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Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Updated on January 20, 2015


Max comes from a technical background. A slightly more than a dozen years ago, Max appears to fit the typical criteria of a technical person who gets the job done.

Max is:

  • Task-Oriented
  • Detail-Oriented
  • Results-Oriented

He doesn’t care for a no-clear-objective chitchat – “It is just a waste of time – gossip if you ask me.

He doesn’t care why the task isn’t done. He cares when and how it will be done.

He doesn’t see any effort that doesn’t pay-off or yield an outcome.

He has little patience. He seeks immediate gratification. He thrives on small projects because they make a very good and concise bulleted checklist.


Growing With the Job

As Max grows in his career, he masters the art of breaking-down big projects into numerous manageable mini-projects. Stress only arises when some mini-projects become dependent on one-another. With some priority adjustment, this becomes manageable too.

Max keeps delivering and the more he delivers, the higher he gets up the corporate ladder. He is trust-worthy and reliable – he simply delivers all the time.

The higher levels of the corporate ladder have different operating code though. The higher you go…

  • The more strategic the projects become
  • The more risks are associated with such projects
  • The more reluctant people seem to be held accountable
  • Openness tends to shrink
  • Visibility tends to increase
  • Cross-functional communications become crucial

All is understandable, but at the same time, all affects delivery and collaboration. Max finds this web of dependencies to be weighing down any and all workplace productivity.



Hard Work Pays-off

Being dedicated and committed Max’s career keeps rising-up until he reaches the level of a director and is being considered for either a senior director or VP.

It takes Max some time, a lot of sleepless nights, a potential threat of an ulcer, higher levels of blood-pressure and rising cholesterol level before he learns that as you go up the ladder, it is more the …

  • People than the tasks that counts
  • Chitchat than the objectified details that matters
  • Long-term transparent vision than the immediate results of mini-projects that resonates

What makes sense to Max has ceased to make sense to others in his level or higher and vice verse.


Position Versus Training Conflict

Getting the promotion and a couple of courses don’t change how a person thinks, operates, and performs at a job.

Being the technical guy that he is, Max remains rooted in the technicality aspect of the projects he is responsible for - his hands extending to each side, his fingers dipping in each and every technical detail. But Max’s head is in the new position that is way up.

Imagine this…

Someone who is completely stretched vertically, like one thick elastic that turns into a very fine thread – his feet are firmly planted under the ground, his elongated arms each is stretching to one side, his lengthened fingers are widely spread and locked in numerous tiny holes. Despite standing and firmly rooted under the ground, Max feels as if he is sinking. As his head tries to stay above water where he needs to prove fit for this new position – the position that a lot of people want.

Months and months pass, with Max being oblivious to the fact that this stretched position that is about to tear him is his choice. Max remains strained and stretched. It makes perfect sense to him to keep his feet, hands and fingers where they are in order to avoid any unforeseen crisis.


New Code...

The SLAP on the Face

Max gets skipped in the promotion. Tired and disappointed that his painful over-stretched work style isn’t been appreciated, he starts to observe how people his level and higher operate.

Max is smart. “Yeah, I got it! It is all about one big fluffy picture, no specifics, no dates, no accountability, no details, nothing… - I need to care about it enough though to inspire the people who work for me to make it happen – I need not understand how they make it happen so long as it gets done, within time and budget constraints. Yeah. Got it!!


The Transformation

Against his lifelong training and practice, Max manages to adopt this new work style – everywhere and with anyone. Even outside work? Yes. Why? Because Max needs to practice and make of it a second nature.

Max’s son has an issue with his teacher at school. He tries to discuss it with his father – “I don’t care, I just want high grades – don’t ask me how – just do it.

Max’s daughter has a peer pressure issue at school – “I don’t care what they say, I just want you to stand your ground – don’t ask me how – just do it.

Max’s wife is excited about her new addition to her boutique business but she isn’t sure how to introduce it to her clients or attract new clients to it – “I don’t care, all I know is that we invested a lot of money on that, valuable or not, doesn’t matter to me, - just sell it – don’t ask me how.


Something Earned - Something Lost...

It Pays Off

Max’s world gets a lot better, a lot quieter. He likes it. It pays off. He enjoys it. At work he only talks high-level and he gets the promotion. At home, somehow no-one talks to him about any issues anymore. “Great!! Looks like all has been solved. I just needed to give them the direction and the needed empowerment. Amazing how the leadership courses work even at home. But how did S work out the teacher issue, how did D work out her bullying issue, and how did W work out her new product marketing issue? Oops – Watch out there Max. Right. I won’t ask how – I did my part.

During a brief vacation from work, Max notices his kids and wife talking and discussing a lot of things between themselves. He is about to step-in but reminds himself of his responsibilities and the pain of being stretched. Max steps back.

So many months later – something doesn’t quite feel right. There seems to be this invisible yet solid barrier forming between Max and what he calls staff.

“Staff?” I ask.

It is just a term – I mean the actual doers – the people who handle the details of the job.” Max replies.

“This includes your wife and kids too?” I ask.

In a way, Yes, I suppose. My wife has her boutique business – she manages the details of it. My kids manage the details of their school and friends.” Max replies.

“Tell me Max, how does this make you feel?” I ask.

Away from the headache, that’s for sure.” Max jokes.

“Isolated?” I ask.


“Alienated?” I ask more.

Maybe, but not quite – relieved is the right word. It is quieter. I like quiet. Yes, I feel relieved.” Max affirms.

“Are you?” I ask.

Max doesn’t answer. He breaks the eye contact and stares at the nothingness behind me.


Who Are You?

Is it Maturity We are Developing or...?

The next day, Max casually asks his wife… “Hey, what’s new with you?

“Nothing to share.” She replies.

Nothing at all?” Max asks.

“Nothing.” She affirms.

Why?” Max asks.

The question hangs in the air as their 6-year old daughter runs into the room screaming followed by old grandpa growling.

After listening to the issue, Max’s wife tries to explain the viewpoint of each one to the other. Shrugging their shoulders both the kid and grandpa reply at the same time with a snarl and a loud objectionable voice…

I don’t care”, before they storm out of the room.

Max’s wife looks at Max and says:

“You ask why? This is why.”

What?” Max inquires.

“I don’t need your I don’t care answer – honestly I can live without it more happily.”


Who Are You Leaving Behind?

What Are You Doing?

Like I said in many posts…

A character is something that we develop. When we choose to develop it a certain way, it is a consciously developed character. When we let our world defines it, it is unconsciously developed character.

Are you developing into a character that hurts the people who matter to you the most in life? Is it worth it? For how long?

I speak about this in my workshop "Living the Dream". Just think about the people who are dropping out of your life while you are living your dream and those other people who tend to gather around you. If you can tell the precious from the fake especially if unfortunately you lose your acquired status or prestige then you'll know the answer to the above question.

Oftentimes we work and work in order to reach this inner state of happiness. But before we know it, we become more focused on the work that we crush this very happiness with our negligence.

Pause, Assess and Think.


© 2015 Amel Abouelhassan


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