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BLOG: The broken rule

F.Y. Teng | Feb. 25, 2013
Don't you need to know a job before you manage the people who do it?

Recently a close friend of mine got passed over for a promotion. In her stead, a colleague, who by all accounts—coming from customers, business partners, subordinates and immediate superiors—was inferior in attitude and job performance, moved up a notch within their organisation.

Understandably, my friend, who, in addition to having the respect and affection of the people she has worked with, also has a number of industry awards under her belt, was terribly upset. And so she took up the matter with the corporate manager who decided on the promotions each year.

The answer she got was that even though she excelled at work in all respects and clearly outperformed her colleague on the job as a member of staff, she did not have the leadership qualities deeply inherent in her colleague. When she pressed on, asking what leadership qualities her colleague possessed that she didn't, that manager said it had to do with his ability to order the staff around, tell them what to do.

As I heard all this, I became very sad. I had always thought that an excellent track record and demonstrated aptitude for handling and executing the day-to-day tasks of a given business or business area were prerequisites to leadership positions in that field. This story tells me different. It tells me that you don't need to be able to do something well in order to qualify for a position where you tell someone else to do it.

As I thought further on this, I became depressed. I realised that this was not the only such instance I have heard recounted or witnessed personally. The long-serving, and often long-suffering, deputy CEO or assistant CIO who got passed over for the top position, because he/she was always better suited to be someone's right-hand man. The MVP who never got a management job because he/she was too important as a player to be burdened with grooming and training new talent. The guy in the corner office they called "the Plumber" who spent no time hobnobbing with corporate royalty, but rather slaved away his working hours on profit-making projects that paid the company's bills-who got passed over for a promotion, year after year up to his retirement, because he was irreplaceable where he was.

Of course, there will be those among you readers out there who'll tell me to stop, point out that this is all anecdotal, and argue that these are all exceptional cases. Well, tell me, dear readers: Are they the rule or the exception?

While you're at it, please take a look at the Careers story in the March-April 2013 issue of MIS Asia—Should the CIO Know How to Code?—and tell me whether you believe knowing the technical specifics of your job is essential to your job as an ICT leader, or not.

Do write to me. I need your input.


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