Say you are an acknowledged leader. As an individual you have chalked up indisputable achievements. As a team builder too, you have a motivated team that rocks. And you have set your ideals higher and backed a protégé who will perhaps be a perpetuation of your leadership legacy.
But people are fallible, right? Even if you do not think you are, your protégé could be. Could he stumble? Could she fall occasionally? Would you let him fail? So that she can show her mettle in getting up, dusting off her setback and finish the race?
Or would you protect him…hmmm…or yourself…from perceptions?
Tough egg to crack, do you think?
What if you shied away from finding a ‘right’ answer? What if you told yourself there can be no wrong one either?
What if you just gave in to an honest admission and choice?
Do I groom my protégé for my benefit, or his? Am I the ladder, or is she?
(Honestly, this is a totally non-judgmental exercise to tickle your thoughts on an interesting perspective. So that you may wrestle with the answers truthfully in the privacy of just your self as the audience.)
Back to the question.
Can you meet the truth of the answer without the guilt of selfishness or the smugness of selflessness?
Let us step back and dispassionately view this. In such a relationship, both the sponsor and the protégé benefit. The sponsor garners acclaim for leadership acumen through such ‘anointment’ of worthy successors. For the protégé, of course, it is a fairly protected access to success and the limelight.
So, toss the coin. Heads! I chose this person for my benefit.
I targeted this up-and-coming bright person because he is like me. I chose her because she will be my loyal lieutenant. My invaluable contributor. My ruthlessly efficient executor. My innovative problem-solver. Oh, and yes, supremely loyal. He may not fit the throne perfectly nor inarguably demonstrate all credentials. So what? No one is perfect, I have the prerogative of choice in running with levels of imperfection and I am a packaging expert.
Don’t run others down when you see this profile. Neither run yourself down if you are one such…just accept it.
What would I do if such a person fails to the extent he could jeopardize my climb?
The answer becomes easy when the shrouds are removed. Of course, I will give her political cover till it speaks creditably of me. But she is dispensable in the grander scheme of things. And she knows it too. When the heat gets intense, he will step down without a protest, falling on the sword to remain loyal to me. For you see, he knew from the beginning it was not his wont to prove to be the right person for the job. She was aware she was a brilliant pawn, right for my leadership legacy. And I will reward her in other ways that matter to her.
Let’s toss the coin again. Tails! I chose this person for her benefit.
I targeted this person not because I wanted to see myself in the mirror. I did so because she has terrific potential and has demonstrated all the required credentials. I know he can and I am committed to help him elevate his game, dream higher and take my job.
What would I do when such a person stands before the alligator pit?
I know there are pitfalls he will stumble on, and I will coach him ahead so that he knows to be prepared. I will give room for her to fail securely, with safety nets in place so that she is comfortable with and confident about taking risks. And when failure is career threatening, I will step in to totally protect them.
So go ahead, and look at the ladder closely. Do you see yourself climbing it, or your protégé? That is all the answer you need!