A Conversation about a Candidate for Promotion

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“Maybe you can help,” John began. He’s a neighbor of
mine and a mid-level manager in a large organization. Part of his job is
deciding who gets promoted from individual contributor to supervisor. That’s
what he wanted to talk about.

“What’s troubling you?” I asked. We talk a lot about John’s work challenges,
but he rarely uses the word, “help.”

In the next couple of minutes, John described his situation. He had three
supervisory openings to fill. The process his company uses involves pared
down first round candidates to six (double the available slots) who went to the
second round.

“Two promotions are a slam dunk,” John told me. “One’s a former supervisor of
ours who took a few years off to raise a family, and gets one of the next open
slots. The other is just head and shoulders above the others. And, there’s one
candidate who’s at the other end of the scale and just doesn’t measure up to the

I could do the math. “That leaves two.”

“Right, there’s Richie and Danielle and they’re pretty close on paper.”

“What does your head say,” I asked. We’ve been through this before I often
ask clients to describe the logic behind a decision.

“Danielle is my head’s clear choice. She’s got more experience and she’s been
working hard for a couple of years to qualify for a supervisor’s job, seeking
opportunities, taking courses on her own, and doing a bit of schmoozing among
the current supervisors.”

I was puzzled. “What about your gut?” After we’ve done the logic part, I want
to discuss emotion. You know you’ve got a good decision when both match up after
vigorous analysis. When they don’t match you’ve got to dig deeper.

“Well, I really like Danielle, everybody does. She’ll pitch in without being
asked, cover for others when they need it, takes time to help new people learn
the ropes …”


“But I wonder if she’s too nice and won’t be able to make tough

“Did you ask her about it at the interview? What did she say?”

“She said, ‘I’m a single mom with two teenage boys, believe me I can be tough
when I need to be.”

Danielle sounded to me like she had a lot of good things going for her. She
was interested in being a boss and had worked to prepare herself. I’ve had
teenagers and you have to make tough decisions and take stands when you’re the
parent of one. And, this is big for me, Danielle seems to enjoy helping others

“So, what’s the problem, she sounds like a good promotion to me. Why does
your gut say otherwise?”

“I think it’s something I used to hear all the time about how ‘it’s better to
be respected than liked.'”

Actually, that mis-quote of Machiavelli comes in several forms including
“respected” and “feared” on the hard side and “liked” and “loved” on the soft
side. Supposedly, Machiavelli or someone said that the hard side was better.
Let’s lay some nonsense to rest.

Unless you choose to be feared, it’s not one or the other. You can be
respected and liked or even loved. Most of the great bosses I’ve seen have been

Even Machiavelli knew that. His advice was to be both if you could
manage it.  

Boss’s Bottom Line

If you’re a boss, these are no “respect” or “loved” buttons to push and no
magic potions either. Demonstrate by your behavior that you know what you’re
supposed to know, and act in ways that show you care about your team members’
success and you won’t have to worry about being either respected or

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