188. Critical Thinking: How to Build A Career You’re Proud Of Without Burning Bridges

Rules of Work by Richard TemplarPublished in 2003, Richard Templar’s book The Rules Of Work: A Definitive Code For Personal Success outlines 108 rules to make your mark and move up in the corporate world as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Here are a few foundational rule clusters outlined in chapter 1 to get you started:

First and foremost, your current station in life is nothing more than a mere temporary stepping stone to your next great leap, and ideally you should spend 50% of your working hours fulfilling your core job responsibilities, with the other 50% of your time invested in planning and preparing for your next promotion or entrepreneural project.

Spend any length of time in a company and patterns will emerge: from the secretaries to the sales teams, the maintenance crew to the big, big bosses, the way they walk, talk, dress and move through the office is congruent to their status and position within the company. Fail to notice and fit into the company mold, and your chances of moving up in the company are slim, regardless of your experience, education, and ‘how much better of a manager you’d be than your colleagues.’ Watch what the managers do, and then copy them.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on reading people and uncovering behavior patterns, watch my lecture Managing Age, Culture & Personality Differences, Jerks & Assholes, and read my interview with Brand Listener Peter Spear on how to ask people questions so you get the answers you want.

Also, Mark McCormack observes in his book What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School that:

  • The difference between people who are smart versus people who think they’re smart are that the people who think they are smart usually never make it past middle managerial ranks, blaming everything and everyone but themselves for their inability to move up.
  • Every person in your company has his or her own individual ego that must be managed, which usually explains why dumb ideas get implemented, why smart ideas get rejected, and why the entire decision-making process takes longer than it should.
  • Around 75% of any job are company-set responsibilities, and 25% your own personal style. This 25% is what you must exploit to stand out and develop a reputation for yourself.]

Simply copy/pasting management behavior might get you promoted once or twice, but that mentality won’t be enough for upper-management. You must take it a step further by becoming known as an expert in something unique, relevant, teachable, and transferrable:

  • Unique – your expertise must be a skill nobody else in the office can do, thereby giving you a monopolistic competitive advantage.
  • Relevant – your expertise must demonstrably improve the company and contribute to the bottom line.
  • Teachable – your expertise must be something that you can also explain and teach to others (while not giving away your competitive advantage). The ability to train and equip employees is a central managerial role in high-quality companies, thus making you the first pick for promotion.
  • Transferrable – your expertise must be applicable to other departments within the company, otherwise you will never be promoted because you’ll have become ‘too valuable of an asset’ to promote.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on monopolistic competitive advantage, watch the Y combinator lecture Competition Is For Losers; Aim For Monopoly by Peter Thiel at Stanford University.

For more on creating a recruiting competitive advantage, watch the lecture Human Resources Management: Mega-Trends of Competitive Advantage by Armin Trost at Hochschule Furtwangen University.]

One of the best ways to demonstrate your worth and promotion potential is to show you actually care by strategically volunteering your time and taking the initiative and looking beyond the little responsibilities you’re paid to do, taking an interest in the bigger picture of the company, looking for ways of improving the company’s efficiency and productivity (often referred to as lean management), and then turning your findings into competent and actionable reports for your bosses to read and forward to their bosses.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Ideas for improving your company’s processes may be as easy as looking at industry ‘best practices.’ For more on this, check out the book Best Practices: Building Your Business with Customer-Focused Solutions by Arthur Andersen, Robert Hiebeler, Thomas Kelly, and Charles Ketteman.]

It’s important to understand the importance of strategic volunteering: this doesn’t mean saying ‘Yes’ to everything you’re asked to; it means knowing which projects and tasks bring you closer towards your short- and long-term goals. Volunteering to help your boss’s boss organize one of her department’s filing cabinets may help you build a relationship with her, but how could that damage your reputation and promotion if that means uncomfortably and clumsily spending your entire day on your hands and knees with files spread out all around you looking like a complete idiot. Also, take into account that you may have been ‘volunteered’ because everyone else successfully found ways to ‘get out’ of being volunteered.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Referring back to Mark McCormack’s book What They Don’t Teach You At Harvard Business School, most CEOs are frustrated with their international divisions, which could mean a lucrative opportunity to move up quickly in a company while gaining invaluable international experience, but be wary of ‘opportunities’ to head up or take over aready-existing projects:

  • Failing projects may be unsaveable, and accepting to manage the project as it sinks will probably do more damage to your career than good, as you become attached to the failed project.
  • Likewise taking over an already successful and lucrative project may do little to build your reputation because any improvements you do make are likely to be insignificant, and the people who have already gotten the credit for the project may have already moved on to bigger and better things.]

Lastly, building upon the previous rule cluster, a great opportunity in strategic volunteering and relationship building is helping others fix problems because a “a clever man learns from his own mistakes, but a wise man learns from others’ mistakes… We all make mistakes, but the fewer you make the better.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on negotiation strategy and relationship building, watch the lectures:

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