Home » Leadership » Selected, promoted and entrusted based upon merit

In withdrawing his nomination Thursday morning, Jackson said the range of allegations made against him were “completely false and fabricated.” “If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years,” he said. “In my role as a doctor, I have tirelessly worked to provide excellent care for all my patients. In doing so, I have always adhered to the highest ethical standards.” CNN, April 27, 2018, Several White House medical unit staffers describe pressure to hand out meds.  Photo by Foto Sushi on Unsplash

It took me many years to finally realize that I was deluded. As a young man I assumed that anyone who made it up the promotion ladder had done so through the crucible of unrelenting effort, skill, and ultimately merit. Such a person, I was sure, should noticeably be more mature, more level headed, less distracted by all the drama, and squarely focused on the success of the organization. Well, I was surprised how rare these qualities were when I finally worked with many of these highly promoted individuals.

I started to informally categorize these individuals based upon how they actually got to where they were. The first category, which I first observed in my Air Force career, was from the simple fact that in a promotion system, someone had to get promoted each year. We didn’t stop and say “hey, we don’t currently have anyone ready for this level of responsibility, so we’ll skip making any promotions this time.” Nope. We promote, because we promote, and we have to pick the “best” we have available at that time using the rules we are given.

The second category I encountered, was the person who loved the drama and the politics of advancement. They would inevitably talk about the personalities involved or that some other VP in another organization was clearly causing the problems, and similar relational centric topics. Our discussions were rarely about the task at hand or the technical or managerial challenges we faced. This person could often talk a good technical or managerial spiel, but often had limited depth of knowledge or even experience. They seemed to have gotten where they were because they had positioned themselves well, often with lots of talk and quiet hallway discussions, to be seemingly the right gal to get the job at that time. These folks were often heralded as the next great thing for the organization and then they would often fade away or quickly jump up to the next job (in another department or company) before the crisis of their own making (or failure to fix) became too public.

The third category I’ve observed was the “box.” This was someone who sat in a high position but seemed to only be there because someone needed to occupy that box on the organizational chart. They were often surprised that they were sitting in that position and they would inevitably be very beholding to another senior manager for that current position and any potential advancement in the future. Working with them meant I had to go to another senior manager and get their tacit approval for anything we were doing (e.g., “as long as the COO thinks it is a good idea, then go and do it, you don’t have to ask for my approval.”)

So now when I meet someone who falls back on the argument that their previous promotions and positions (or even past project approvals) is evidence of their clear knowledge and leadership and hence I should follow without question their direction, I suspect that they are probably where they are due to situations similar to one of those above. If one’s only claim to fame is “I got promoted” or “I haven’t been fired” then there’s rarely, in my experience, much more to them than their position title. Understanding the different ways someone gets to their position helps a project manager work with, or around, these kind of managers.

See Successful Managers without Successful Projects

Are you looking beyond the aura of an individual’s title or position to determine the best way to work with them for your project’s success?

Thank you for sharing!

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