03/31/2014 03:28 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2014

The Staffing Question

How did that person ever get promoted?

If you've ever worked in a corporation. you've probably asked yourself that question more than a few times. Not out of jealousy (one hopes) but more out of a sense that you don't share management's apparent recognition of this particular person's skills.

It happens often. At newspapers, reporters are often promoted to editor because so many reporters come in each year that management thinks editors can be made out of reporters (which isn't true p- editing is a different skill). And then editors are promoted to managers because, well, they need to make room for more editors. Managing and editing might seem to be skills that align with each other. But no.

I ran into someone who worked with someone with whom I worked a while back, and when this person's name came up, he said, "He brings nothing to the table. Yet he keeps being given positions of responsibility." I thought I had been the only one to think that.

I don't understand why certain people are marked for advancement despite their evident -- at least to observers such as coworkers -- lack of talent. (Except a talent for advancement.)

I know some people are good at self-promotion, hoping that it will lead to real promotion. Meanwhile, other, more talented folk, can be left toiling away unnoticed.

I think of this because of something I recently read about how the Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle handles its workers. It promotes from within -- and it searches for the right people for the right position. It's not a consideration along the lines of, "if someone's been here so long, then that person should be at this place in the company" That's a dead-end way of thinking.

Chipotle promotes from within -- like a lot of companies -- but looks for qualities that can't be taught (and these don't seem to include self-promoting). A lot of assessment is based on what coworkers think, not just managers, and not the opinion of people who think that if they promote someone their own job might be in jeopardy.

That's a way to kill a company: to instill paranoia.

But what really makes a company better?

Not promoting people who seem to do one thing okay and then trying to replicate it in a different situation. No: it's promoting people who are conscientious, happy, help others, are of service, want to share their experiences. The qualities you'd want in a friend.

Not that a friend makes the best manager, or that you want a manager to be your friend. But you do want your managers to have the qualities of the people you admire.

That's a big deal. I have a small company, and we have worked hard to find people who share our values. This is not an easy task. But it pays off in knowing that we are working toward a shared goal that means something to each of us.

It's not about managing up. It's about being of service.