetime of excellent behavior. The puppy in the basket would never wet the floor! The puppy in the basket would never gnaw on her leash! The puppy in the basket would never get into something she shouldn’t!

We were right, the puppy we imagined WOULDN’T do any of those things. Mostly because she wasn’t real.

You see, we had romanticized and idealized a puppy that could do no wrong.

We see this behavior with managers after hiring. Often, there is a candidate who they ultimately didn’t choose, but could have. One who had a different personality from the successful candidate, one (when things get tough) they imagine would somehow be better. Basically, they imagine the candidate is the puppy in the basket. Late to work? Not the puppy in the basket candidate! A little hard to get along with at times? Not the puppy in the basket candidate! Wrote an unhelpful email? Not the puppy in the basket candidate!

So what to do if you find yourself in this position, wondering if you ultimately made the right decision?

1. Remind yourself that you picked the successful candidate for a reason. Review their list of assets and qualifications. Recall why you made them an offer – there were good reasons – you considered this carefully and made a decision that you were once pretty excited about.
2. Realize that every single candidate (just like every single puppy) has areas of strength and opportunities for growth. They are three dimensional, complicated and desire safety and validation (just like every single other puppy candidate).
3. Remember that your job as a manager is to make them successful. They are here now, so let’s capitalize on all they bring to the table and help them excel.

As a manager, strength in reality testing (seeing things as they are, not as you hope or fear them to be) is key, so manage the employees you actually have; for they are the ones who need you.