The Tale of Jim and Jane: Is it Better to Earn Your Promotion or be Given a Promotion? The Answer Might Surprise You

“You’re doing a great job, but I think you’re a year away from being promoted to Director,” I said to “Jim”.

Jim looked devastated. He had done great work, everything I ever asked him to do, and I thought he could progress far in the organization. He was also very young, maybe five years into his career.

I told him, “I really want you to earn this promotion, not be given the promotion. You will feel a lot better about it.” Jim understood what I was saying, but he sure didn’t look any happier about it.

There was another employee we hired the same year. Let’s call her Jane. I recruited her out of Caltech, and I thought she was super smart. I had equally high hopes for Jane.

Jane started her career working for me, and then she went to work for my friend Steve. Jane decided to pursue her MBA about three years into her career, and she got accepted to Harvard. Steve quit and the company was in a bind. There was no clear successor to Steve with Jane leaving the company too.

The company asked Jane to defer going to Harvard for a year and offered to promote her to Director.

Jane wasn’t ready for the promotion. She ran the division for a year and then went off to Harvard.

Jim, in the meantime, did everything asked of him, and the next year, we promoted Jim as promised. In fact, Jim has been promoted again, and again, and again. Jim is now the number two guy in the company. I am really proud of Jim, and what he has accomplished.

What happened to Jane?

I know what you’re expecting me to tell you – Jane failed and never achieved what she should. How nice and tidy that would be.

On the contrary, Jane succeeded too.

Jane came back to the company after graduating from Harvard. A year later, she took over the division that I was running when I left. It was, to quote esteemed business philospher Yogi Berra, “Deja vu all over again.“ Jane hadn’t done anything to earn her promotion, yet here she was, being promoted again. Jane ran the division for a few years, and then she left.

Jane went to another company, in a lateral move, for a while. Then Jane joined a startup as VP Marketing, and the startup appears to be doing well.

What approach is better? Jim or Jane’s?

You know, I really can’t say. Different approaches work for different people and in different circumstances.

Jim and Jane were faced with very different circumstances. One thing they had in common, however, is that they both took advantage of the opportunities given to them.

That’s what you have to do in your career – play the hand you are dealt and be ready when an opportunity presents itself.

I must say that I am really proud of Jim. Why? Jim persevered, and I love a story about an underdog who overcomes adversity and succeeds. That’s Jim.

Who knows what’s next for Jim – he might end up as CEO one day. After all, he’s just one promotion away.

That’s all for now,


Photo: Fotolia

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