BOOKS: It's a job to get promoted

BOOKS: It's a job to get promoted - The author neglects no question and spares us no detail in showing us the way to the top, but, says John Viney, it's a bit like navigating a corporate helpline.

by Dr John Viney, a founder of the Zygos Partnership and author ofSo You Dream of Being a Chief Executive?
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The author neglects no question and spares us no detail in showing us the way to the top, but, says John Viney, it's a bit like navigating a corporate helpline.

Succession planning is a preoccupation for most corporations. Failure to secure adequate succession to the board can have a dramatic effect on the share price and the value that stakeholders place on the firm. A concern with management development cascades down the organisation. Many hours are devoted to the training and development of managers; and leadership - that indefinable quantity that can transform the moribund into the miraculous - is an organisational holy grail. Many column inches and printed pages have been devoted to trying to define this elixir, few providing illumination.

John Lees' volume How to Get the Perfect Promotion is refreshingly free of cant about leadership. His concern is not with the elevated heights of a career but with the steps along the way. It addresses itself to a broad population across the public and private spheres, at all levels in the hierarchy. It reflects a changed world of work. The job for life has been consigned to the past, as has the paternalist organisation that will look benignly on its workforce, identifying merit and rewarding accordingly. Today's worker is on his or her own.

In the opening pages, Lees highlights the fallacy that the most hard-working and the most competent will be promoted. Then he addresses the characteristics that delineate those worthy of promotion from the merely hard-working and competent: a personality with edge, focus and determination, whose talents will provide dynamism and vitality - qualities as valuable as leaden hard work and worthy competence.

This remains implicit, however. The book is carefully vague, addressing Everyman and Everycompany. Lees offers a manual for general and widespread use. This is both its strength and its weakness.

He draws on an array of experts, and bases much of his material on a survey of senior and middle managers. Management is about know-how, expertise, analysis, answers to questions.

It concerns itself with detail. Unlike leadership, it makes no claim to inspire, excite or surprise. This is a book for managers, expressed in manage- ment language and style. Lees has neglected no question and spares us no detail. His advice is not to be faulted: he proffers an eminently sensible set of strategies for self-promotion, all of which plainly work to the advantage of the corporate body as much as to the individual.

Like most business books today, this one mirrors the style of business communication. It is replete with checklists, examples and evidence drawn from expert witnesses, and it largely avoids narrative. It is a succession of memoranda that often feel like the options on a corporate telephone system.

It is easy to read, and can be picked up and put down, dipped into and out of again. My complaint with it is one not of content but one of style. Lees' book inevitably caters to a generation of aspiring managers. It addresses all the issues along the way to successful promotion, such as self-awareness, understanding of others and overcoming disappointment.

It does not offer a quick route to riches but makes the task of gaining promotion feel a little too much like hard work.

The reader could be forgiven for regretting the demise of the paternalist organisation that took the burden of management development away from the manager. There is little sense here that the aspiring manager acts, as he must, in partnership with the organisation. This is an inevitable consequence of the ambition to address all-comers.

I was left, after reading this volume, with the sense that anyone looking for promotion needs to forget about the day job, because earning promotion seems to be a full-time job in itself.

How to Get the Perfect Promotion; By John Lees; McGraw Hill pounds 12.99; MT price pounds 10.99

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