Employers will hire people they like over those who may be more competent at the job, according to a study published earlier this year. That’s a life lesson that apparently killed a promotion for the woman who achieved what may easily be considered the most impressive accomplishment of organization: she found Osama bin Laden.
The undercover thirtysomething analyst for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency apparently has a prickly, if clearly dogged personality – think Carrie, the lead character played by Claire Danes on Homeland. As the Washington Post details , she was recognized for securing the location of the al-Qaeda leader. She received a cash bonus of an undisclosed amount and was “among a handful of employees” awarded the agency’s prestigious Distinguished Intelligence Medal.
But then she committed a poorly executed strategic move in terms of office politics: She hit “reply all” with a scathing e-mail declaring that the award should have been hers alone. The Post quotes a former CIA official saying that the thrust of her message was, “You guys tried to obstruct me. You fought me. Only I deserve the award.”
Let’s set aside the too oft-ignored advice to pause at work before hitting “send” on those potentially damaging and quickly regretted e-mail (not that there’s any evidence the e-mail, in this case, was regretted). This apparent lack of team spirit has reportedly cost her a promotion that would have seen her salary bumped $16,000 (U.S.) a year.
As a few online commenters have observed, it’s reasonable to assume that what makes a brilliant, obsessive analyst may not be the same qualities that establish a good manager – though it’s not stated that the job was a management position, and the reason for the missed promotion isn’t known. There are also suggestions that the analyst might have ticked off her bosses because of contact with the filmmakers behind Zero Dark Thirty , based on the raid that the killed bin Laden. The movie features a female intelligence agent as the heroine, and this attention, the Post reports, caused “waves of envy through the agency’s ranks.”
But if it comes down to her personality, “do you know how many CIA officers are jerk?” the same official told the Post. “If that was a disqualifier, the whole National Clandestine Service would be gone.”
Do we really need everyone to be “nice”? How could anyone obsessively tracking a terrorist mastermind – a job which, according to the Atlantic, involved “recruiting spies and identifying targets for drone strikes” – not be “bull-headed” and a little prickly. In fact, it sounds like the requirements of the job, which by all standards, she executed superbly. It’s also not a stretch to imagine that in a male-dominated organization such as the CIA, such characteristics may be seen differently when it’s a female employee wearing them on her sleeve.
Are we putting too much emphasis on being liked over being competent in the workplace?