Passed over for a promotion he had earned by a back-slapping (and back-stabbing) colleague, Mac Vallely seethed as he headed home on the 5:43 commuter train. That’s when he met “Z” – the man whose advice would change his life …
Dear Fellow Executive,
If you’d walked past Mac Vallely a year ago, you’d have kept on walking.
Average height. Thinning some on top, getting a little thick around the middle. His car is five years old, as are most of his suits. Gets along with everyone at work, but has no mentor, or protégé. If you had to describe him as a color, it’d probably be beige.
But there’s one thing that makes Mac special. He’s good at his job. Scratch that – he’s great at his job. He is universally respected by both his colleagues and his bosses. So when an assistant VP slot – the #3 job in the company – opened up last year, Mac figured he was a shoo-in. After all, he had glowing evaluations, a solid track record. He had worked hard, and gotten results. In short, as he told his wife, he’d earned this promotion.
A month after the job opening was announced, and after having what he thought was a go-through-the-motions interview, Mac bumped into the senior VP in the coffee room. “Hi, Vince, how’s it going? Did you want to sit down and talk about the job sometime?” he asked.
“Job?” the boss replied.
“Yeah, the assistant VP.”
“Right, right,” came the response. “Let me get back to you on that, Vallely. I’ve been absolutely swamped with the Lundberg deal lately.” And he was gone in a swirl of styrofoam cups and nondairy creamer.
At first, Mac took the older man’s comments at face value. But later, back at his desk, he started to put things together. Vince had always addressed him as “Mac” before – never by his last name. And the Lundberg contract had been put to bed three weeks ago – and it was Mac who’d done most of the heavy lifting. Then, Mac recalled seeing Vince at a local restaurant with Gregg Ellis, a glad-handing colleague whose work was often sloppy and incomplete (unless he got Mac’s help).
“Damn it,” Mac realized. “He’s lying to me.” His legs felt weak, and a knot formed in his stomach. If you had to describe him as a color, it’d probably be gray.
Sure enough, two days later the announcement came down from on high: Gregg Ellis was the new assistant vice president. Mac put on a good face, warmly shaking Gregg’s hand and smiling when his new boss described Mac as “my strong right hand.”
“I’d like to give him a strong right hand,” he thought, but kept those feelings to himself.
At least until he got on the 5:43 train out of the city.
And that’s when I heard Mac’s story.
Who am I? Well, let’s just call me “Z.” Chances are you’ve seen me interviewed on a cable business channel, or read about me in the press. Over the years, I’ve risen through the ranks to head my own $20 million communications company. Part of the reason is that I’m smart, and part of it is good, old-fashioned hard work. But there are a lot of smart, hard-working people out there. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them. And so is Mac.
For years, I’ve been wanting to tell my story. So, a few years ago, I agreed to write a tell-all book. The publisher agreed to maintain my anonymity. And in return, I agreed to hold nothing back.
The truth is that smarts and hard work alone won’t get you into the corner office. There’s another reason I’ve gone from a steady job to an exciting career … from a good life to an envied lifestyle … from a decent salary to a lucrative compensation package …
The reason? I play office politics, and I’m good at it. Damn good.
People who fail come in all shapes and sizes. During my years in business, I’ve seen them all. Some rose through the ranks quickly, only to stall and drop for good like punctured balloons. Some were geniuses who perennially were underappreciated and not rewarded enough. But most were simply hard-working people with good ideas and instincts who got permanently stuck in ruts.
I’ve also seen a handful of people who – regardless of education, intelligence, manners, appearance, or other obvious factors – rose steadily through the ranks and then stayed on top through fat times and lean. They were the type who, consciously or instinctively, knew the art of political survival.
As Mac recounted his sad tale – he’d been screaming into his cell phone to a friend until the conductor shushed him, but he just couldn’t stop talking – I listened intently. He was flushed and enraged. If you had to describe him as a color, it’d probably be red.
I reached into my attaché case, and showed Mac my dog-eared copy of The Black Book of Executive Politics. I flipped to the section entitled “Recognizing Secret Agendas, Hidden Backstabbers,” and handed it to him. Mac read for about eight seconds, and then his eyes grew big as quarters. “Hey, he did that!” And a moment later, “He did that too, the snake!”
This section was sandwiched between “How to Spot Deceitful People” and “Deal Diplomatically With an Opponent – and Get Even if You Have to.” Mac started to read them, but his stop was next.
“Can I borrow this?” he asked.