Blog by Julian Summerhayes. 600 words.
Truth is, you can’t.
We all know that you have to play the game, it’s just that some people seem to get more satisfaction from the internal warfare than they do from delivering WOW client service.
I am not sure how to describe my journey with the internal jostling and sucking up. Part of me would like to think (smugly) that I ploughed my own furrow (“I’ll show the bastards”) but perhaps the more sanguine part of my personality would, as likely, replay some of my more cringe-worthy moments, where I thought the only way to get on was to play the game and some more. Either way, it didn’t benefit me. And, if anything, it made me even more resolute in the end that I wasn’t cut out for corporate life because I couldn’t be the real me.
But less of my travails. One thing is clear to me: the only way to militate the shenanigans is to become so indispensable that you don’t have to play the game, or more generously, you can play you old sweet game.
Your strategy has to be focused on winning clients, serving those clients with matchless enthusiasm, not screwing up, getting the bills paid and carving out such a profitable niche that no one dare lay a glove on you. I can think of at least one partner who is so, so effective at billing (remember money will always talk louder than your actions) that no matter how erractic his personality, he is able to stay a smidgen inside the line, sufficient not to lose his place in the gravy train.
As a ‘junior’ you may think this an impossible task – admittedly billing might be hard to come by in the early years – but don’t let that stop you from volunteering for every shitty job on your watch. You may be wise to take some acting classes because you need to make sure that the mask doesn’t slip but, trust me, as someone who worked and worked his butt off, you will find after a while that good things will start to happen and you will feel less of a need to play to someone else’s fiddle.
On a practical level, make sure you keep copious notes and a detailed record of your activity. Trust me once you get labelled as a ‘contrarian’ or part of the ‘awkward squad’ there will be a legion of people with your scent at the end of their “we will take him/her down” nose. More crudely, if they can find a way to shaft you they will.
All this might sound like damned hard and emotionally challenging work but, over time, you will find that you shield yourself from some of the worst excesses of the office games, particularly involving those individuals who think the only way to get on is to suck up so much that they go blue in the face. In my experience these individuals are scared to death of expressing any opinion that they think doesn’t chime with the firm message. Sorry, but life is too short to live it according to set of rules, strap lines and sound bites that usually are designed to please the highest number of people but end up pleasing no one because they are just so bland.
In summary, build super-strong bridges with the outside world, win some trophy clients and work like hell on bringing home the bacon. You won’t quite be Teflon proof but you may just find that you have more than a few aces up your sleeve.