Stealing the Corner Office

stealing the corner office book cover

Stealing the Corner Office (2014) teaches readers the real-world dynamics of career advancement, which include people, office politics and, sometimes, personal strategies that do not always perfectly align with corporate interests.

Summary

About the Author: Brendan Reid is an author and career coach specializing in the human and political side of corporate dynamics. 

Human Resources Don’t Hire Smart People

More intelligent people make us feel insecure and unhappy, and we’d rather avoid them.

Plus, they threaten our own success within the organization.

That’s why human resources don’t hire the smartest people they can find, but those who make them feel good and safe.

And the bigger the hiring committee, the more average and “safe” the candidate will be.
Says Reid:

This is the epitome of misguided consensus hiring. What are the chances 25 people could ever agree on a truly transformative candidate? In practice, large group hiring always favors the most likeable candidate or the candidate least likely to create discomfort or change.

And he ends:

Groups don’t make good choices. Groups for collaboration— yes, groups for decision making—no.

Focus on Career Advancement, Not Execution

There is a huge difference between executing and advancing.

When you execute well, you are helping the company meet its objective, but not necessarily your own.
When you focus on career advancement, you help yourself meet your objective, but not necessarily the company’s objectives.

The two sometimes overlap, but they are far from being the same.
Says the author:

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your company doesn’t really care about your advancement

Companies Are Doing Their Own Interest, You Do Your Own

Companies want you to focus on execution because that’s their job, that’s what they are there for.

Companies exist to deliver shareholder value, and it’s fair like that. If you invest your money in companies, you want them to behave like they behave.
It’s not companies that are misguided, it’s the workers who focus on execution instead of focusing on career advancement who are misguided.

Beating the competition, gaining marketshare, or even delivering shareholder value is not necessarily in your interest -unless you own a sizable chunk of the stocks-.

Take Care of The Shareholder of You

While the company takes care of its shareholders, you should take care of your own shareholders.
And your shareholders are different than the company’s shareholders.

Says the author:

Your number one concern should be your shareholders: you, your spouse, your kids, your pets. These are the people who have invested in you, not the bankers and venture capitalists and high-volume traders on Wall Street.

The Company’s Success Is Not Your Success

You know the idea of the rising tide, lifting all boats, right?

Well, I have already expressed my opinion on that with this meme in the “corporate lies” article:

huge yacht and small boat
Maybe you all win together. But the share of the spoils is what matters

The author uses another argument, and it’s the “chasing bear argument”.

When you’re rising because the company improves, you’re rising proportionally, but you’re not winning because everyone else is rising at the same pace.

He says that most opportunities present themselves during times of crisis and turmoil. 
The bear argument is that you don’t need to outrun the bear and win against the company’s competitors. You only need to outrun your true competitor: your colleague vying for the same promotion.

The 3 Types of Stationary Career Failures

The are three different types of good workers who still fail to advance:

  • The go-to guy: the technically skilled guy who works hard to solve any problem. It seems like a great strategy, it gives you some power and protects you against layoffs, but if you’re not careful, you get stuck doing back-end work while the exec gets the rewards
  • The passion player: has an idea or strategy, and they pester everyone to get it funded and prioritized. But those who win are analysts who get on the side of any winning idea, not this or that specific one -even if it’s yours-
  • The task master: he holds people accountable and pushed everyone hard to succeed. But mediocre people, who are the majority, resist tasks masters. The task master will become isolated, and make lots of enemies. The only exceptions are environments that welcome hardball management and creative conflict

Three Self-Harming Habits to Avoid

  • Social chair: organize social events, which served them well for popularity in high-school and college, but have no real values at work
  • Gossip guy: they complain about management, form cliques with those at their own same level, and associate with other complaining, “go-nowhere losers”
  • No-change agents: they crave continuity and hate change. They complain about the new processes, the new management… As if complaining was any likely to bring them back

The 3 Types of Incompetent Executives

  1. The Jack of All Trades: good enough to play different roles, but not super-focused on anything to remain stuck. He wins the biggest in periods of turmoil and uncertainty
  2. Mr. Big Picture: he has no good ideas of himself, so he cultivates an image of objectivity and impartiality. He does not get attached to anything, he relates all projects to the grand strategic vision, and never executes himself (he’s got go-to guys for that). He acquires power by conveying objectivity and rationality, which are both highly valued in business
  3. The Precision Passive Aggressive: they create an image of superiority. They don’t drive people hard, but create an image of being supportive. They seek to mentor and help, but only to look good

The 7 Strategies for Success

  1. Don’t be passionate about your ideas: Steve Jobs and Zuckerberg are exceptions. Be the professionally-sounding guy who assesses the pros and cons instead
  2. Embrace change: and embrace the new management, too
  3. Learn to promote your projects: before they launch show how it aligns with your influencers’ goals, get the critical people on board so they won’t shoot you down, and promote it while it’s running, then promote the results
  4. Focus on skills and networking, less on results 
  5. Avoid gossiping with the herd
  6. Find big problems to solve
  7. Avoid being a pushy manager if some results will make lots of enemies

Quotes

On the uselessness of social contributions:

Real corporate culture has very little to do with activities and events (…) When the time comes for reconciliation—at promotion or layoff time, social contributions are at best pointed to as the unfortunate downside of having to let a nice person go.

On ignoring the haters:

If you execute the correct change playbook, people will make fun of you and tease you for being a suck-up. Ignore them. Your career is not about making friends; it’s about advancement.

Let people know you’re learning, or you’re not getting the biggest bang for the buck:

The last point to make with respect to the learning calendar is that you need to tell people you’re doing it. Learning and not telling people about it is pointless for you career strategy. Sure, it’s great to broaden your skill set but if nobody knows, you’ll just be the smartest low-level manager in your company.

“You’ll just be the smartest low-level manager in your company”, LOL, that was a good one. 
I agree that learning for learning’s sake is not useful unless you can apply it in practical ways.

More Wisdom

  • Focus on networking and skills, less on results: results disappear you walk out of a company. Your network and skills will remain
  • Seek high reward/high risk assignments: being reliable year over year with good but non-visible work rarely gets you into the boardroom. Big wins do. Losses also seem less relevant when you have a few big wins on your risks
  • Seek big projects: you don’t have to necessarily lead them, which is also a risk. Just being in there will get you lots of visibility and networking opportunities
  • Crises and transformation projects are great opportunities
  • Only mentor if those higher-ups will know about it

Review

I am very glad I read “Stealing the Corner Office”, and I took a few important pointers away.

The biggest takeaway, which is the central tenet of this book, is that the company’s goals do not always align with the employee’s goals.

What the author doesn’t say as he focuses more on the practical side, is that there is an eternal struggle from employers to feign alignment of interests. Another area of friction is the company that wants more team-spirit at the expense of the selfish drives of each of their own employees.
The smart employees who want to go places should learn what those areas of frictions are, and thrive within them.

I also enjoyed the examples, and it would further improve if it were edited to avoid some repetitions.

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