I worked for one director who became a director by dishing the dirt on his boss. As the deputy director he told the leader of the council that the director was having an affair with one of his assistant directors causing resentment and tension within the senior management team which was being picked up by people outside the department. His first act on being appointed director was to remove the post of deputy.
I have heard it said that there is no point in being an assistant director or deputy director except as a stepping stone to being a director. Since there are a lot more assistant director’s posts than directors posts then I guess there are a lot of very frustrated assistant directors around.
The career path of a director is rarely as straightforward as it appears in hindsight.
I don't think most directors started out with the aim of becoming a director. I was a social worker and happy to be one then when my team manager left to be an AD, having previously been demoted from an area manager post due to unauthorised comments to the press, he said, “probably this vacancy comes to soon for you." It had not occurred to me to want to be a team manager until he put the idea into my head. Ambition usually needs someone to express confidence and encouragement in you for it to grow.
I went straight from being a team manager to being a senior manager, proving you don't need to go through each tire of management to get to the top. I got the sack from my next post proving that an accelerated rise can led to over confidence and a predictable fall.
When I got the sack from my ADs post in a Housing Association a friend arranged for me to meet a colleague who had recently been appointed as a director, his advice, “don’t think of the next job but the one you want after that." I took a post in middle management and two years later I was again an AD this time in social services. I took from this experience that sometimes you have to move sideways before you can move up and sometimes you even have to take a backward step.
My sideways steps help me understand that a senior manager is like the conductor of an orchestra. You may start you career as a musician proficient on your chosen instrument but as a would be conductor you must become skilled at getting the best out of musicians who have skills you don't and will never have.
I applied for lots of directors’ posts, had lots of conversations with head hunters, made it from many long lists to short lists and attended selection processes in the North, South and Midlands and on one occasion in Wales. I didn't get the job. I assumed the time had passed. Another restructuring, libraries, museums and a range of other unrelated services added to adult social services. I found myself with the title of director without having to apply or be interviewed!
From my experience I conclude that getting to be a director is like being selected for the England team it depends on talent, who else is available and being able to fit into any system.
Blair McPherson former Director, author and blogger www.blairmcpherson.co.uk