Be a squeaky wheel…(with class)

squeaky_wheel

They say that the squeaky wheel gets greased. The message of this old idiom is that he who complains long enough will get what he wants.

In the context of an office environment, however, no one likes a complainer. At the office, complainer usually eats lunch alone. Or worst, he’s the first on the list of people to get the pink slips.

But that doesn’t mean that this old idiom should be ignored. There is some real wisdom in it. Said another way, it shows that  the most noticeable person is the one most likely to get the most attention. The key is in how someone is noticeable.

A corporate climber is someone who uses this idiom to her advantage. She communicates with her managers and other stakeholders. She asks questions often and seeks constant feedback.

When in a role, especially a new role or taking up a new project, it’s crucial that you demand (tactfully) of your superiors what is expected of you and maintain an ongoing communication with them with regards to issues you are running into.

Ask for feedback. Ask for counseling and coaching.

The quiet, new person who keeps to himself and whose work a manager has to correct is more likely to be shunned than the new person who constantly asks (smart) questions and stays on her radar.

The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

For example, once I had two new staff under me. One drove me absolutely fucking insane, question after question and second guessing everything, even my decisions. But as he worked he would keep me apprised of his situation and in the loop. He would seek help and clarification as soon as he encountered an obstacle or an issue. He made sure I reviewed his drafts and working files and that I helped him hone his deliverable to my expectations. In the end, his work was very good. It was always exactly what I wanted.

The other staff was quiet and solitary. I’d assign him a task, with an hourly deadline, and he’d go off on his own. No communication. I thought he had everything taken care of. Come deadline he had some half-assed work ready for me. I was not happy. Not only did he misinterpret my instructions and provided the wrong deliverable, I had to sit with him and spend hours helping him fix his mistakes. It felt like he just wanted someone to hand-hold him through the work. Eventually, I learned to rely on him less and to check up on him more frequently when I assigned him a task or project.

Moral is…make your own personal presence known among your bosses. Show you are active. Even if you are missing things and the numbers don’t add up, asking questions early and often avoids a lot of headache later. Being proactive  just shows that even though you need assistance, you are eager to learn and grow. Be the employee you would want if you owned the company.

Demand feedback.

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Portrait of a Klimber | Winston Churchill

Chuchill Photo

Sir Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Although he never worked for a corporation, he embodied everything that a Klimber should be.

He was born into an aristocratic family, but his family was by no means rich. He was born premature. He had a lisp all his life. He was raised by his nanny and ignored by his parents. In fact, his dad was an asshole who wrote off Winston as a disappointment early in life. He sucked at school. His life was full of failure … over and over again. But he never let life’s impediments stop him from climbing the social and political ladder. He used it to fuel his ambition.

Starting at the bottom of his country’s political ladder, he leveraged his parents connections, worked his ass off, worked the system and did pretty much whatever he could to reach the top at 10 Downing Street (that’s the White House of England).

Winston Churchill’s ascent to the top of the political ladder, overcoming many challenges along the way, offers many lessons that we Korporate Klimbers can learn from. Over the course of his 90 year life, he not only was a master politician, he accumulated a staggering number of achievements.

According to British historian Paul Johnson’s biography on Wiinston Churchill,

  • He spent 55 years as a member of British Parliament
  • He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom for 9 years
  • He took part in 15 battles and was awarded 14 medals
  • He was a prominent figure in the first World War and a dominant one in World War II
  • He was a journalist and war correspondent
  • He was an accomplished historian  and writer, publishing almost 10 million words … more than many professional writers in their lifetime
  • He was a well known and respected artist who painted over 500 canvases
  • He was a Knight of the Order of the Garter, Companion of Honor, Fellow of the Royal Society, a Royal Academician, Elder Brother of the Trinity House, a university Chancellor and a member of the Order of the Merit
  • He hunted big game in Africa (it was cool back then OK..)
  • He had a large and loving family
  • He raised and raced horses
  • He won the Nobel Prize

Simply put, this guy crushed it. Every. Single. Day.

But how?

In his biography, Paul Johnson offers us five lessons on ambition, leadership and the art of climbing from Winston Churchill’s life.

Lesson One: Always aim high. Look ahead and stay focused

Churchill always set very high goals for himself. He then assessed his shortcomings and worked his ass off to overcome the challenges.  As a child, he sucked at school and hated math. But he knew education was important so he overcame his aversion to math to at least get by. He had a speech impediment but he didn’t let it stop him from mastering the English language to become one of the greatest speakers in the 20th century.

His father died at a young age of 45. So he became hell bent on making a name for himself at a young age. And he did this with intense focus.

He sought to be prime minister feeling only he could achieve certain things. In 1940 he aimed not only high but at the highest – to rescue a stricken country in danger of being demoralized, to put it firmly on its feet again, and to carry it to salvation and victory. He did not always meet his elevated targets, but by aiming high he always achieved something worthwhile. – Paul Johnson

Lesson Two: There is no substitute for hard work and persistence

hell

Churchill never backed down from hard work. This is one of the reasons he accomplished so much in his life. He was always doing something.

He worked sixteen hour days and was known for going to sleep at 2 or 3 in the morning. He took jobs that were not ideal if only to get his foot in the door. Then he would excel, get noticed and be promoted.

For example, he wanted to start his career in the military so he applied for the Royal Military College. But he failed the entrance exam … twice. Instead of giving up or even continuing to keep trying, he figured out another way. After failing the exam for infantry, he applied for the cavalry instead because the grade requirements were lower. Then he worked hard to graduate eighth out of a class of 150.

During World War I, as a leader of the British navy, he was blamed for a disastrous failure of Battle of Gallipoli that effectively destroyed his career at the time. He lost his leadership post in the cabinet and had to resign his leadership position in the navy. Instead of giving up, he stayed a member of Parliament waited for his chance.

It finally came when Prime Minster David Lloyd George appointed him to the lowly position of the Minister of Munitions in 1917. He was responsible for making sure that the British troops were well stocked with guns, bullets and weapons to fight the war. It was a position that no one really wanted because the ministry itself was a disorganized, chaotic shitshow. But as soon as he got there, he worked day and night to transform it into an organized, well-oiled machine. He eliminated bureaucratic red-tape and simplified the process so the British soldiers on the ground never ran out of munitions.

Within two years, he was promoted and back in power.

Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential. – Winston Churchill

Lesson Three: Never let failures, mistakes, disasters, accidents, illness, unpopularity, and criticism, get you down

enthusiasm

This guy never gave up. No matter what. He failed. He got up and tried again. If that didn’t work, he figured out a different way to attack the problem.

As Johnson points out:

[Churchill’s] power of recuperation, both in physical illness and in psychological responses to abject failure, were astounding… He scrambled to his feet and worked his way back. He had courage … and fortitude. These strengths are inborn but they can also be cultivated, and Churchill worked on them all his life.

Remember how he twice failed to get into the Royal Military Academy. He got what he wanted by figuring out a way to go around this by joining the cavalry. He got his foot in the door, kicked ass and rose to the top.

He wanted to marry women that were way above his league. Two of them rejected his marriage proposal. But he wasn’t deterred. Finally, his third proposal to Clementine Hozier was accepted. They remained faithfully married till the end.

He lost five elections in his life. But he never gave up. He just ran from a different town until he won the next election.

He was kicked out of his leadership position in the navy after the failure of Battle of Gallipoli in WWI where 34 thousand British soldiers died and 78 thousand were wounded. After resigning from his position, he re-enlisted in the Army as a battalion commander. Under his leadership, his battalion became the most active of the British forces by leading 36 assaults into enemy territory in seven short months.

He sums up his philosophy in a speech to students at Harrow School in 1941:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy

– Winston Churchill

Lesson Four: Don’t waste time or emotional energy on anger, hate or revenge

Hater’s gonna hate …

Dogs

In life, you need thick skin. Being sensitive about every time someone said or did something mean is bad for your career.

Holding on to anger and grudges is bad for your health. Bad health leads to bad decisions and therefore bad career choices.

There were a lot of people who did not like Churchill. He was hated. He was back stabbed by members of his own party a few times. He was one of the most laughed at political leaders of his time. But he didn’t let anything stick to him for too long. This is why he outlived many of his opponents. He developed a thick skin.

Churchill wasted an extraordinarily small amount of his time [if any] and emotional energy on the meanness of life: recrimination, shifting blame to others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas. Having fought hard, he washed his hands and went on to the next contest. It is one reason for his success. There is nothing more draining and exhausting than hatred… Nothing gave him more pleasure than to replace enmity with friendship.

– Paul Johnson

Look, as you climb the corporate ladder and become more successful, you will inevitably cause resentment in some people and will become a target for others to bring down. Success never comes by being liked by everyone and by being everyone’s friend. But that doesn’t mean that you need to waste your energy on hating those who hate you.

First. It’s not personal. Those people who have a problem with you are driven by their own insecurities. They’re mostly just projecting their own self-hatred and self disappointment onto you. So, there’s nothing you can do to change it anyway.

Second. If you let it get to you, then you’re letting them win. You’re letting them control how much of your energy and time they get to occupy.

Your continued success will be the big ass symbolic middle finger that the haters will see and that my friends, will give you more satisfaction than anything you can do to change their minds.

Plus, by always being nice – even to the people who are mean to you – you can always go back and ask them for help. You never know when you may need them.

Lesson Five: Have a positive attitude and be an optimist

Life is short. If you’re ambitious it’s because you want the better things that life has to offer.

You’re not just working your ass off to benefit some company that’s going to forget all about you as soon as you leave. At the end of the day, the only reason you’re willing to put up with hard work, sweat, tears and a bunch of bullshit is for a better life.

So go ahead an enjoy it.

[Churchill’s] face could light up in the most extraordinarily attractive way as it became suffused with pleasure at an unexpected and welcome event… Joy was a frequent visitor to Churchill’s psyche, banishing boredom, despair, discomfort, and pain. He liked to share his joy, and give joy. It be never be forgotten that Churchill was happy with people. – Paul Johnson

Optimist

You work hard. You need to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Doing so will bring you happiness and give you a positive attitude.

No one likes a downer.

People are attracted to working with those who display a genuine positive attitude. The more people who are willing to work with you, for you and to follow you, the more successful you’ll become.

 

Don’t f#@k the drunk intern … and other career saving holiday party tips

office-party-drunk_SRS-Legal-230x300Holiday parties are back! Companies are makin’ money and the ones that aren’t being cheap are bringing back the holiday party in full swing.

While it’s supposed to be a time to hang loose and let your hair down, in reality, it’s the opposite. It’s an opportunity for you to show that you can be reserved and professional when you don’t have to be. It’s an opportunity to show upper management that you can take care of yourself and not embarrass the company if left to your own devices.

Holiday parties won’t make your career. But they can definitely derail it if you’re not careful and if you’re not on your best behavior.

Here’s how not to screw up.

Do NOT skip the party … or be really late

While there is never an obligation to attend a holiday party, don’t be that prick who’s too cool to attend. No matter how lame you think it is, you must go. The people who organize these i.e. most likely your boss(es) will notice. Even if they don’t, don’t miss the opportunity to show off your polished social skills and mingle with upper management.

Showing up extra fashionably late? You’re just being extra dumb. Senior management probably won’t stay too long. For them, this is not a time to hang loose. They’re still working. So, most of them will stick around for the obligatory hour or two and then make an exit. You do not want to miss out.

Married? Don’t take your spouse if they’re not invited. However, definitely do bring them if they are invited. Don’t have a baby sitter? Find one. They’re working? Tell them to call in sick. This is important to you. They need to show up and represent the hell out of you i.e. make you look good.

Which leads me to the one exception. If your spouse or significant other is incapable of making you look good in front of others, then save yourself and leave them at home.

Dress well

This is a no brainer. You’re going to a business social function to see and to be seen. So wear something nice. More importantly, dress with class.

Men | Wear a suit if you can. Even if others don’t. BUT…and it’s a big “but”. Make sure to wear a suit that looks good on you. Don’t pull out that 5 year old suit that’s too big or too tight. If you don’t look good in it, throw it back in the closet and go buy another.

Women | Dress to impress. Look hot without looking slutty. Tight fitting dresses are risky so instead, go with form fitting. When you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, it shows in your confidence. Just please refrain from showing off too much skin. Avoid making this about your body regardless of how sexy it is. Don’t allow yourself to get boxed as the “chick from legal with the hot legs.” It’s about you as the whole package.

Married? Make your significant other also follow the rules above. They represent you and your brand at this shin-dig. Don’t let them pull you down.

Don’t show up hungry

Yes, there will be food. Tons of free food. But do you really want to waste your time in the food line? Precious time that can be spent mingling. So, grab a drink, walk around and look for the key people you need to get in front of.

When you do eat, keep the items on your plate to things that can be eaten in small bites. Avoid looking gluttonous. You don’t want to be caught in the middle of a conversation with a big ass chunk of food in your mouth. Stay away from anything that is too liquid (gravy, sauces, etc) or anything that can stain your clothes if it falls.

Make sure you’ve got nothing in your teeth.

Control alcohol intake

This is NOT the place to get drunk. So go with a plan to stay attentive and focused. Know how many drinks it takes to get you from a good confidence boosting buzz to tipsy. You want to stay in that “confidence boosting buzz.” So as soon as you reach it, stop drinking. Get a glass of water or coke or something. Wait 15-20 mins before the next drink.

Notice that the senior leaders are either drinking water or other non-alcohol beverages or they will nurse their one drink forever. That means, their judgments are not clouded. Neither should yours.

Leverage your spouse…big time

Your spouse or significant other knows you better than anyone else in that room. They can help you raise your profile, both in the room and at the office.

First, your significant other is your arm candy. If they look good, you look good.

Second, your significant other can be a great cheerleader and marketer of your brand. Have them with you when you approach the big boss and her husband. While you’re buttering up the boss, your partner should work on their significant other. While you make a good impression on the lady who has an influence over your career, your spouse can make a good impression on the one person who has influence over the boss lady.

Avoid talking shop

While it’s inevitable that conversations about work will come up, play it smart and keep it light and high level.

  • Don’t bitch about work | by doing so, you’re being a downer.
  • Don’t talk badly about people | anything you say can and will get back to them or worse, HR.
  • Don’t pitch big ideas to the CEO | use the time to connect with her on a personal level and then subtly request if you can put some time on her calendar to discuss some thoughts (ideas) you’ve had. Most likely she will say yes. Leave it at that. Follow through the next day.
  • Don’t linger with one person too long | unless the person is your BFF at the office, don’t hog up all their time.
  • Have a list of people you want to get in front of. Make sure that you do.

Do. Not. Twerk.

If there is dancing, keep it classy.

This ain’t an audition for “Bring it On”. Keep the booty shaking, the soulja boy, the gangnum style, the harlem shake, the anaconda and whatever else you’ve got, to yourself. You may be the best twerker on your block. Your colleagues don’t need to know.

If you’re with a significant other, dance only (or mostly) with them. If you’re by yourself, dance with a group of people you are friends with. No grinding.

Again … keep drinking to a minimum.

No flirting … no hookups

This isn’t prom. OK? The goal of the night shouldn’t be to hook up with someone. Even if the opportunity presents itself like your favorite dessert on a diamond encrusted plate … just walk away. You are being watched and you are being judged. It’s not worth losing your job over or being the known as the creep that took advantage of poor drunk intern.

Some others

  • If sitting at a table, don’t leave without asking if anyone else needs something – we know you can’t carry it all.
  • Make an effort to walk around and say hello to as many people as possible. Don’t sit at one table for the entire evening.
  • Avoid cell phone use. Post to Facebook later.
  • If you do take a call, it better be from the baby sitter or the hospital.

The Korporate Klimber looks at the holiday party as an opportunity to leverage a career boost. I’m not saying that the holiday party is where you pitch your next big idea. Definitely don’t do that. But it is a great opportunity to set the stage for next year.

Just don’t screw it up and become memorable for something stupid.

The “Buy-in” is a little known but incredibly powerful tool for corporate success

buy-in-image

You’ve got a good idea. Maybe it’s a new software system to help automate time-consuming manual processes. Maybe you saw a complicated problem and figured out a solution. Or a new initiative aimed at improving current processes. It’s going to help many people across multiple divisions. Implementing it could make a crucial difference for your company and will make every impacted person’s life easier. You talk to your boss and she gives you the go-ahead. You are excited. You spend extra time at the office researching and planning. You do all the work. You create a power point deck to present to the stake holders. You put a meeting on the calendar and invite all the right people. Your research is solid. Your presentation is kick-ass. This is a high-visibility project that could even catapult your career. You can’t wait to blow the socks off everyone.

On the day of the meeting, you present it to the group. But you don’t get the response you were expecting. Instead you get confounding questions and some inane comments in return. The guy in operations who’s group would likely benefit the most, points out a small obscure flaw in your idea and unnecessarily makes it a huge issue. You try to explain that the roadblock he pointed out is minor and can be resolved. But at this point, no one is listening. Before you know, your idea is dead, shot down. You can’t believe it. This was supposed to be a no-brainer. You leave the meeting feeling frustrated at the lack of support.

What happened?

You failed to get the buy-in.

The concept of a buy-in is little understood in the lower ranks of the corporate hierarchy, but it is one of the most effective tools used by those at the top.

The idea of a buy-in is simple. It’s the execution that requires a lot of work on your part.

Wikipedia sums it up the best | “In management and decision making, buy-in signifies the commitment of interested or affected parties to a decision. The goal is to get the stakeholders to ‘buy into’ the decision, that is, to agree (in advance) to give it support , often by having been involved in its formulation.

So what does this mean?

It means you need to get everyone’s involvement and support before you walk into the conference room. Before “officially” presenting an idea in front of many people in a public setting, you need to meet with each person “unofficially”. In this unofficial meeting, take the persons through your idea and your presentation and ask for candid feedback. By discussing it with them privately, you give each person the time to absorb your idea. In addition, you give them an opportunity to privately voice their concerns and opposition and thus, give you time to tweak your plans and presentation. Many follow up meetings may be needed to get their buy in. But in the end, you will have secured support before you even step into the meeting. In a best case, they may even contribute to making your idea better.

DO NOT schedule the official meeting until you have every person’s input and support for your idea.

Listen. Unfortunately, it’s human nature to be self-serving and envious of others. No one, especially those who think you are competing against them at the workplace, wants to see you succeed if they can’t enjoy the same success or be a part of your success. They definitely don’t want to see you come up with great ideas and get a ton of recognition while they sit on their asses doing nothing.

Majority of the time, it’s not even on purpose. Much of human behavior is driven by the subconscious. Your idea may result in a change to the status-quo and many people don’t like change. Usually, in people’s mind, there is a belief system in place about how things should work. Not only are you challenging that belief, you’re telling them that it’s wrong and it needs to change. This makes them uncomfortable. So, it doesn’t matter how great your idea is. It doesn’t even matter if it’s in their best interest. They’re going to find a hole and shoot it down because a) there’s no way you should be getting ahead and b) it’s not aligned with their belief system.

And there’s your ticket. “It’s not aligned with their belief system.” You can work on that.

How? By winning hearts and minds. By gently nudging their belief system to align with yours. Get the idea in front of them beforehand and actively ask for their input. Another subconscious aspect of human nature is advice giving. People LOVE giving advice and opinions. It’s an instant ego booster. By asking for their opinions, you’re making them feel important and getting them to connect with your project at an emotional level [subconsciously]. And honestly, you may actually benefit from their input. As you go through and incorporate everyone’s ideas and even figure out how to address the comments and challenges from the naysayers, you can ensure that you get everyone’s buy-in before you even enter that conference room.

You do this and your success is guaranteed.