A couple of weeks ago as I listened to guests on the “Morning Joe” talk show discuss Mitt Romney’s potential vice presidential running mates, comments about Marco Rubio stopped me in my tracks. While Rubio’s name has frequently come up, and Romney says Rubio is “being considered”, the consensus that morning was Rubio, while on the list, is not a real contender. Rubio had not been asked by the Romney campaign to produce personal financial records – a basic in formal vetting – and that was enough for the four men on the show to eliminate him from the running.
Discussions went back and forth. One man said not formally vetting Rubio (even if not a serious contender) was a missed opportunity given Romney’s problems with Hispanic voters. To make sure his point was made, the man went on to say, “EVERYONE KNOWS YOU PUT A WOMAN ON THE LIST EVEN WHEN YOU HAVE NO INTENTION OF SELECTING A WOMAN”.
I could not believe my ears. This man said out loud on national television what I knew to be true but had never heard so brazenly acknowledged – lists lie.
Not unlike the Romney-Rubio scenario, organizations build lists of individuals supposedly ready to hold or being groomed to hold significant positions. Short lists, long lists, succession lists, promotability lists, high potential lists, moving up the ladder lists, and on and on. These lists serve multiple purposes, not always in service to those whose names appear on them. THE MORE PUBLIC THE LISTS OR LIST-MAKING-PROCESSES, THE MORE PADDED THE LISTS FOR POLITICAL AND POLITICALLY CORRECT REASONS.
Names of individuals with limited credentials but “power connections” start to appear – the boss’s son, a key customer’s daughter, someone sponsored by someone in power. Political correctness demands an appropriate sprinkling of women and minorities. Lists lie.
Having said all this, it is probably better to have your name on the lists than not. You will at least be minimally discussed as a “potential candidate”, even if being selected is remote. THE IMPORTANT THING IS TO AVOID DRAWING A DIRECT LINE BETWEEN YOUR NAME ON SOME LIST AND REAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUR NEXT CAREER MOVE. There are many more dots to be connected.
So why have lists? Under the best of circumstances, lists actually guide decision making about talent and direct resources toward building candidate readiness. It is responsible behavior to think about and plan for filling key jobs. Unfortunately, lists are too often used to placate those in power and pacify critics of the organization’s (or individual’s) commitment to diversity.
Lists come and lists go. You must validate and verify.
- You have not arrived because your name appears on a list.
- Have candid conversations with trusted mentors (and sponsors if possible) about real opportunities.
- Continually evaluate the organization’s investment in you. Is it high, low, or neutral in terms of MONEY, MOVEMENT, and MESSAGES? Beware of words not backed by actions.
- Always remember, lists lie!