The manager of the corporate company was not in its best mood. He was again participating in one of those talent development programs that only gave him extra work and little reward. It was the second time that he had been selected to this program, in consecutive years. He should be proud as this achievement demonstrated that he was recognized as someone with potential within the company. But he knew better..
On that day, as part od the activities of the program, we would have the first call with his mentor. Talent development could only be achieved by direct contact with the higher cadres of the company and this was no exception. The manager was ready to take the advice from a senior director that happened to work in a different division. At the agreed time, the call begun with the usual politically correct introductions. The manager´s first impressions of his mentor were good: he sounded laid back, without any hint of arrogance or patronizing words. After the first five minutes the director decided to get down to business: "So, would you like to make a career in this company?"
The question had some logic as that program was destined to those that would eventually escalate the corporate career ladder. The manager hesitated "Well, I don't have any major ambitions. I think I would settle for a director position in the future, but I don't aspire to anything higher than that." There was some silence in the other side of the line, until the sharp voice of the director made the following question: "And what do you intend to do to get there?" The manager replied with the trivial corporate template sentences such as "that he would rise through hard work, delivering the required results and contributing to the development of the organization..." To his surprise, he realized that his mentor was laughing at his reply.
"No, you got it all wrong" replied the director, regaining his composure "Listen, it doesn't take me long to identify an intelligent and articulated person. You are clearly one of them so my only advise to you is to leave the company!" The manager was so surprised to auscultate this comment from his mentor that he was not able to say anything for a while. "I know these are not the words you were expecting to listen from me" proceeded the director "but you see, to rise in the career ladder you have to be an idiot with a good network. Higher leadership is full of idiots that drink their coffee with the right people and they don't like to see intelligent people going up and mingling around. It may spoil their arrangements, you see!" Feeling encouraged by the openness revealed, the manager made the obvious question: "But you are a senior director, are you calling yourself an idiot as well?" The mentor laughed again "No, I just left the division where you work and came to this one where the concentration of idiots is minor."
The call ended shortly after this last statement and the manager took some minutes to reflect on what he had just heard. Somehow this was the best and the worst mentor in all history of this type of programs. Best because he was calling things by its real name and worst because at the same time he was pushing people out of the company, which is the opposite of what he should be doing. Regardless, that rare moment of down to earth honesty made the manager´s day.
In fact the future would prove that the words of the director were spot on! And so the big corporates progress...