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Climb fast without too much flash

How to step over people without them noticing

by on
in Leaders & Managers,Management Training,Office Politics,Performance Reviews,Workplace Communication

When you claw your way ahead, you’ve got to act like you’re above it all. You can’t let on that you care what your co-workers say about you or do to you. Radiate a low-key intensity so that people underestimate you rather than root for you to fall on your face.

How do you run a stealth campaign to become CEO? I have three rules: Never volunteer your failings; always follow through quietly; and use others’ ignorance to your advantage.

Kick yourself in private

You make self-deprecating comments to colleagues. You assume modesty will soften your hard edges and disguise your ambition. It won’t.

Bragging is a mistake, too. The best strategy is to produce superior work, period. Don’t characterize it. There’s no need to give color commentary on what a great or lousy job you’re doing every day.

If you realize you’ve got a weakness that holds you back, never volunteer it. If your boss mentions it in a performance review, acknowledge it honestly. But don’t tell others that you’re, say, scared of making cold calls or you hate to negotiate.

I managed an otherwise fine employee who joked about how she had “telephobia.” “I just can’t stand doing business by phone,” she would say. “I’ll drive an hour to meet someone face to face.”

I kept thinking, “Either shape up or shut up.” I didn’t find her self-criticism endearing. In fact, I respected her less for not overcoming this fear.

Hype vs. delivery

Showboaters hype their every idea. They boast about how they’re always right and gleefully point out when others are wrong.

If you want to prove how much brighter you are than your rivals, spend less time hyping and more time following through. Take your great idea and act on it. Then track the results.

For example, I once uncovered fraud in my unit. After I exposed it, the top brass said “thanks” and probably would have forgotten about it. But I set up a system of monthly audits on our computer network to ensure it wouldn’t happen again, and I personally submitted the reports to upper management.

This follow-though paved the way for my next promotion. The whole time, my co-workers didn’t view me as a threat because I operated quietly. I figured the less they knew, the better.

Act dumb and oblivious

Don’t claim you’re an expert on office politics. Rather than waste time gossiping, just produce better work.

Consider how many politicians claim they’re “outsiders” to persuade voters they’re not part of the “system.” We all know they’re full of it, but this way they can feign ignorance of all the nasty stuff that swirls around them.

CEOs are masters of fake innocence. They avoid the muck even as they dispatch allies to do their dirty work. They make sure they can say, “I wasn’t aware of that” or “I’m too busy to worry about that.” That way, no one suspects they would ever fling mud.

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