It would seem that most people reach a certain point whereby past success in a particular role stops translating into further success at the next logical, hierarchical progression. Just because someone is good at something does not necessarily mean they will be good at that next role which seniority and experience seemingly demand. Robin doesn’t necessarily make a good Batman.
Plenty of people start off as ‘coal face’ workers, work their way up the ladder to ‘senior coal face worker’, and then either take on some sort of supervisory role, move into management, start up their own enterprise or become a ‘specialist’ (there being many types of coal faces on which to specialise). In the ever changing workplace, there doesn’t seem to be room for mere complacency with one’s position.
What is the cause of this professional seismicity?
The pursuit of wealth is surely a primary factor. Senior positions with greater responsibility generally pay more (although perhaps not always commensurate to the greater responsibility) than junior positions. People, always in the pursuit of greater coin, will tend to gravitate toward as senior a position as possible.
Professional ambition – the drive for status – is typically coincident with seniority. If it’s not about the coin, it may be about the privilege, and the ability of a title to make one feel more important.
There is also a three-fold people-pressure forcing everyone up the ladder; a suction from above as those in the upper echelons retire or die out - leaving a vacuum to be filled, a push from below as those seeking to enter the establishment take on base level roles, and a proclivity for people to grow bored and try something new. The natural tendency for professional movement is thus most definitely in an upward direction.
But what happens when people move up the ladder?
The next logical progression may not utilise the same skills as the preceding position. For instance, most senior roles will require an element of mentoring/teaching of juniors, which in itself isn’t a skill necessary to be a successful junior. Wider ranging ‘people’ and ‘commercial’ issues will also tend to be more prevalent in the upper hierarchy of any organisation, even though they may be in industries far removed from Human Resources and Business. There are many who try starting their own business, only to find that the very act of running it detracts from what they like best; doing the hands-on work.
The increased responsibility/workload further up the ladder may also expose a person’s previously hidden limits. Whereas a junior may excel at what is expected of a junior, their natural capabilities may not extend much further than that. As the bar is raised, they may find themselves giving the same, yet falling short. Some people are natural followers; natural assistants. Decisiveness, leadership and personal organisation are not typically learnt, but are rather innate characteristics. People without these traits will find executive roles daunting. Similarly, natural introverts will find greater people-exposure challenging.
Some people will however rise to the challenge of a new role. Those people with the right talents and the ability to learn and adapt – especially those with a keen commercial mindset in this capitalist society of ours – will tend to go a long way, perhaps spending their entire careers without ever finding their competence limit. Some others will never find theirs even if they wanted to, as those responsible for promotion will sometimes look to recognise the limits of others, and will impose a false ceiling on progression where they see fit.
While some people may see the reaching of their competence limit as ‘failure’, The Spear has a slightly different perception. Where are you most likely to be of most use to an organisation / society? At your competence limit, not beyond it. What is the point of taking a piece of steel past its yield point? It can be done, but the structure is deformed. Would you rather perform well, or poorly? At least if you have found your limit, you should know roughly where you can do the most good.
Unlike the deformed steel, we can go back to our previous state if we so wish, or take measures to learn and try again.