Career warfare Rule 4

Learn which one is the pickle fork

Manners matter. There are the type of manners that involve knowing which spoon to use at a formal diner, and the type of manners that demonstrate respect and compassion. Both types are important. The former type of manners are important because it is a part of the world in which the successful executives inhabit. Unfortunately, people will interpret cluelessness with respect to manners as cluelessness about your job. Hence why manners are important to brand. The latter type of manners are important because being able to demonstrate respect and compassion are the qualities of a leader, and as such will improve your brand, and come into consideration when it comes time for promotion.

Do not embarrass yourself

This is the most important rule above all. A single embarrassing moment is enough to torpedo your brand forever. The embarrassment may confirm something that has only been hinted at before – rumor may have it that you are are an alcoholic. Saying you’re going to a doctors appointment and being caught at the bar will torpedo your brand. The embarrassment may reveal hypocrisy and undo the reputation you’ve already built. If you’ve established a reputation for working hard and getting things done, but it turns out that all those WFH emails were really an excuse to go fishing, its not a good look. Finally, if you’re just starting out and establishing yourself, a single embarrassing moment may define you forever. Maybe you got drunk at the company party and vomitted everywhere and fled crying from the venue. This will cement your legacy, and not in a good way. So be extra careful and conscious of associating your personal brand with anything negative, negative, or embarrassing.

Don’t wash your face with a pancake

Dress appropriately for the job or you will not be taken seriously. This is more true in some industries than others. Learn proper table manners or you will lose credibility. There is an amusing anecdote provided in this section of the book about a woman wiping her face with a chinese pancake during a job interview. The rest of the interview went poorly because the interviewers had lost interest.

Making assumptions about people you don’t know can be fatal

While dressing well and having good manners is important to building a good brand, do not these same standards of criteria when judging others. Slow down and cautiously observe the people that you don’t know. There are countless stories of blunders – mistaking the wrong person as the CEO and ignoring the actual CEO, car salesman treating a customer poorly because the customer was dressed sloppily, only to find out they pissed off their biggest customer. The book provides a few amusing anecdotes. Also – keep any prejudices or bigotry to yourself. This particular piece of advice from the book has aged quite well. A quick glance at all the people who lost their jobs due to social media posts today should make that quite obvious.

Work with cocktail dresses and alcohol is still work

“Fun” time at the office is the most dangerous. Do not let your guard down. Even in offsite recreational events for fun, your behavior will be judged. Be incredibly cautious. Do not think that because there is alcohol, it doesn’t count as work. If anything, the presence of alcohol makes the danger to your brand that much more serious. People will remember and judge if you embarrass yourself. Be sure to avoid your boss. Spend too much time and you will look like a suck up. The longer you spend with your boss, the greater the risk of saying something inappropriate, especially with alcohol in your system. Say hi and move on.

Offsite meetings are the worst. Often run by training consultants, “the real snake oil salesmen of the business world”, these meetings are driven by an executive’s need to bring the org “family” together. But as mentioned before, work family is not “family”, and is always dysfunctional. Offsite meetings may be marketed as a time for relaxation and bonding, but they are anything but. Keep your guard up.

Keep your mystery

Keep your private life private. Avoid office romances. You have more leeway in the corporate world than in politics. Having an affair typically torpedoes your brand as a politician (Hi John Edwards), but typically won’t cause any issues at the workplace as long as you keep it to yourself. Do not bring dates to work events. You will be judged based on the company you keep. If you show up with too many different dates, you will be judged as a player, and someone not trustworthy. If you show up with the same person and they are well liked, you run the risk of pissing everyone off if you eventually break up.

This is especially why you should avoid dating at the workplace. Of course, office affairs and dating are a fact of life and happen all the time. But you would be wise to keep it on the down low. Breakups can lead to blowups.

Understand that marriage, unlike dating, is a public institution

Unlike dating, marriage does not remain private. Who you marry impacts your brand. “You are forgiven one divorce. You married too early, you grew apart, you spent too much time on your career. But if you blow the second marriage, its about you”. Someone who divorces too many times will be seen as someone who cannot keep their vows, whether work or marriage related.

Do not let your spouse speak for you. It will come off as weakness. Do not let your spouse nurture a grudge against your boss, and especially do not let them tell off your boss. That has never helped anybody’s career.

Treat your boss’s spouse as a proxy for your boss. Treat them with respect and as a human being. Not only is it the right thing to do, its the smart thing to do as well. If you manage to piss them off, they will find a way to ruin your brand. On the flip side, don’t be too friendly with them. There are conflicting loyalties at play here which can damage your career.

Patience is a virtue, maybe even the virtue

Be impatient for results, but patient in the way you handle people and situations. Listen to your colleagues with empathy before talking. Do not go for the second drink so you can remain in control. Do not brag about the affair. Take time to make your boss’s spouse feel at home. Having good manners means having the discipline and patience to stand back and take a deep breath before figuring out the right thing to say or do. Having good manners also means that you have the discipline and patience to become a great leader. Other smart leaders will recognize that, and it will benefit your brand.

Career Warefare Rule 3

Rule 3: Put your boss on the couch

Bosses all fall into a few generalized categories. Determine which one is your boss.

The Little League Parent

This type of boss acts as your parent. But do not fall under the mistaken impression that they are actually your parent. This is a dangerous way of thinking, because at the end of the day, parents love their children unconditionally (or at least they are supposed to). Your boss does not. To prove this to yourself, just do a bad job. Remember that any good work that you do will be a credit to your manager’s ability to hire and develop the best talent (Amazon leadership principle). If you look good, your boss looks good. The converse is also true. Do not forget that.

Now if you’re lucky, a little league parent boss acts as a mentor. Or they can be the bad kind of parent who makes you feel inadequate. Even in such a scenario, you can still learn much from them, as they may will teach you much, even if it is in a condescending manner. However, you can’t afford to have this type of boss beyond your 20s and early 30s, because you cannot develop a brand of your own under such a boss. If you don’t move on, you’ll be forced to regardless: At some point, as you presumably progress in your career and experience, you will start to question your boss more. Such a manager cannot stand this loss of authority.

The Mentor

This is the better version of the Little League parent. As mentioned before, work is not your family, and your boss is not your parent. A more apt analogy describing the bond at work would be military. A mentor will develop a “band of brothers” style team underneath him who will be fiercely loyal. This loyalty is earned by taking care of his subordinates. He is a rising tide, one that elevates the entire team. He protects you from the predators in the company, develops yours career, puts in a good word with the higher ups who matter, and when the time has come, helps you leave the nest and spread your wings.

The Wastrel

The mentor takes care of you, the wastrel wants you to take care of everything and do all the work. Yet even such a boss can be good. Because you’re doing all the work of someone one level above you, you’ll be given more responsibility. Leverage the tougher assignments as learning opportunities and a chance to meet powerful people, the people that your boss would normally interact with if he did his job.

The Pariah

This person is a hated enemy in the organization, but may have survived … so far. You will do well to keep your brand separate from your boss, as difficult as a balancing act as that may be. The key is to show that you are loyal to your boss, but also loyal to the company. Your brand should be that of someone who is useful not just to your boss but to the whole org. Make alliances with others. History is full of once popular bosses becoming pariahs, and his subordinates suffering the same fate.

This quote from the book stands out, and reads like something from the 48 laws of power: The most powerful king’s courtier is never given the same respect as someone who controls the smallest duchy.

Even if you have the best boss, and not a pariah, you will never gain as much respect as someone loyal to the company but also an independent power.

The One Way User

The one way user is the type of boss diminishes your contributions, claims them for himself, and doesn’t give you any recognition. These bosses are vain and concerned only building their own brand. They will use their employees, but forget that rewarding and acknowledging said employees is how to foster long term good will and loyalty. You will not be able to grow under such a boss. Recognize the situation, and find a new boss. Most people do. I’ve seen this before at work, and a tell tale sign is high turnover rate under such a manager, not to mention all the complaints on the rumor mill.

The Wimp

Indecisive and weak. Will not praise you for fear of losing you. Will require lots of hand holding, and reassurance on their decisions or emails, but won’t let you take initiative on any new ideas. In fact, the only time the wimp shows bravery, is in shooting down your ideas. Will tell you he has your back but then disappears at the first sign of trouble. He is the bureaucrat and dead weight of the organization. But of course will still try to claim all the credit. You will not get much done under such a boss.

The Know it All

This type of boss will never admit they are wrong, and will never listen. At least they won’t steal your ideas, but that’s because they think their ideas are the best. But when you implement their brilliant ideas and things don’t go well, you take the blame. Because after all, they are geniuses who know everything, so if something went wrong with their brilliant ideas, it can’t possibly be their fault. You won’t learn much from these type of bosses because they won’t let you think on your own. These types of people are terrible as bosses but even worse as subordinates. They can end up sinking the whole company with their brilliant ideas and inability to listen to feedback from others.

What can you do?

In the face of so much incompetence, arrogance, and abuse, what can you do? Your boss has all the power, but you are not completely helpless. Here’s a few things you can do.

Turn down passage on the Titantic

Don’t forget that when you go to an interview, you are also evaluating the company, team, and boss that you will be working for. Many bad bosses will have tells that give them away during the interview process. During the interview with the hiring manager, you might be criticized during the interview, or encounter overt hostility. A one way user boss will focus entirely on how you will benefit them. The boss might start criticizing people on the team. Guess what? You’ll eventually be a target of such criticism as well. Find out as much as you can about the boss, the team, and the company. Talk to other employees, ex employees, and read the news. Check resources like blind or glassdoor. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t take the job.

Get out of Dodge

As long as you are learning, the Faustian bargain of gaining experience and contacts in exchange for long brutal hours is worth it. However, if your boss sucks and your prospects are dim, go somewhere else. Staying too comfortable in a place after you’ve already learned everything you could at a position is going to lock you into mediocrity. Thinking that you can always change jobs and take on something more challenging in the distant future lulls you into complacency. Some day the distance future becomes the present and you’ll be wondering what went wrong. If you are no longer learning, adding to your brand, and if the company isn’t moving you up, its time to go somewhere else.

Make friends in high places

Even if you have a terrible boss, there’s a good chance other people higher up in the org have taken notice of you. For example, you are able to give a well thought out and detailed answer to a question from your boss’s boss, while your own boss cannot. Look for signs of sympathy, gratitude, and interest from higher ups.

Be careful though, and never talk bad about your boss. As stated previously, this is bad for your brand and makes you look untrustworthy. Furthermore, it is insulting to superiors, as it implies they’re unable to notice what’s going on. The exception to this rule is when a higher up directly asks you about the situation. In that case, be diplomatic but direct.

Finally, treat times of crisis as opportunity. Tough times and upheaval at a company will reveal who truly holds the power. In normal times, the hierarchy is observed, but in tough times, the people truly in power play their hands and step in to act. Those are the people you want to win over. You will also see just how much power your boss actually has. If they’re ineffective, it won’t be much. Crisis are also an opportunity for you to shine. Whenever there’s a fire, the people in charge will see who can get stuff done and who cannot. This is the best way to get out from under a bad boss.

You can enjoy a dish best served cold

Things may be bad now, but take comfort in the fact that someday you may end up in a position of power over a bad boss who once made life miserable for you.

Career Warfare – Rules 1 and 2

Career Warfare: 10 Rules for Building a Successful Personal Brand on the Business Battlefield is the follow up to the best seller Brand Warfare. This book is a pragmatic, if cynical guide, on how to manage yourself as a brand within the company you are working for. The book is self admittedly ghost written, but contains insights from CEO David F D’Alessandro, who gives a behind the scenes look at how things really work in the corporate world. The book contains many insightful and highly entertaining stories from his own rise to power; these notes outline some of the key ideas. The main idea of this novel is that working hard and hitting deliverables is a given. This is the minimum requirement for success. However, people on the management chain spend very little time thinking about you and your accomplishments. All your thousands of hours of hard work are condensed down to a few general impressions and opinions of you. A few casual offhand remarks made about you in a promotion meeting may decide your future. It is in these few and far between brief moments where your brand and reputation are the deciding factor. This ties in to law 5 in the The 48 Laws of Power, “So much depends on reputation, guard it with your life”.

Rule 1: Try to look beyond your own navel

Instead of looking through everything through the lens of self interest, add another layer of abstraction and view your actions in the same way everyone else will view them.

  • Instead of looking through everything through the lens of self interest, add another layer of abstraction and view your actions in the same way everyone else will view them.
  • Don’t flatter yourself and view yourself as better than you really are rather than how you actually are. Don’t make excuses for your behavior.
  • Get noticed by offering something to higher ups. Perhaps everyone wants the high profile tasks, but you can compete by taking on a more humble, yet equally essential task.
  • Halo effect – associate your brand with something good. Gain access to powerful people early on.
  • Think of yourself as a product. You cost the company a lot of money. Be sure to deliver the kind of high performance and reliability that is expected from a high end product: Earn money for the company, tell the truth, be discrete, keep your word, and make people want to work for you.
  • In a tribe, the hunter is the most respected. Likewise, not all jobs are created equal. The jobs or orgs that directly increase the company’s bottom line are the best ones to be in. Consider a hypothetical job at google where you are working on some internal software used by the teams, versus a job where you are directly working on google ad words.
  • Have a reputation for telling the truth.
  • Be discrete. Don’t blab. Leaks are common place. Do not write down anything that you would not want to have published to the whole world to see. Have a reputation as someone who can actually keep a secret and have the discretion to know when to share and when not to.
  • Always deliver. If you say you will meet this goal, then do it.
  • Be someone that people want to work for. Be able to manage down as well as manage up. Forget management theories, treat people as individuals who are motivated in different ways. Don’t pretend to be an expert at everything. Know what you don’t know, and hire people with diverse skills who can advise you on matters in which you are not the expert.

    My own thoughts: Some people I have seen are good at managing up, but bad at managing down. It gets noticed. There is high turnover and nobody wants to work for this person. This is in stark contrast to a manager whose team members will follow him across teams and even across companies.

Rule 2: Like it or not, your boss is the coauthor of your brand

  • The elders of the tribe eat first. Which means you’ll do the lions share of the work, and the upper management will take the credit and reap most of the benefits. You have to pay your dues first. If you can’t accept this, start your own company.
  • Your boss has the most control over your life. More so than your spouse even. You spend at least 40 hours a week at work, your boss commands your attention, your salary, what you work on, and more importantly your brand. Corporations are caste systems. Sadly, your brand is more at the mercy of subjective comments your boss says to his peers than objective measures of success. Recognize and acknowledge this power and act accordingly.
  • Bosses want loyalty. Don’t go above him or behind him. Snitching to a higher up is not a good look.
  • Bosses want good advice. Here you will want a balanced approach. Don’t go to either extreme of being a sycophant or a contrarian.

    Sycophants:
    “Other corporate people are sycophants not because they are actively terrified, but because they are naturally conservative and risk adverse. Their quest is to remain unnoticed, for the most part. So long as they are reasonably proficient at their jobs and keep their heads down, they are less likely to be called out of class then someone who speaks his or her mind.
    Their quest is to remain unnoticed, for the most part. So long as they are reasonably proficient at their jobs and keep their heads down, they are less likely to be called out of class than someone who speaks his or her mind. They want the kind of career where t hey will be rewarded with a 3% pay increase each year, good benefits, and a pension plan that makes sense. These are absoutely not the people for whom I am writing this book”.

    They make take some offhand remark and overreact to it, such as one executive who commented that he enjoyed some harp music at some event, and then got confused later when he saw harps at every event that followed.

    Don’t develop a reputation for being a suck up. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind and disagree with the boss. Otherwise you will be branded as mediocre.

    Contrarians:
    The sycophant agrees for the sake of agreeing, while the contrarian is the exact opposite. The contrarian will develop a negative brand because every interaction is unpleasant. Bosses will spend time figuring out how to get rid of you. Contrarians think because they are smart and well educated, that this trumps all else. Not the case, as many people in a large S-tier company will be smart and well educated.

    Goldilocks:
    These people are just right. It takes time to strike the right balance. Work for a lot of different bosses to see who is receptive to advice and who is not. Study your own boss to see how he handles his boss. Work long enough to understand your value and have confidence in your opinions. Timing is important too. Also, disagree and commit. This is one of the Amazon leadership principles. Let your boss know you disagree and why, but also let them know you will do as you’re told.

    If you’re asked to do something illegal, now is the time to go over your bosses head. You might lose your job, but better that than losing your career – your brand will forever be tainted.

    Finally, you have to differentiate yourself from the rest. Pick the key moment to do so, and it will help you stand out. Don’t overdo this, otherwise you become a contrarian.
  • Bosses want their brands polished. One thing that is especially helpful is to complement their weaknesses with your strengths. If boss is organized but lacks technical ability, bring technical expertise to the table. Your boss will use you, but can you use them in return? The reputation you want is as someone who is destined for greater things to come.
  • What do you want from a boss? To be trusted. You will start getting opportunities. Second, you want experience and learning early on. The money will come later. You want a boss you can learn from, even if its to learn how not to behave. Even having a problem boss is helpful, because it lets you easily identify such people in the future.