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Problem Solving

People are not Rungs on the Ladder of Success

Wally Adamchik asked:

Change and a promotion go together.  When someone gets a promotion, they face new tasks, new peers, new relationships, and new opportunities. Often they become “in charge” of a team or work group. All of this can be heady stuff, and it can change people.

Over the years, I have seen people change for the good and some, for the bad. Some embrace the new opportunity and approach it with zeal. They accept the challenge with humility because they know they can’t do it alone. They maintain old relationships and develop new ones. Others see the promotion as a reward, and they swagger and thrust out their chests with bravado. They “forget” old relationships and only build new ones that they can use as rungs on their ladder of success.

Several years ago, I worked for one of those people who was all about climbing the ladder of success. He was gung-ho and aggressive. There wasn’t anything wrong with that until I was faced with a problem that I didn’t cause. The problem became mine to solve and I did the best I could. The support guy from Corporate (whose problem it really was) didn’t show up until a week later. Meanwhile, I was getting grilled on why the problem wasn’t fixed. I tried to take the high road and not blame the guy from Corporate (who was really at fault), but the damage had been done. All through this, my boss laid low. And when asked about the situation by his higher-ups, rather than take any responsibility, he threw me in front of the bus.

I recovered from this, but I never forgot it. I simply didn’t trust my boss anymore, and I became reluctant to take on any problem that wasn’t mine. I eventually left that company. A year after that, I learned that my boss had been let go in a corporate reorganization. He called me a few years later to apologize for his behavior and poor leadership. He confessed that he was too busy climbing the ladder of success to lead the way he knew he should. He regretted this period in his life and asked me to forgive him. I did, and life goes on.

In the past few weeks, I have seen two situations that remind me of this time in my life. Both cases involve managers who have lost their personal moral compass. One male, one female, they are making bad decisions in a misguided effort to climb their ladder of success. One of them has become abusive towards employees; the other has had inappropriate relationships with employees. Like an addict, they each know they have a problem, yet they are unable to stop their downward spiral. Like an addict, they need help. But, of course, like an addict, they need to admit they need help before they can change.

It took my old boss years to admit it. One of the two managers I mentioned above took less time. He is currently getting coaching and doing quite well. As for the other? The verdict is still out. With a new promotion in hand, she seems proud and ready for the challenge. I wonder if those who remember her erratic behavior will be there to support her in her new role.  Based on my experience, they won’t.

Supervisors and managers at all levels can fall prey to this change. Over time, they may lose sight of what truly matters and they fail because of it. True leaders look out for people and understand the importance of quality relationships. In fact, one of the primary determinants of leader effectiveness is the quality of the relationship between leader and led.

If you are in a leadership role, this is a good time for a gut check. Are you presenting your authentic self or are you posing? What about those you supervise? If you’re aware of someone who needs an “attitude adjustment,” you may be putting off a conversation you don’t want to have. Have it. If you don’t, the situation will only get worse, and the collateral damage will be more widespread. Ultimately, your credibility is at stake. You cannot lead effectively without credibility so you must preserve and protect it, starting now. Make sure your people are developing positive relationships with employees and co-workers, and not merely putting rungs in place on their ladder of success.

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