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The Ladder Of Success

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” — Stephen R. Covey

This is a fun aphorism, especially since it doesn’t say anything useful. What’s more, it’s probably not even true. Still, it sure sounds pithy.

Suppose you are assigned the task of hiring a manager for an important project. The first applicant says, “I’m efficient in climbing the ladder of success.” You ask what that means and are told, “I have mastered being effective without wasting time or effort or expense. I’m efficient.”

You then ask for an explanation of the ladder of success and hear, “Well, it’s when you start at the bottom and climb up rung by rung. The higher you go, the more successful you are.” You ask what is being climbed up and are told, “Well, the ladder of success.”

You then scratch your head and ask, “Let me see if I have this right. You are terrific at wasting no time or effort or expense on your way to the top?” The applicant smiles and says, “You got that right; and I’m hoping you will let me use your project as my next rung.”

If you subscribe to Covey’s definition of management, you don’t need a second applicant. The first one is just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. That only leaves determining whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. The applicant has determined that your project is his right wall. How do you think you will address that perception in the letter you send following the employment interview you just terminated?

Okay, perhaps that wasn’t Covey’s point. “Managers do things right. Leaders do the right things,” may be his point. This sounds like somewhat more conventional wisdom but isn’t very helpful either. It’s likely that being able to determine that your project is the right wall isn’t your idea of doing the right things. If you are also looking for a leader, finding someone who shares your vision for your project is a better choice than someone who thinks he has a better vision for your future. The leader you need is the one who can help you get from here to there, as you climb that ladder of success together.

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