1. Early Lessons in Leadership

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.