The Secret Code of Getting Ahead

May 28, 2018

The Secret Code of Getting Ahead

You can garner influence by using the techniques outlined in the previous post. However, you need to recognize a secret code about the pursuit of power. Not following them will doom your best efforts to implement these techniques.

Secret Code Number One: you have to pretend you’re not interested in power

Sounds weird, no?  But the rule is that it’s okay to be seen as ambitious in general not in the specific.

In general, it is usually considered good, praise-worthy even. Senior managers look favorably on an employee who wants to get ahead. So, if someone asks you whether you’re ambitious, it’s okay to admit to it. However, even then, it’s probably better to reply in the correct code (I’m certainly interested in doing all I can for the company) than a bald ‘yes.’

But ambition often isn’t acceptable when talking about a specific promotion or plum. If you said, “I knew you’d get that promotion. You’re so ambitious,” that person would likely reply something like, “No, no, I just want the opportunity to contribute.”[1] The savvy reply this way because they know it’s dangerous to be seen as succeeding in your ambition—that success might make you ‘too ambitious.’ I think people intuitively know that ambition is rarely if ever aimed at being a better person or a stellar people manager or sacrificing for the good of the company. Nope, ambition is almost always about more money, more responsibility, more status, more influence. It’s about power and it’s more often about ‘me’ than the group. So, the savvy camouflage their success.

In addition, the ‘too ambitious’ need to be taken down a peg. They’re the ones you allow to fail or at least don’t go out of your way to help. So better to deny ambition when faced with a specific career success than get the reputation for being power-hungry.

Okay in the abstract, but not in the specific.

Secret Code Number Two: don’t admit a power play is in progress, especially your own

Naked bids for power are almost uniformly frowned upon, world domination having gone out of style after the whole Hitler thing. So in the situation outlined previously, Mike didn’t say, “Let’s do this because it will increase my power.” Instead he said, “We should do it for the good of the company.” But you know it was really all about him.  So how come you didn’t say, “Mike, it isn’t good for the company—it’s good for you.”?

If you’ve been working for more than a nanosecond, you know why. Because it’s rude, because it would be the first salvo across the bows, because it would highlight disagreement and might start an ugly scene. So a power grab is underway that could hurt you, but you know you need to say nothing.

[1] And of course, there are people for whom that is definitely true. That is their only motivation. But we’re not talking about them. We’re talking about the people who are ambitious.

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