Career Warfare Rule 10 Everybody Coulda Been a Contender; Make Sure You Stay One

Most people start their career with big dreams and ambitions. yet at some point their career grinds to a halt, with nothing to show for decades of work except a dull and forgettable personal brand. Middle age and mid career are especially dangerous, as your responsibilities outside of work are growing. Its easy to coast, become a cog in the machine, and wind up with mediocrity. So if you are not content to be a quiet quitter,:

  1. Don’t be a Generic, Be Tylenol
    Even though generic acetaminophen is cheaper than Tylenol, people still flock to the latter, because it has a stronger brand. Don’t turn generic in middle age, and don’t be afraid to part ways with more generic peers. Distinguish yourself from them.
  2. Get Back On The Horse
    You may get passed over for a promotion, but its foolish to give up after a few setbacks.
  3. It Never Hurts To Ask
    Ask your boss why you are not getting promoted, and what is needed to get to the next level.
  4. Never Sell Your Brand Short For Money
    Don’t sell yourself short. Once people know you can be bought for 5-10% of your salary, they no longer have to give you interesting opportunities at work or offer you career growth. They can throw a few trinkets to keep you happy. Don’t let the short term prospect of a small bump in pay keep you out of the running for bigger jobs down the line.
  5. If Lightning Is About To Strike, Make Sure You are Standing In An Open Field
    Sometimes life will hand out and give you an opportunity to shine. Although you can’t make lightning strike, you can stand in an open field. Position yourself so that you will maximize your chances. If your org is headed by executives close to retirement, then stay and do not accept the job transfer. Always be on the lookout for unexpected opportunities, and be ready. As they say, luck is when preparation meets opportunity.
  6. Gamble Shrewdly
    Sometimes you must make a bet on your brand. Taking on a difficult project carries with it risk of failure, but the payoff is huge. Your reputation will be that of someone who steps in when others could not or would not, and did the needful.
  7. Create A Brain Trust
    As mentioned in the book, Think And Grow Rich by Napolean Hill, create a mastermind group of people who have political savvy that you can turn to for advice.
  8. Tinker With Success
    Make adjustments and experiment on your brand. It is not too late to make changes. Don’t be too deadset in your ways and think that you don’t have to answer to anybody.
  9. Do Not Cross The Lines Of Integrity
    Do not lie, cheat or steal. The damage to your brand will be irreparable.
  10. Understand That The Unexamined Reputation Is Not Worth Having
    To sum up the book: “Be conscious every day of what you are building”. Every day you are telling others a story based on the words you use, the way you treat others, and how you look. You are actively building your brand, and creating the person that others will remember and think of. Be aware of what you are creating. Create through your actions; it is not enough to think you are a great leader. Show it and live it.

Career Warfare Rule 7 – Make the right enemies

This rule is similar to Law 2 in the 48 Laws of Power: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use Enemies.

There will always be people who don’t like you, simply by virtue of who you are. This is especially true if you are aggressively building your personal brand, taking on big projects, and getting things done. Success brings sycophants, but also foes. Making enemies is a fact of life so it is foolish to avoid making enemies, as the attempt to avoid offending anybody will make you boring and forgettable, the type of person who will be completely ignored.

Outrun the bastards. Concentrate on making your bosses life better, and detractors won’t matter. The best strategy is to move on to your next role before your current enemies can bring you down.

At other times you’ll want to fight back. Very rarely will there be direct confrontation from your enemies. Instead, they will attack from the shadows, using indirect channels such as gossip, rumors, and leaks. Look out for signs that someone is trying to take you down:

  • Phone calls take longer to be returned
  • Harder to meet with people that were once easy to get a hold of
  • People ask how you’re doing in a sympathetic tone of voice instead of the usual “What’s up?”
  • People will repeat the negative gossip and rumors they’ve heard about you, and will start using the same metaphors about you.
  • People start asking about your safety net, so they can feel better about what’s going to happen to you

Do not tolerate disloyalty. If you cannot get the one rebellious person on your team under control, it’s over. Your authority is undermined and you won’t be able to gain control over anyone else as well. When firing someone high profile, simply send out a memo saying that they “are moving on to pursue new opportunities”. The real reason for a departure will always come up in gossip. But make sure you make a strong example of someone who undermines you.

Sometimes, for your own self respect, you’ll have to throw out the rules, and confront an enemy. When somebody crosses the line, even if its your boss or somebody who is a powerful giant, you must strike back. Self respect is a critical part of your brand, and not speaking up and standing up for yourself or others during critical confrontations will come off as weak. However, be careful when dealing with lower level people in your org. Once you’ve reached a certain level, you must be extra careful and good to them, as your reputation will take a big hit otherwise.

Career warfare rule 6 – Its always show time

Rarely is a career made by one big event. Although it can be easily destroyed from one big event, as related in the previous chapters, a career is made day by day, through patterns established over time (As Jeff Bezos would say, trust is hard to gain, but easy to lose). How you deal with people, make decisions, work habits, strengths, and weaknesses, are what build your brand. There are the normal work transactions throughout the day, and then there are the transactions that deal with you and the impressions that you make. Even the small and mundane tasks throughout the day decide peoples impression of you.

This is why those who do not pay attention to the little things don’t see the gap between the reputation they think they have and the one they’re actually building. This is true in marriage as well. The boss is constantly keeping score, not just on the day of the game. As you go up the ladder, the little things take on even more significance. The competition at the top is narrower, so it is the little things that will distinguish you (at this level, everyone else is also equally smart and hard working).

Even before you arrive at work you will be confronted with decisions. What do you wear? What is your schedule for the day? What will you get for lunch? Think about these things consciously. Even on the commute to work, you will be building your brand. How do you treat the train conductor? The people who sit next to you on the public transit? The people that you carpool with? When you arrive at work, your interactions with the security and front desk also build your brand. Don’t consider people in the peripheral as unimportant. How you treat others is treated as evidence of your managerial abilities. Be on your guard, even during lunch. Others may take what you say and use it against you. Don’t complain about your job or other colleagues. If you complain about your manager, it gives others permission to complain about you. Take care in how you treat subordinates. They can differentiate between an urgent request and a show of power.

3 types of meetings

Staff meeting

The staff meeting is deceptively boring. Meetings are an important part of brand building, and staff meetings particularly so. The others in the room are whom you are going to be competing against when getting raises and promotions. In a staff meeting, the boss will be asking everyone for updates. Now is not the time to push for some new agenda or project and hog the spotlight. This is not the purpose of the meeting. Nor do you want to give out too much information that others could use against you. Keep things minimal, indicate you are making progress, and thank those who have helped you.

The staff meeting is also not the time to be picking a fight with others and pointing out flaws when they give their updates. The staff meeting is there to make the boss feel good, like the proud parent of a family, and not to see the kids fighting. You also don’t want to make a permanent enemy. Weaker fish will team up to take out a stronger competitor. If this person is actually bad, then nobody else will like them either, and they’ll eventually get managed out. But if they’re actually good, then attacking them is not good for your brand. Orgs prefer harmony, and demonstrating your value is better than confrontation.

Get something done meeting

Your role as the lead in a get-something-done meeting is to let the creative types dominate. If you stomp on people’s presentations or ideas, you will make a bad impression. Better to diplomatically shoot them down with code such as “I need to think about it”. Be a despot in these meetings so people stay focused, but not so much so that you crush the flow of ideas.

A combat meeting

This is the type of meeting where you are fighting for your career. An approval or budget meeting would be a prime example, as this dictates what you can get done. Anytime there is money involved, be prepared to fight. Just because something is logical does not mean it will be approved. Not only must you gather the data to support your case, you must know who is in the room – their power level, intelligence, and agenda. Be ready for sabotage. Be ready for self sabotage. Know when it is time to concede defeat. Know also when you have achieved victory – do not sell past the close.