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September 21, 2011


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When I was younger and dumber, I used to think that I would do great without playing politics, that my work alone would speak for itself and I would succeed strictly by the value I provided.

ha ha ha ha

The world just doesn't work that way. Look at it even from the college application process- legacies have priority over others. Unfortunately, you gotta learn to play the game...

I see this every day at my employer- but if you have a degree that is a true barrier to entry, it doesn't affect you as much and then it truly comes down to competence and skill. MBAs are not such a degree- JDs, MDs, PhDs in a hard science qualify, not many others do though.

That's the way the world works. I didn't quite get it until I started working.

In my schooling all the way through undergrad, it was all about grades. Do better, get a higher GPA, higher rank, etc. All was quantifiable, due to right or wrong answers.

Once job recruiting started in undergrad, I saw people with relatively lower (3.0) GPAs get certain jobs instead of top students with 3.9-type GPAs. Why? They knew someone, or were just plain likeable. They connected with the interviewers, and seemed like that type of people that would fit into companies and be great to work with. In short, someone you could grab lunch with or a drink after work.

When I got an MBA, a class participation grade was included, where professors were subjectively allowed to grade students on the quality of their comments and their peception with fellow students. At the time, I thought it was absurd - but now I see the brilliance in that approach. It was encouraging us to be likeable.

Even if you have a PhD, at the very top levels promotions and plums are all awarded based mainly on likeability rather than actual competence.

Among my own peers, we call it "the golf index". As in, if you're puzzling about why so-and-so got picked to be Dean and you didn't, it's because he has a higher golf index than you do. (ie he socializes with the boss, even if it's not via an actual a golf game).

This really sucks if you're a woman, obviously. I can't "golf" with the boss or people will think I'm sleeping with him. To compensate for the gossip mill, successful women tend to act more hard line and keep their interactions with their colleagues very focused on work only. But then they're overlooked for promotions because they're "unlikeable". This issue is the main reason why there's few women at the top, IMO.

In defense of the "like-ability/golf index", people skills are the glue in running things. When you are high up in a business your ability to communicate (public speaking to one-on-one interpersonal skills) is critical to get things done. At higher levels one's aptitude and competency are important but your people and communication skills are even more important. When I was a young engineer the people in my group held resentment toward those who got promoted on likeability rather than merit. It was not till later in life did I realize that a person with aptitude, competency AND good people/communication skills was more rare than a person with just aptitude and competency. These people & communication skills translate into leadership skills. It is what it is folks.

Absolutely agree here. Likeability is everything. I am a scientist for the federal government, and while I'm certainly not unlikeable, I do not have a bubbly, charming, brown-nosing personality. I won many awards for my accomplishments, but when it came time for promotions, I would watch those whose qualifications were objectively much lower than mine get the job. While it is a struggle for me, I've adopted the idea of just being content with what you have and don't pretend you're someone you aren't. I can at least sleep that way.

Likability is pretty important and rightfully so. Who wants to work with people you don't like? Who wants someone in charge that isn't likable?

Of course theres always also various forms of favoritism, nepotism, cronyism, etc that aren't about being likable but about being associated with the people giving the jobs out.

Theres a huge difference between getting a promotion simply because you're a swell guy and getting one cause you're the bosses son in law.

I've definitely learned this the hard way. In every job I've ever worked, the charmers always got ahead, over those of us who were good workers. Of course, in many cases, they ended up eventually getting fired too, because they never did any work. Their time was spent chatting everyone up, instead of doing their job.

I admit, I'm very introverted, and don't have a bubbly, likeable personality. I like to focus on doing top-notch, efficient work, and am always seeking ways to streamline work and improve the quality of my work. But while bosses love having me as an employee, I don't get "promoted", probably because of the likeability thing. That, and most of the jobs I've worked, there really isn't anywhere for a graphic designer to go, other than art director, which is almost never available.

It will be interesting to see how things go once I start my Accounting career. I'm terrified of this whole "charm" thing, where you have to be a schmoozer in order to get ahead. It doesn't seem fair.. .I'd rather work with pleasant people who do their job extremely well and don't talk much, than super-likeable party people who are too busy chatting around the water cooler to get anything done.

Promotion if definately a formula. You are absolutely right...merit alone will not get you to the top...nor hard work alone...nor politics alone. You have to have a combination of everything. Unfortunately to succeed in the corporate world, you MUST play the game! In the words of Ice T..."Don't hate the player, hate the game".

On a serious note, if you really want to succeed you must self-promote. If you don't, someone else will. I once got a position that I was totally underqualified for and didnt' deserve, but I played the game better than the six other people that wanted it and had better numbers.

Travis: I'm curious - How long did you last in that position? Were you able to keep up with the demands being underqualified?

I'm not playing that game.

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