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The Organizational Contradiction

During a recent chin-wag with my coach Krishna Kumar we got talking about charting out career paths and the prerequisites thereof. The discussion veered around to the general tendency among fresh graduates to rush into their first job, utilize it as a launching pad to get their next break that primarily added a few rupees to their bank balance.

I raised the point that this constant lateral movement could eventually culminate in a situation where the person either reaches his or her level of incompetence (Remember Peter’s Principle) and stagnates or develops a competency of overstating his skills, landing a job, muddling his way through early appraisals and increments and seeking a new opening when the going gets tough. In other words, keep “moving on” before you get “found out”.

For people aspiring for career growth via this route, the age old saying of “a rolling stone gathering no moss” acquires a whole new meaning. They are what one could call the 25-degree climbers. They reach a position or redundancy within their organization amidst the realization the next promotion may not happen. Instead of retraining and reinventing themselves, they over-sell themselves to others and take up marginally higher positions in smaller companies or parallel positions in bigger organizations.

So, what you have is a scenario where new manager muddles around for a few weeks, months or at most a couple of years and then starts looking out for a change. And the reason is not an absence of challenges at work…. on the contrary it is more about challenges that such managers aren’t qualified to meet. Reasons could range from ignorance of the medium to inability to manage teams.

(Of course, we have the smart managers who stay long enough to ensure that competition moves on and then assumes the leadership role. But, that is a different story for treatment on another occasion).

During our discussion, KK brought in the concept of the career hourglass whereby a person joins a company as a generalist, learns to specialize in certain fields over a period of time. And what comes next is the most difficult task as he has to return being a generalist if he aspires for a leadership role.

It doesn’t require rocket science to know that all of us enjoy being leaders, albeit for mostly the wrong reasons. We enjoy the power but not the responsibility. We enjoy the perks but may shirk away from the responsibility. We enjoy our colleagues respect but may not give any in return as megalomania sets in. This automatically creates the need for hangers-on – a motley gang that agrees with all that we say – a sort of echo that we like to hear of our own voice.

And this brings me to the question… while every single person wants a leadership role, how can one really identify if the person has the right attitude for taking up the challenge?

I found some very crucial pointers in this blog written by Marshall Goldsmith who identifies that the most important aspect required for assuming a leadership role is the desire to be of service. Does this mean that the higher one rises in a hierarchy, the more service oriented one gets? And at whose service do we need to get oriented? To the senior manager, the CEO, the Board?

To read what Goldsmith thinks… (Click here) Incidentally this is one lesson that the Bhagavad Gita teaches us too… the four-fold caste system that today stands reviled as regressive was supposed to be an organizational hierarchy when it was initiated several thousand years ago.

In simple terms, the system said that all of us are born Shudras or workers who graduate our way to becoming Vaishyas or people responsible for enterprise before taking on the role of protectors or CEOs. Of course the final step of Brahmana actually means renunciation or giving back to society what we gained from it.  Somewhere along the line, castes were decided by genetics and India was never the same again!

As an afterthought, I also realized that the first step to becoming a coach is also pretty much the same. Here is what Goldsmith says on this subject… (Click here)

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