I was chatting with a policing friend recently that was expressing his frustration and those of some of his peers about “the people they are promoting these days.” His feeling is that when a job is posted they “know immediately who is going to get it”, so there is reluctance for other qualified folks to even bother applying. He was especially concerned that to be a front-runner for promotional opportunities, one has to be “connected to one of the bosses” to have the slightest of hope and that those getting promoted aren’t good leaders but simply manage up well. He didn’t actually describe the “managing up well” process in terms that were fit for print.

I get his concern. We’ve all seen what we thought were biased processes, selections and the old “who you know” axiom at work over the years. At least that is what we perceived. Sometimes we were right, sometimes not.

It was a timely conversation regardless, given my last article: Will we ever get promotional processes right?

A wise old boss told me years ago that capable people landing in leadership roles was a “function of random chance.” Thankfully good and great leaders were promoted into supervisory and executive positions, despite the lack of veracity of selection processes and seldom because of them. Many of the valid promotions were clouded over the years to follow however, as the broad negative impacts of perceived promotional failures weighed heavily on so many employees.

I am far from professing to have the answers to this dilemma and certainly didn’t solve the problem during my watch as OPP Commissioner – despite my ongoing qualms. But in my post-retirement years I’ve had time for much in-depth reflection. And while on the speaking circuit, I’ve also listened to many employees on both sides of the Canada/US border that are very bitter over their experiences and perceptions of what they see as the “The Peter Principle” thriving in their organizations. They feel that as a rule the wrong people are being promoted for the wrong reasons.

But are their perceptions accurate? Were mine at those times in my career when I assumed someone was unfairly promoted over me because of whom they were connected to? Were those disheartened individuals I spoke to correct in believing they should have been promoted but were beaten out for completely unscrupulous reasons by incapable people?

Maybe, just maybe, the decision-makers of the day were right. Maybe the processes were completely unbiased. Maybe we were not the best candidates. Perhaps the person chosen was light-years ahead of us in their ability. Is it possible that it wasn’t a case of promoting the teacher’s pet or an “apple-polisher” who managed up well? Maybe he or she was the brightest and hardest working candidate on the planet and we only perceived ourselves to be in the same league or higher. Although our minds should always open to that possibility, it is hard to accept when you aren’t the person celebrating a promotional victory by buying rounds of drinks for friends.

Ellen DeGeneres said: “Sometimes you can't see yourself clearly until you see yourself through the eyes of others.” She may be right.

But then again, you might have been screwed. Sometimes perception actually meets reality – other times not. Regardless, you have to get better and not stay bitter, then move on to fight another day.