You’re Not Fooling Anybody

I’m sometimes perplexed and a bit put off when I see people making a big show about climbing the corporate ladder. You probably know the type—they tend to favor an elbows-out approach that blocks anyone else who might be trying to ascend. These are the people who load their plates with as much high-profile work as possible. They try to be on every committee and on the agenda of every committee meeting. And all too often, they leave the real work to be accomplished by the competent people who keep their head downs and just keep doing the heavy lifting.


Here’s a tip: we see through you.

This kind of behavior may have worked in the Mad Men era. The notion of “grabbing visibility” may even have been classic business training back in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But it doesn’t work in today’s business climate. Companies with a strong culture value a spirit of humility. Everybody works hard—that’s just how it goes. And we’d rather work side-by-side with people we can trust – people who bring the same level of integrity we do – than with shameless posers.

No doubt, there are still companies out there that lack a strong culture and that reward opportunistic showboating. But I can’t believe those companies, or the people they hire, are going to be viable for much longer. I’m lucky enough to stay in touch with a number of business leaders in a variety of sectors, and no one I talk to is impressed or fooled by ladder-climbers. In fact, today’s business leaders are just naturally more inclined to give important assignments to those ‘strong silent types’ who consistently deliver great work.

Maybe, as leaders, we recognize our younger selves in today’s hard-working heroes. And maybe, just maybe, we still resent those who buzzed around, talked a good game, but didn’t accomplish much. Don’t be that guy.

Unless you’re Superman, you can’t be good at everything.

The recent “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” movie has me thinking about superheroes — and how weakness isn’t necessarily a bad trait when it comes to teams.

One of the best things about the Avengers series (both the Marvel Comics and the films) is that it reminds us that even Superheroes need a team. Each member of the group has his or her strengths – a specific area in which they are “super.” But like all of us, they have vulnerabilities – and that’s when they can invariably count on the team to watch their back.

Superman blog Image

It may seem counter-intuitive, but in business, the most successful leaders seek out people who are NOT like themselves. People who make them uncomfortable. People who are better, smarter and stronger than they are in specific areas.

Leaders surround themselves with a diverse team of strong performers who, when teamed with others, perform as unsurmountable Superheroes.

In fact, if we continue to borrow Hollywood metaphors, think about how many films use this premise. In the “Dirty Dozen,” it’s a bunch of army misfits who become the crack team to infiltrate the enemy stronghold. Sure, they’re hard to manage. But they have the unique skills.

In “Cool Runnings,” it’s a Jamaican bobsled team. Not your typical Olympic contenders, but they come through. You can probably name ten more without thinking too hard. The point is, none of us is perfect, nor should we expect to be.

The proven approach is to assemble a team of motivated people with diverse skills and perspectives. Include some non-conformists who are committed to the common good and you’ll be surprised by what happens. Unless you’re Superman, it’s the best way to beat the bad guys… or simply stay in front of the competition.