Social climbers are a dime a dozen; how many times have you avoided the party where the wannabes run after the has-beens' The corporate world too has more than its fair share.
“Over the years, many types of leaders have been identified,” says HR writer Dan Bobinski. “We have charismatic leaders, coach leaders, bureaucratic leaders, Machiavellian leaders, democratic leaders, authoritarian leaders, yadda, yadda, yadda. As one who believes simpler is better, I’ve boiled down all those to two basic types: Builders and climbers.”
In Bobinski’s framework, builders are those who create organisations. They are supportive of their peers and subordinates. They have a gameplan and leave a legacy.
Climbers have a gameplan too. But it is short term. Their objective is to get ahead in the rat race. They end up winning because they can be ruthless. But they leave behind an organisation that is rotten at the core. Corporate lore is full of “success” stories, which ended in disaster when the chief retired. “You will find tomes written on how the successors couldn’t measure up,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. “But, if you look carefully, it is the iconic CEO who has sowed the seeds of this collapse.”
As you start in your career, it’s inevitable that you will be a climber. If, in your first year in a new job, you don’t aim to eventually become the CEO, you’ll remain part of the flotsam of corporate life. Only a fraction of the aspirants make it, but the ambition should be there.
In the beginning, you will step on some toes; there are too many of them around as everybody scrambles for a toehold on the corporate ladder. But after the initial years, you must make a key decision: do you climb on the backs of others or do you take them along with you'
In many ways, it’s a difficult choice. If you play a lone hand, you are likely to rise faster. You grab all the credit and blame others for the failures. You make a lot of enemies along the way. But, as they are all junior to you, it doesn’t matter all that much. You need to be a political animal; the first thing you learn if you are a climber is to keep bosses in good humour.
A builder, however, shares credit with his team. It is never “I” but “We”. A team can never rise as fast as an individual. Besides, it takes a perceptive boss or HR department to make out that there is a key mover in a team.
Even when you have been identified as the doer, other issues come into play. “Yes,” the HR department may say. “He has got what it takes. But will he perform without the team' Will he be able to take the hard decisions' If he is ready to share credit, will he be able to sack an underperforming colleague'”
“It’s easier to carry on as a climber,” says Singh. “That way you have a better chance to reach the top. But you have to make a sacrifice: your work-life will be a disaster. You’ll at best have one or two friends who will be equally reviled in the organisation. And the chances are that your style will percolate to your home life too with even more disastrous consequences. But, there are many people who enjoy being a loner and a bit of a monster.”
Singh has one solution which, however, doesn’t work most of the time. “Be a climber until you reach the top,” he says. “Then convert to a builder.” But a giraffe can’t become a zebra overnight.
Positive for builders
If you answer “yes” to these questions, you are a builder, not a climber
Do you encourage and even help other people work toward the same professional growth activities that you choose for yourself'
Do you sacrifice your time in the spotlight to train others to be better at what they do'
Do you ask for help on projects and share the credit when accolades come'
Do you truly enjoy giving a boost to someone else’s self-esteem'
Do you prioritise looking for ways to solve problems over looking for someone to blame'
When someone comes to you with a problem, do you listen more than talk'
Do you share new knowledge and information with those around you'
Do you look for ways to help others be better at what they do'
When things go wrong, do you take responsibility as quickly and to the same degree as you take credit when things go right'
When you do something for others, is it done without expectation of something in return'
Source: Are you a builder or a climber' By Dan Bobinski