An employee works on his computer at the office of CloudFactory, a Canadian startup that based itself in Kathmandu.
Avoid staff jobs, seek line jobs
Line jobs make money for your corporation. Line jobs bring in money or have direct relationship with profits and loss.
The distinction between line and staff is sometimes blurred in corporations, but line jobs are where the action is.
Line jobs include salespeople, sales managers, product managers, plant managers, marketing directors, foremen, supervisors, and general managers. Staff jobs include lawyers, planners, data processing people, research and development scientists, and administrators of all types. Line jobs directly help the company get and keep customers. Legitimate staff jobs indirectly get and keep customers. Jobs that don’t get and keep customers are redundant.
In most companies, most of the people are either in administration or in field sales. Administrative people are not bad, nor untalented. But they are not at the cutting edge. The company doesn’t depend on them.
Take a staff job only if it is clearly temporary, a stepping stone, and if it pays more money.
Be sure you know what the line and staff jobs in your company are. Be sure to get the right one.
Do something hard and lonely
Regularly practice something Spartan and individualistic. Do something that you know very few other people are willing to do. This will give you a feeling of toughness, a certain self-elitism. It will mentally prepare you for the battle of business.
Something that is hard and lonely is studying late at night for a graduate degree in fashion design, especially in the winter, when everyone else is asleep. Or running long, slow distances early in the morning (versus jogging at lunchtime with a mob).
Split wood, write, work in the garden, read King Lear, but do it by yourself. Do something that is solitary.
All great and successful athletes remember the endless hours of seemingly unrewarded toil. So do corporate presidents.
Think for one hour every day
Spend one hard hour every day planning, dreaming, scheming, thinking, calculating. Review your goals. Consider options. Ponder problems. Write down ideas. Mentally practice your sales call or big presentation. Figure out how to get things done. Take mental stock.
Do this every day. Do it at a scheduled time. Do it at a desk or working table. Do not do it while driving or jogging. Don’t do it while shaving or showering. Don’t plan on this kind of thinking at work; you will be interrupted.
Keep written notes in your special “idea notebook.”
Nothing good happens to the people around you when you smoke cigarettes. You run a big risk of offending a nonsmoker who can help or hurt your career. Even smokers dislike the smoke and ashes and butts and dirty ashtrays and smell of smokers.
In addition to all the well-known, well-publicised arguments against smoking, there are other specific business reasons not to do so. Smoking wastes time. Smoking is a self-centered interest. To get ahead in business you have to think of others, their needs and wants, not yours. Smoking interferes.
Cigarette smokers are, or appear to be, controlled. Winners in business are in control.
Smoking cigars is OK … if you are alone or with friends. Smoking an expensive cigar in the purview of a corporate chieftain is a mistake. The corporate chieftain will see you as pompous, as self-important, as having or spending too much money. If the boss gives you a celebration cigar, save it. You probably haven’t yet earned the right to smoke a victory cigar.
Don’t take work home from the office
Your home hours are for listening to your family, studying, planning, expanding your interests, and pitching batting practice to your kids. If you always have to take work home you are: (a) not managing your time properly; (b) boring; (c) wasting your precious nonwork hours; and (d) all of the above.
A very busy, and very good, advertising executive was always bringing home tons of work. Her elementary-school-age daughter, noting all the extra work her mother felt compelled to do, asked her innocently, “Mum, maybe you belong in a slower group?”
It is de rigueur for executives to take work home. But except for the reading of unimportant memos and ancient history (a.k.a. monthly reports), no real work is ever done. Your senior management may note you don’t take work home (even though you do bring your briefcase) and decide to give you more projects and responsibility. And that’s good.
Send handwritten notes
Impersonal communication pervades. There is fax mail, email, junk mail, voice mail, instant messaging, instant photos, PINs, ATMs, talking appliances, digitized everything. Greeting cards are prewritten for you. No one composes their own “roses are red, violets are blue” Valentine’s Day cards. Even Christmas and holiday cards are electronic. How insincere is an email blitzed Christmas card? And if you don’t respond to the leaping, singing reindeer, the card will keep reappearing bugging you to hit “play.”
Handwritten notes stand out. They are digitalis for the digital world. They will differentiate you, mark you as a person of manners and merit. They are personal, of the gracious past, and never out of style.
There are endless occasions that warrant a handwritten note: thank-yous, praise, congratulations, regrets, for your information, thought you’d like to know, your presentation was just great, and your cassoulet was world class.
Go to a good stationery store. Order a box of exceptional quality cards and envelopes … with your name on the cards and your address on the envelopes. Keep the box in your desk, and carry some in your briefcase.
Send one handwritten note a week … for starters.
Always say “yes” to a senior executive request
The time management books will tell you this is wrong, that always saying “yes” weakens your control over time. But always say “I can do it” when a top guy asks. Even if he asks you to water the plants in the lobby, do it.
Listen carefully to the request. The guy might be suggesting a solution, not stating the core problem. However, what he really wants is the problem solved. Evaluate his solution to see if it fits the need. If not, provide a different solution, and get the real job done.
No matter what the request, give him more than he wanted, sooner than expected, and with your own touch of personal innovation.
Find and fill the “data gaps”
In business when someone says “I think” or “we believe” or “it’s my opinion” that means they don’t know. Identify what you don’t know and what your organisation doesn’t know. These are “data gaps.”
Don’t be misled by the clever articulation of bright people in the company who only talk to each other and never leave the office. Get the facts. Talk to customers and users.
People who know they cannot possibly know everything but are willing to work hard to find the data succeed.
Be a credit maker, not a credit taker
Give everybody 100 per cent credit for the work they do. If you have five people reporting to you and each gets 100 per cent, you get 500 per cent. That’s the way it works.
It’s like building a house: 100 per cent for the guy who puts in the foundation, 100 per cent for the roofer, 100 per cent for the electrician, and the contractor gets the sum of the parts.
Many managers don’t understand this. They think if their people look too good, they will be diminished. They think they have to have some of the credit, especially for the fantastic roof. So they steal it. They tell their boss, other superiors, colleagues, and even the guy who did the work that they were really responsible.
The credit taker is insecure, dishonest, and known to all. Even the cleverest credit taker is ultimately found out. He is found out first by the people who work under him. Then, albeit slowly, by the rest of the organisation.
Give proper credit and you will become known as a credit maker, as somebody who gets things done, as a person to work for. Your people will work very hard, as they know they will be fairly recognised.
Look sharp and be sharp
A little vanity is good. Look after yourself, and keep an attractive appearance. Stay trim. Get your hair cut properly. Avoid garish and faddish and cheap quality clothes. Maintain a healthy out-doors look. Get rid of the jailhouse pallor.
Don’t be sickly. Think healthy. Take vitamins. Exercise and eat properly. Recognise unhealthy stress, and find ways to relax and reduce stress. Get an annual physical.
Have a bright smile. Brush your teeth, and have fresh breath. Get your teeth fixed, and get braces if you need them. Keep your hair, hands, and fingernails clean. Eliminate dandruff, and avoid heavy cologne.
Polish your shoes regularly. Put a fresh flower in your lapel, if you wish. Put a lilt in your step.
Be up. And smile.
Become a member of the “shouldn’t have club”
People who belong to the “should have club” are always saying, “I should have done that”; “I could’ve done that”; or “I would have done that.” The “should have club” is full of nondoers, the risk averse. They never go for it. They are so afraid of losing, they never plan to win.
The “should have club” is boring. The members never get cut or scratched. They never miss a shot in the last second. There are no reprimands, and they make no waves. There is not a Derek Jeter or Serena Williams or Lionel Messi in the “should have club.” The “shouldn’t have club” is the place to be. This is the winners’ circle. Each time you admonish yourself with “Gee, I shouldn’t have done that” there will be ten other times when the results will prove you should have.
No guts, no glory.
Excerpted from How to Become CEO by Jeffrey J. Fox with permission of Hachette Book Group (2015 Revised Edition).
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