1. What is the single most important principle to have in mind to climb the career ladder?
The one key principle that has driven me throughout my career is simple: always, always add value. If you aren’t adding value then you are in the way. You are overhead. You are replaceable.
Now, I know what some of you might be thinking. That’s obvious. I agree. But I can tell you from 30 years of corporate experience, the vast majority of people don’t actually do this. In fact, they do the opposite.
I’ve been in thousands of meetings in my life and 99% of them are like this. Someone presents an idea, a strategy, a product, a way forward for the company and the vast majority of people either say nothing – particularly the junior ones. Or they think they add value and demonstrate how smart they are by pointing out all the problems in the plan. They say this doesn’t work or that doesn’t work and then inevitably the time runs out and they take off.
You know what happens to these people? If they aren’t the boss then they don’t ingratiate themselves to anyone. They become the people organizations think aren’t bringing real value. In fact, they’re the ones companies first consider replacing. Who to NOT promote.
So why do so many people do this? Because it’s easier than coming with solutions! Backseat driving is easy. Front wheel steering is hard.
Bottom line: if you really want to stick out from the crowd, Always Add Value – especially when you’re junior. When you are more senior you can be a little more like a back seat driver but that only works once you’re boss and people HAVE to listen to you.
2. What’s one thing I can do to add more value in my job?
You can add value by being the one to help your boss figure out the answer in a sea of questions and data. By separating the signal from the noise.
Providing a high signal-to-noise ratio is easier said than done because there’s so much misinformation out there. I know someone who constantly uses his grandfather, who smoked three packs a day and lived to 100, as evidence that smoking is not unhealthy. It’s an argument that ignores the possibility that his grandfather was an outlier.
This danger is intensified in this age of short attention spans, which, combined with laziness and the lack of bandwidth, results in people preferring not to delve into the details. That’s where you come in.
I’ve found a formula for success is to be a human Google—or Hoogle—by ingesting everything you can on a subject, then morphing into a walking CliffsNotes so you can help others easily understand a topic by providing a well thought out, succinct summary. I have found this to be the single best way for a junior professional to add value.
3. I hate office politics. Is there any way to avoid it?
No. Office politics is an epidemic in all companies. Show me a company that doesn’t have any and I’ll show you a company devoid of people.
It exists because people are complicated, are consumed with their own goals, and need others to get stuff done or simply get out of the way. Whether they realize it or not, they’re using every tool at their disposal to achieve their individual goals and engage in activities that shift balances of power to their gain.
I’ve found that the degree of politicization is directly correlated to the number of people in the organization—the more, the less merry. Gossip, innuendo, and backstabbing all seem to increase exponentially the more mouths there are to feed and the more hands in the cookie jar.
So stand ready, hone your peripheral vision, and cover your back lest a dagger gets stuck in it.
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- Breaking Bamboo: Setting Career Goals and Avoiding Own Goals
About the Author
Dave is a seasoned executive and entrepreneur who founded several companies in entertainment, investments, and technology, and worked on Wall Street for almost 25 years.
He started his career by joining a fledgling investment bank, Jefferies, when it had less than 200 employees. Today, Jefferies is a multi-billion dollar diversified public company (NYSE:JEF). He rose from the entry level position of Analyst to Group Head of Internet and Digital Media and was one of the youngest Managing Directors in firm history. As one of the only managing directors of color in the firm, he successfully broke through the Bamboo Ceiling. He not only worked hard but also played the corporate game.
Hundreds of bankers have worked for Dave during his career. He has mentored many of them who have gone on to some of the best business schools and companies in America. He is eager to share his knowledge with Asian Americans and other disadvantaged groups seeking to maximize their potential and achieve their career goals.