Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Two Job Promotion Trends That Worry Me

As an objective observer and strategy advisor to many organizations ranging from start-ups to Fortune 25 companies, there is a growing job promotion trend in the middle to senior management levels that worries me.

It is has been said that “the meek shall inherit the earth”.

I would like to think that those who inherit the earth are those who make the best contribution to it, whether professionally, personally, spiritually, intellectually and the like.

In essence, those who make the world a better place!

However, I wonder if we are heading towards a trend where the people who will inherit the earth either:

- are promoted because they speak the loudest or have been somewhere the longest, seizing more and more power without having the skills or interest to wield that power appropriately

- hire / promote people who will not threaten them or push them to grow, intentionally preventing growth  in their underlings (the principle of negative selection).

These people may not be the smartest at what they do (which is ok to a certain extent).  Unfortunately, many don’t even care about learning or sharing knowledge with others.

They may not be the most collaborative.  Many prefer to do whatever it takes to win the dog-eat-dog world that they perceive.

They may not be the servant leaders that we need more of in the world.  They may see servant leadership as a sign of weakness.

They may not be the most confident in their abilities or in recognizing the abilities of others.  In fact, lifting themselves up by undercutting others may be their preferred way of advancement.

They are, however, very proficient in how they manage their career growth via the use of political or other negative means.  They are so good at it that many who would ordinarily strive to make strong contributions are often discouraged from active participation for fear of being criticized for thinking that they are better than everyone else or with the rationalization of “why should I bother when no one around me cares”.

Many good people leave altogether.

And many otherwise great contributors who stick around eventually become victims of Lawnmower Syndrome and stop contributing altogether.


When good people leave or stop contributing, it is at that point that the ignorant and incompetent relax, feeling secure in their place of perceived power.

Unfortunately, their organization is losing as a result and the feeling of security that the incompetent experience is short-lived as diminished results on their part produce diminished results for the organization overall. Eventually, many such organizations stumble or fall as a result and the sense of security evaporates as many people, good and bad, have to seek employment elsewhere.

This is not just an illustration of the Peter Principle, where people ultimately rise to their level of incompetence.  Many of the people  I am referring to have long blown the lid of that principle in how they have advanced in their careers.

I’m not suggesting that the existence of such people have reached the tipping point where they are the dominant type of management.  I have reviewed a few surveys that say they have and they haven’t so the jury is out when it comes to making such a generalization.

However, many of my colleagues and I notice that they are becoming much more common and influential.

Too much so.

Maybe these people are just becoming more confident as they rise through the ranks of society.

Maybe they feel safer in revealing their true selves in an HR world where we misinterpret the Desiderate mantra “Even the dull and ignorant, they too have their story”, thereby opening ourselves to abuse because we are tolerant of things that we shouldn’t be tolerant of.

Either way, the outcomes of the groups they manage and the organizations they contribute to are suffering as a result.

We achieve what we focus on

It is generally accepted that the values, ethics and behaviours that are tolerated or embraced within an organization are the ones that will grow within that organization, good or bad.

I was reminded of this yesterday in a conversation with a colleague when I was recounting the time I had a grievance filed against me for being too respectful.

The point of the grievance was that anyone as respectful to others as I am must be up to something and therefore I should stop immediately.

It’s a sad reflection on an organization’s leadership when a leader’s insecurity is so strong that a positive human trait represents a threat to them.

It also sends a strong statement to that person’s team that positive traits are to be suppressed or discouraged, not being welcome in someone’s world of insecurity.

As a result, the group in question suffered significantly in results and personal and professional growth.

But at least the leader didn’t have to worry about anyone below them “threatening them” with more knowledge and a healthier outlook.

The Underlying Cause

After studying leaders for many years, I think that the trend of poor or incompetent promotion behaviour is growing because of another disturbing trend.

There is a major disconnect between these people and the organizations they work for.  This disconnect is in regards to how results are measured and understanding how one person’s results impact the layers above and below them.

I believe many people have lost sight of how their efforts, contributions and results contribute to the big picture – either having not been told or because they don’t care to ask.

And when that happens, they don’t really care about who does what when and how they do it because they can’t tell (or don’t care) what the ultimate impact will be anyway.

They confuse activity with productivity.

And that’s not their fault.

It is the fault of their leaders.

Are you a strong leader who helps your people understand their measurable contribution and the impact on your team, business unit, division or company?

Can you measure it?

If you can’t or don’t measure it, then you don’t know.


The vision, mission, purpose and projected outcomes of an organization demand that we make a proactive effort to put the best people in place within the constraints that we have and that we do so to intentionally produce appropriate measurable results.

Are you making such a proactive effort?

How do you know?

In service and servanthood,


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