My boss had just been promoted. He was excited, and because I liked working with him, I was excited too. We hadn’t started in a good place, because although I believed in his intelligence, energy, and take-no-prisoners style, his directness and habit of mocking what he couldn’t quite categorize made me angry and defensive, at first. But it got me speaking up for myself for the first time in my career, and we soon hit a stride and began working together to accomplish things that wouldn’t have been possible before he came on the scene.
He was hiring for his replacement, and the office was abuzz with speculation about who’d be chosen to fill his shoes. Two colleagues were interviewing, and he stopped by my office to ask me what I thought. We were relaxed and the energy was good.
I confided that some colleagues had asked if I was planning to apply for the spot. By far the youngest eligible person in the department, I hadn’t even considered it. I’d only been promoted to the manager level 18 months earlier, and I have a bias that you need two full years at a level before you seek to advance. It would have been awkward to have been promoted over the woman who had hired me and other members of the staff who’d worked there since I was in elementary school. I knew how much I didn’t know, and was enjoying learning from him and my colleagues. Plus, there were assistant directors in my company, and I thought it possible that it was my next move.
“I’d never consider making you a director,” my boss laughed.
“I wouldn’t consider you for this position. You were just saying you didn’t think you were ready— I was just agreeing with you.”
“I was saying I wouldn’t apply. You saying you wouldn’t consider me is something else entirely.”
In a second, the energy shifted. And it never did quite shift back. He left my office. He eventually hired the other candidate— not my choice, but the other one. Three years and literally 10 interviews later for a single internal transfer, I joined that candidate at the director level, but as director of another department. My former boss didn’t hire me to be a director, but the woman who replaced him after he left the company did. And I exceeded every one of her expectations.
It’s been almost that long again, since all that happened, and the “other candidate” is in his last days where I work. Our fortunes have tangled and reversed, over the years, and the speculation is whether I’ll be asked to fill his shoes, when he goes. My hunch is that the powers that be would never hire me for the gig. But they’d be as wrong as my long-ago boss was, if they thought that.