Is Different Better?

by  Deb Costello  |  Workplace Issues

Ok… here’s how it works.  First I tell you a story.  Then I ask you some questions.  Then you answer in the comment section.  It’s like a discussion where people exchange ideas, and we all learn something.  Perhaps you have heard of it before. It’s fun.  Let’s play.

For a long time I was the Coordinator of Professional Development at my school.  It was a nice gig.  I developed a mentoring program for new faculty.  We held weekly “lunch and learn” sessions on implementing best practices and integrating new technology into our curriculum.  We had whole days of learning and folks attended lots and lots of development sessions, both on and off campus.  It was helpful.  Yada yada yada.

Before I started the job, there wasn’t a comprehensive program.  They hired me to develop it.  It’s not hard to be considered good when you are inventing something from scratch.  Everything you do seems interesting and innovative.  It’s difficult to mess up something that never really existed.

But then I got a new job, and someone took over my position.  Almost instantly everything changed.  More importantly, everything got better.  I handed my successor hundreds of files.  She digitized everything and tossed the files in the trash.  In fact, she created a digital system for the whole kit and caboodle.  The entire system was better organized and easier to use, from sign-ups to food ordering to follow up.  She made the cafeteria serve a decent lunch and introduced new topics and speakers.  She developed a website so that all the information was in one place.  Then she started recording the sessions so that others could attend any time.  It was better, a lot better.

You know what?  She got a new job and someone else has now taken over her position. The new version of Coordinator of Professional Development is only a few weeks into the job and is already making it her own.  Now we use Edmodo, a networking site that not only organizes all our information, but also allows us to talk to each other online, to share ideas and comments.  It’s like Facebook for teachers and students can use it too if we want.   You know what I love? Her emails are funny.  A little learning here, a little laugh there, she’s a master of appropriate humor in the workplace.  She’s even introducing some fun into our programs.  Next week we are playing trivia at lunch.  Our team is called The Delusionists.  Who knew work could be fun?

You could probably conclude a bunch of different things from this story, but for me the lesson is pretty clear.  It’s easy to keep doing the same things because they’re working pretty well.  But now I know it can also be awesome to mix things up every few years and give new ideas a try.  Not everything works perfectly, but novelty can be really invigorating.  It sparks conversation, increases participation, and encourages innovation.  And who doesn’t want that?

Wait.  Don’t answer that.  That’s not the real question.  That one was rhetorical.  But there are some questions I really do want to ask.  Now’s the time where you chime in with your brilliant insights.  Here we go. 

  • In your workplace, do titled positions turn over on a regular cycle, say every five years or so, or do your leaders keep their positions until they are promoted, retired, demoted, or fired?
  • Do you think titled and untitled positions should be changed periodically and if so, how often?
  • Do you think it is possible for a leader to hold a position for a long time and remain effective, innovative, and frankly awesome?  If so, what do they need to do to make this happen?

Thanks for reading.  And more importantly, thanks for commenting.  I really do want to know what you think.  

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What People Are Saying

Gina  |  19 Sep 2013  |  Reply

It’s hard to say how positions are rotated and changed within my workplace. I work as a caregiver and have been with the same family for almost eight years now. When I first started, we had an overseer who was with the family for a decade before I came into the picture. Since her position was no longer needed because mine molded into one that I could not only do my job, but hers as well, my family let her go. I think depending on the company (or family in my case) and their needs, positions, work functions and titles will always be changing. And since we are all moving ahead with technology and social media, it is easier to keep things more organized as well as a better handle (to a certain degree) amongst our competitors.
As far as a leader holding their position for a long time, I definitely think it is possible. But they have to have the skills or the willingness to except and integrate changes if needed.

Deborah Costello  |  19 Sep 2013  |  Reply


It’s really interesting that you describe how your position evolved until it was able to envelope another as well. There a balancing act sometimes when we ask people to do more. Sometimes it’s a legitimate and natural change that makes sense. Sometimes it’s a cost-saving measure that makes the job a lot harder. I am glad that it seems to be the former in your case.

Your story does point out two important aspects for people in today’s workplace… the ever increasing role of technology as a tool to make us all more effective and the need for everyone to be nimble, to be ever learning new skills and gaining more knowledge. Both of these seem increasingly vital in the jobs of today and those yet to be created tomorrow,

I hope you are right in that it is possible for leaders to remain effective over the long-term. Because this is the way we tend to do things in a lot of businesses, I think you are right in that they too need that level of nimbleness in order to be successful.

Thank you for dropping by, reading, and commenting.


Mary C Schaefer  |  19 Sep 2013  |  Reply

Hi Deb. What a great story and what great questions! I appreciate your self-reflection and transparency.

Your last question in particular got me:

“Do you think it is possible for a leader to hold a position for a long time and remain effective, innovative, and frankly awesome? If so, what do they need to do to make this happen?”

I think it IS possible for a leader to stay in a position for a long time and remain effective if they are rigorous about staying current, staying humble, and role-modeling change. Even then, it’s probably still a good idea to put new leadership in place at some reasonable pace to truly keep things fresh and growing.

Great post!

Deborah Costello  |  19 Sep 2013  |  Reply

Thanks Mary for stopping by and commenting. You talk about role-modeling change… I think that’s an interesting concept. In leaders we see encouragement, directives, or acceptance of change when it is proposed by others, but the idea that a leader would do things to demonstrate change, to take the kind of risks that we are needing from others, that’s an interesting and provocative idea. Leaders often take a more conservative approach, allowing risks to occur less visibly in an effort to mitigate any negative consequences. A leader that actually led the innovation, willingly stepped into the risk spotlight, a provocative idea.

Would the result necessarily be greatness… or complete failure?

You have me thinking Mary.


Mary C Schaefer  |  19 Sep 2013  | 

Now YOU have ME thinking, Deb Costello :) You took my comment much further than I had thought through, but upon reflection I know where it came from.

i have seen long-time executives expect the organization to be more innovative or change with the timse, or implement a new program or way of doing things –something that is REALLY needed –but they blow it all by doing their job the same old way. First, people don’t take you seriously when you don’t change too, and secondly, even if the organization does proceed with the needed change, eventually your lack of change becomes an impediment. I’ve seen it happen over and over.

THANK YOU Deb Costello for helping me get my brain in gear much earlier in the day than I’m used to :)

Deborah Costello  |  19 Sep 2013  | 

LOL… school teachers get up EARLY!

So you’re saying leaders need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk…

I thnk that doesn’t happen all the time. There are a lot of leaders that expect others to do things that they would not. I know it’s true that a leader probably doesn’t have time to do every task, but those that are unwilling or unable to pitch in EVER make it far less likely that the task is done well or at all. I see this all the time. When leadership doesn’t actually do what they expect everyone else to do, trouble ensues…

Hope you’ve had time for a cup a coffee and you’re on your way to a great day! Thanks Mary!

Mike Henry  |  19 Sep 2013  |  Reply

Wonderful post Deb. And no, I didn’t pre-approve it. I just read it.

To answer your questions, I know of few organizations where titled positions turn over on a schedule. I know many where they turn over for positive (promotions, etc.) reasons and for not-so positive ones. In fact, I have both turned over and been turned over. :-) I think change provides opportunity and I don’t have a long attention span, so I’m generally for a change.

Maybe leaders and business owners could turn-over by taking subordinate roles on some important projects. I think many businesses, especially those with hierarchical org structures, have too few seats “at the top” (positional leadership) and can’t create an environment where those “positions” rotate.

I do believe certain types of character-based leaders can keep a leadership position for a long time and be awesome. It requires adaptability and humility and an open mind. Even then, everything does come to an end. I think of successful coaches, etc. After a while, they people or the effort they lead requires more change than the individual can adapt to.

Thanks again for the thoughtful post and the dialogue. Great comments by all!

Deborah Costello  |  19 Sep 2013  |  Reply


What a cool idea! If a leader took a subordinate role on some projects! Wow! That could be great! It probably happens in workplaces where there are a lot of “middle managers” with disperate responsibilities. (Education is a great example.)

Certainly the adaptable, open-minded leader must be a subordinate position sometimes as innovation and education is required. The leader must learn from someone before making a decision.

It would truly be a unique workplace if a subordinate felt genuinely empowered to lead, disagree with, and overrule a leader positionally higher… huh… does that really happen?

You’ve got me thinking now… Thanks Mike…


Kristy Smith  |  24 Sep 2013  |  Reply

Jumping in here a bit late and with some thoughts a bit off-kilter but I think you guys can roll with it…

Over the last year, I have become extremely put off by Titles. Why? It’s a twofold but both derive from their misuse.

There seems to be an epidemic of handing out Titles inappropriately, almost strategically to create a placebo effect in lieu of a raise or other deserved perks. I find this placebo to be very short lived and actually very dangerous to a work place. I have watched multiple people crash and burn under Title Illusion. “Yippee, I am now Manager of ____ and ____. New business cards- Check, Updated Door Plaque- Check, Updated Linkedin Page- Check!!!” But after the shine on that new door plaque starts to wear off, what does it really mean outside of an increased work load? A hollow title is the fastest way to have your A-Team running for the hills!

My second observation of Title Violation is as follows: Susie from accounting has been with the company for almost a year and does a fantastic job. She’s always on time, she never calls in sick, she puts out good work, she’s a team player and her colleagues like her. She is promoted to Manager. Susie excitedly assumes her new role as Accounting Manager, but wait, Susie has never been a Manager. She can’t handle the increased work load, she becomes stressed, anxiety sets in ruining her perfect attendance, and her once beloved colleagues are starting to complain about her attitude. The company and peers Susie once loved, she can no longer stand. She leaves the company. (See The Peter Principle for greater elaboration.)

Understanding your team’s strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities is so key to your organization’s success. If someone deserves a bump in title, which advertently means more responsibly, they most likely deserve a bump in pay. After a tough week, staring at your fancy business card doesn’t quite the same as seeing those extra dollars on your paycheck. As far as Susie goes, she was a great C-level employee. She deserved a raise, a gift card, or maybe a shout out in the next company meeting, not a promotion. By promoting her, without development, to a position she wasn’t capable in filling, you not only lost a great employee but you also created distress among the team. The balance to appropriately rewarding in the workplace is almost a science- keeping employees happy, making them feel appreciated, promoting development and continual growth.

As I said, a bit off-kilter but your post sparked this dialogue in my head … so I guess it did exactly what it was supposed to do- make me think!

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