[July 21, 2017] In the twilight years of senior leaders, they often reflect upon what it was that allowed greater success compared to other leaders who were just as smart, motivated, and talented as they. In each case that leader will tell us it was a lifetime of relationship building that made the difference.
Many people have said that they don’t understand how some people are promoted (or selected) for greater positions of responsibility when their qualifications are no better than their peers. With few exceptions, the reason is that those who are chosen have a large network of friends, acquaintances, and professional associations.
Having served on many selection boards for military officer promotions or for a command positions, those that are more likely to be selection are known by someone on the board. Hey wait a minute, isn’t this the old boy network raising its ugly head again? Actually, no. No one would be on the list for review unless they met and excelled at all the qualifications.
Knowing someone on the board doesn’t necessarily work in one’s favor. I knew one Colonel who was a terrible leader and I made that clear during our command selection board meeting. He was not selected to command. But overall, if an individual is well known and if they have done a good job, worked hard, taken on difficult assignments in the past (and reliably accomplish them), and are trustworthy, it will be made known and they are more liked to be promoted.
This is the reality of life. When someone goes to the trouble of developing and maintaining a comprehensive list of other professionals, such a list can only work to their advantage in a variety of scenarios. These are people one can go to answer important questions, research tough subjects, provide feedback, or give advice. No one who ever achieved military Flag Officer rank ever reached it without people from a lifetime of relationships.
It is reasonable to also note that it is incumbent upon the leader to do a good job and have a balanced life because everyone will know about it. The adage that leaders live in a world of transparency certainly applies here and applies both to their professional and personal lives. Those who want the rank, pay, and its privileges should expect to have their lives open for review.
Much is written on relationships, networks, and developing them. The reason is simple; only through them can one assure advancement in the future.
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