Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Outmaneuver the Old Guard

A true story...

Many years ago a young man was being blocked from moving ahead within his professional discipline by a committee of his peers.  The reviewing body had the authority to block his transition to the highest level of his profession, in effect, ending his career.  You see, this young man had struggled a bit, and the old guard was not interested in wasting anymore time on him.

However, one member of the committee saw something in his colleague that he felt was worth a second chance.  The challenge however, was that it was time to vote to move him ahead or to block his movement to the final level.  The vote was taken, the young man was not successful, and in most circumstances that would not only be the end of the story, but the end of the young man's career.  (By the way, he had completed a Master's Degree and was already working in his field at the time of the vote.)

As the group began to depart, the member of the committee who saw potential in the young man asked that he be allowed to speak.  Believing he caught the man in an error the  Chairman said "you can not open any further dialogue in this matter. Only those that opposed his promotion may be allowed to speak, and you clearly are in support of him."

Enter procedural maneuvering...the lone voice that supported this man asked that the register of votes be reviewed. Knowing he would lose, he voted against the man in the first round of voting to ensure he could take the floor and speak on his behalf. Absolute genius.

Not only did the procedural move capture the group's attention, it forced them to reconsider their position entirely.  Following an eloquent presentation on the man's behalf, the group passed him through on the second vote.

How About You
Who do you see around you that could use a second chance? Just because someone isn't a good fit in one area, doesn't mean they won't add value somewhere else in your organization.  Take the time to understand all of the options, and then stand up for someone who deserves your support. That's what leaders do.

I'd love to hear from you.

No Excuses.

pic courtesy of deborahshanetoolbox


  1. Jay,

    I think the other important point in your story is that sometimes you have to make some unusual or unexpected moves (sometimes risky ones) to make progress and do the right things. But, the only way to know how to do this is to become a student of the system--you have to study and understand the politics in order to beat it.

    Good post.


  2. Thanks for the comment Jason. You're right...the only way to take the risk necessary in this situation (and many others) is to fully understand the envrionment you're in.Once you understand, many good things can happen if you're willing to try.

  3. Jay,

    Great post and a great reminder of how we're all guilty of institutional thinking at times.

    Thanks for sharing. It's actually very apropos for me today, we're interviewing for a new peer to join the team. I'll be sure to pay attention to this behavior and force myself to think differently.


  4. i luv the underdog. always have. one of the things that has kept in this profession, despite all it's frustrations, is the extreme reward that can come from really helping someone reach their potential. when i was leading the HR practice for a consulting division of a large company, there was a female senior manager who had fallen out of favor (long story). she wanted nothing more than to make partner, but the odds were against her. in fact, the partners were ready to give up on her. i insisted...again and again and again...that she be given the opportunity to respond to her developmental needs. i wasn't popular and a number of the senior leaders i was supporting thought i was overstepping my bounds. we invested in some real focused attention on her and - long story short - i'm proud to say she's now a partner at that organization. my point to this - HR plays a major role in a) figuring out who's worth standing up for and b) doing the standing.

    thanks, jay!

  5. John - Thanks for the feedback. Good luck in the interview today!

    Charlie - I love the underdog too...when they're deserving. It sounds like the Senior Manager you worked with was not only deserving, but motivated to improve as well. Kudos for seeing it through for that HR should be "doing the standing."

  6. Jay - I don't have anything smart or bright to add to this. Suffice to say it touched me and I'm grateful that you wrote it. Nice work feller.

  7. Doug - many thanks for taking the time to check out today's post!