Running a ruinous race against rapid rats
Why do some folks get paid more while others get paid less? Why do some rise in the ranks while others just coalesce at the bottom and get lost in obscurity? Does education matter? Does experience matter? Does intelligence matter? What really matters? This is the question that I have pondered over for years. Probably so have almost everyone in the corporate world except the most successful ones. But most of those left behind think they know the answer : nepotism, perception management and willingness to compromise on values. If they were to be believed the ones who rise to the top are the politically manipulative, ass licking scum, who like to strut around like a peacock beating their breast like a great ape to project their smallest achievements skulking around offices like hyenas waiting to prey upon their innocent coworkers' guilelessness. Is this the truth? Or just a case of sour grapes? That is what I seek to explore.
Things were easy back in my days as a programmer. There were two kinds of people in office - those who could code and those who could not. The former were the ones who were rewarded. The latter were not. Simple, isn't it? Well, not really. All that was fine till one got the first promotion from programmer to team lead. After that all kinds of other things began to matter and the ability to code was relegated to the background. "What is the big deal about coding? Even monkeys can code," was the common refrain. There were articles floating around about how scientists had managed to get monkeys to do visual basic programming. Of course some of the geeks would hit back that Visual Basic is for monkeys; real "men" code in Java. But if you looked at managers and above, one really wondered how valuable was the ability to code. There were these managers who were held in utter contempt by the rank and file for their lack of understanding of the core work - the programming. Yet were considered quite successful as managers. The junior employees would sarcastically comment that these people were like balloons filled with gas. No wonder were they floating up the corporate hierarchy.
I personally was bewildered by the whole scenario. There was only so much one could do with coding skills. Coding skills got you your first promotion - that too with great difficulty. Beyond that it was of no use. So what was I to do? All the rest of the things seemed too vague and fuzzy. You know stuff like leadership, communication, stakeholder management etc. I mean leadership I understood to some extent. I liked stories of the heroes of the old who inspired their followers to impossible feats of valor and wanted to be one such. I tried putting some leadership ideas in practice as well with varying success. Things such as leading from the front, being there for your team, always doing more yourself than what you expect from the team members. Some of my immediate managers too were doing similar things and it seemed possible I could emulate them and move to the next level after all. But when I looked beyond it was all different. I did not admire the senior leaders at all. I found their visions banal and uninspiring. I was not sure what they were contributing to the organization. Still they were the ones who called the shots. The ones who made the most money. Success in the organization meant becoming them. So I decided to do what I did best - what my parents had taught me - run away and find myself a brand to hide myself behind. Five years had taken the sheen out of my old IIT brand. I now needed a new brand. And the next best brand in the country was the IIM brand. I needed to get one of those.
But alas! The problem was more fundamental. In five years, the luster of the IIM medallion had faded away and I was once again mired in the question of value. More acutely so for I was into a profession where technical skills mattered even less. So it started to become a serious identity crisis of sorts. What value was I bringing to the table? How was I contributing more than the ones who did not have the elite degrees I held? How was I contributing more than the people who had fewer years or less varied experience than me? How was I contributing more than people less well read than me? Forget growing to the next level, did I even justify my current position and pay package? In what way was I better than the young analyst who joined from Business School just a couple of years back? Of course there was also the question of how exactly the people above me in the hierarchy were contributing more than I did as well. Some things I could see they did well. But those were related to personality traits. But personality traits are the essence of who you are. Aren't they? So has my personality doomed me to be stuck where I am for eternity with no hopes of growth whatsoever? Would it have been the same wherever I had been? Or did I somehow just make poor decisions and land up in a wrong place completely unsuited for my personality? These are the questions that plague me.
Now all this may look to be leading towards defeatism and self pity. But that is not my intent at all. What I seek to do is a dispassionate analysis of what constitutes value, success and growth in the corporate world and society in general and if there are ways for people with different personality traits to contribute value and achieve success. How should one go about choosing the right career or vocation? Or is there even any such thing as right situation or is it just about how one approaches what one does no matter what it be? And what would those right approaches be if any? Would those approaches be the same or vary depending on one's personality? And even the idea of personality - is it something innate or just a creation of the mind's resistance to change. My own experience serves to give a personal meaning to this analysis infusing greater motivation into what would otherwise have been a dry theoretical analysis. As part of this exercise I plan to review some of the literature on this topic and reconcile the ideas given by the different philosophers, successful leaders and of course the much maligned self help gurus with my own experiences to see if I can identify an unifying thread.