A couple of weeks ago I had a social lunch with a true Mandarin, retired now from a succession of huge mandates in the public and voluntary sectors. We talked as usual about developments around us in Toronto and the people who were pulling their projects forward, and those who were dragging against progress.
Having reached career zenith through steady, determined, and quite brilliant institutional triumphs, he recognized value in others according to their incremental advancement through institutional systems. A mature talent, in this way of thinking, will have attained successive plateaus of responsibility while contributing to, or at least not detracting from, the momentum of progress in their fields. So, while they could be observed on the “right” side of various causes and challenges, their contribution to the pace or direction of change might not be very impressive.
Unexpectedly, after some reflection and beer, my friend admitted that he was starting to re-evaluate. To paraphrase, he acknowledged that merit might derive less from professional standing, relationships, and reputation, than from accomplishment. In effect, it was occurring to him that in some circumstances, the right person for the job might be the person who has demonstrated that they can get the job done, not the person who makes everyone comfortable that they’ll approach things in the right (familiar) way, with the right (familiar) result. Where change is necessary and imminent, comfort and familiarity are lesser virtues.
I took great encouragement from this revelation.