In my experience, the biggest reason talented managers don’t advance as quickly as they should is that they don’t fully understand the playing field they’re on. We make false assumptions about corporate dynamics which cause us to build sub optimal strategies for our advancement. We all want to believe companies act with logic and fairness. We want to believe they identify and reward hard work, talent and passion with career advancement. We build our career strategies based upon these assumptions. Unfortunately that is not how corporations work in reality. As much as it may sound cynical, your experience will likely tell you the same. In actual fact, most corporations function in a manner which actually favors the Incompetent Executive – a concept I speak about at length in my book Stealing the Corner Office.
We speak about companies with a certain assumed respect for operational integrity and logic. The media reports on corporate strategy and execution as though it’s mechanical and well-conceived. But it doesn't take more than about six months working in middle management inside a typical corporation to realize that all companies are flawed from top to bottom. And this is not about hating on corporations either, this is about accurately assessing the environment you’re contesting your career in so you can make good strategic choices.
Corporations after all are comprised of people and people care about personal security over everything else. And most of us are not logical by nature, we're instinctive. We opt for self-preservation over and above any notion of corporate allegiance. And most importantly, people make up the decision making engine for the company. Human beings, not a corporate entity, will ultimately determine the fate of your career. As you might imagine, this has major implications on your strategy for career success as well as your priorities at work on a day to day basis.
Should you be focusing on short term results or expanding your skills?
Should you be aggressively pushing your ideas or dispassionately presenting alternatives?
Should you be holding your peers accountable or finding ways to help them?
Early on in our careers we assume a certain logical order of things in business. We use terms like ‘meritocracy’ to describe how things should work. Should – yes. Do – no. If a widespread corporate meritocracy in fact exists then the scoring system it uses runs counter to any rational definition of merit. What we see when we examine the tactics of successful people - the competent and incompetent alike - is that the most powerful strategies are designed to win on a very human playing field which often times can run counter to the conventional tactics we've been taught are the secrets to get ahead.
If you want to learn more about the tactics people use to navigate and win in the corporate world we really work in, check out Stealing the Corner Office.