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When Diligence becomes a Stumbling

Block to Career Progress

Mary is 48, a single career mother who worked herself through elementary school to a masters
degree at age 45, her aim is to make it to the top, and for her, the only way to do that is to be an
outstanding employee, exceeding all of her set targets and being the main contributor of growth
to her department.

She’s spent 30 years of her life with this organization, and has always held a candle to her peers
in her office, on countless occasions; she was nominated for the best employee award and often
gets adjudged as such, albeit with no financial remunerations. She’s proven to be a leader by
effectively leading her division to exceed their target when her boss, took a two year leave from
official duty to pursue his master’s degree program.

Then the big opportunity came, there was a managerial vacancy to be filled, and among those
available, she was the most qualified, she saw the job profile as the perfect reflection of her
profound capabilities, and therefore applied to be considered for the position.

She attended the interview and excelled, but then, the interview panel had one final requirement;
to get that clearance from her divisional boss, the last man to give his “pass” for this diligent lady
to move one step up in fulfilling her life long ambition and contributing in a bigger capacity to
the growth of an organization she’s spent all her working life in nurturing.

Her boss did not mince words at all with the interview panel, “Mary is my most diligent staff”,
he stated and then continued; “and her contribution to the progress of my division is inestimable.
Honestly, her departure will be inimical to the success of my department, Please find someone
else to fill the vacant role, for I cannot let her go!”

The opening narrative is not the product of some cruel wishful imagination, and that was not the
first time Mary was denied an opportunity to progress by her own boss. Some would also want to
dismiss this as an isolated case of a managers insensitivity to the aspirations of his/her
subordinate, but alas its not. This situation pervades the entire corporate society and leaves one
wondering what it takes to climb up the corporate ladder with someone in the frame of Mary’s
boss as your superior

It is understandable that managers will want to keep their key staffs so as not to jeopardize the
performance of their teams, but when such decisions leads to the outright denial of a subordinate
the opportunity to build his/her career, then it raises more issues than one can fathom.

Flipping on to the other side of this discussion reveals a more disturbing situation. Why will the
promotion/departure of one individual derail the collective success of an entire department? Is
there a case of concluding that the manager failed to carry out a proper performance assessment
of his team over the years and as such has superintended over an imbalanced team? Shouldn't
managers be more involved in developing their teams such that the burden of success is evenly
distributed among the team members?

In my opinion, any such excuse to deny a diligent and hardworking staff of his/her progress in an
organization should be seen as an indictment of the managerial capabilities of the boss and not
necessarily a case of shrewd pragmatism.

Leadership should not always be the case of influencing a follower-ship; Leadership should also
be about grooming leaders, replicating your leadership abilities in your followers. It should be
about identifying strengths and weaknesses in your team and helping your followers optimize
their talents and abilities whiles improving on their areas of frailty.

Apparently, super achievers do exist in most teams, but should they be seen as a tool only for the
accomplishment of key goals by their superiors? Should hard working and diligent employees
exist only to help their superiors meet their target, Should it be the case that these high flyers
should have no other ambition of their own aside helping their superiors achieve their target? To
which any attempt to progress in the same institution is met with the same response Mary got
from her boss.

Employees in similar situation as mary more often than not have only one option left on the table
for them; to resign from their current jobs and move to a different institution whilst praying they
don’t meet a boss with twin-like traits like their immediate past superiors.

This situation has weakened rather than strengthened the employee retention efforts by most
organizations, most key staffs leave after its becomes obvious that they exist only to do their
superiors bidding with no clear efforts from their leaders in seeing them progress in these
organizations, such departures are often marked with bitter feelings and resentment by the
departing staff, who recounts to as many as would care to listen how their own bosses torpedoed
their opportunities and efforts in climbing up the career ladder.
The time is right for organizations to de-link recruitment and employee promotion from the core
operational mandates of divisional heads, key measurable performance targets must be set and
adhered to, human resource information systems must be implemented and configured to reward
hard work and diligence. At the same time, team leaders and managers must strive to build
balanced teams and take some conscious steps in grooming leaders for the future.