Whatever happened to just doing your job well?

By Jim Bright

There are five major strategies for getting on in your career: sucking up; networking; being liked, being feared and doing your job well. These strategies are not completely independent of each other, of course. The boss’ daughter may be both feared and well-networked. Plausibly, but less likely, they might be liked or even good at their job.

Why do people find it so hard to accept that sucking up to the boss is such a potent success strategy? It is the ultimate egalitarian approach. Everyone can suck up if they try.

Sucking up and networking can be very effective ways to get ahead, but there’s only one method that doesn’t require you to sell your soul.
Sucking up and networking can be very effective ways to get ahead, but there’s only one method that doesn’t require you to sell your soul.Credit: Daniel O’Brien

Of course, the extent to which one can suck up is unfairly biased toward those whose lives are otherwise uncomplicated, being either unattached or with a supportive partner that does the domestic heavy lifting.

Single mothers, unless they are already loaded and able to outsource their domestic responsibilities, are less likely to be able to work back, take calls at any time of the day or night, drop everything for an interstate/overseas business trip, work weekends, turn up to the golf days, or schmooze the Wednesday, Thursday, Friday after works drinks. Actually, the industrial level sucking up that leads to promotion is heavily in the gift of younger, probably male players.

I once “joked” to Lachlan Murdoch while we were boarding at LA International Airport, expressing my surprise that despite his power, he had no one to push the family baggage for him. His reaction, such as it was, was not dissimilar to that of a minor royal being served the soup by a flatulent waiter. As networking techniques go, it was about as effective as Barnaby Joyce making a phone call while sitting on a planter box.

Clearly, my networking skills require some honing because having the right contacts can get you into the pointy end of the plane faster than you can push a baggage trolley. Getting your face in front of key people in your industry is a chance to impress or, at the very least, raise awareness of your existence.

Being good at what you do is not only psychologically satisfying, it does not genuinely require you to sell your soul.

Often that can be sufficient when the time comes for your name to get added to the shortlist. The confidence that comes from knowing you can always phone a friend should not be underestimated.

Of course, networking takes time, just like sucking up. It is an uneven playing field, with the usual suspects of the old school tie, the boys club, and young males having the advantage.

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Being liked or being feared are, respectively, weaker and riskier advancement strategies. Being accepted is probably far more important than being liked, which risks the contempt of familiarity. Being feared works. As much as we’d like to believe that bullying does not pay, it clearly does. Otherwise, it would not be so prevalent in the workplace.

Of course, it comes with significant risks, and while sadly only a minority of bullies are brought to book, it does happen, and increasingly so. It can also damage networks.

Finally, I suppose, if all else fails, you could try to be good at your job. I know it is a hopelessly fanciful suggestion that excellence may be rewarded with advancement, but just occasionally, it does work.

Not everyone in the workforce has “risen without trace”. In fact, in the longer term, it pays off. It also is rewarded with respect and the chance of a legacy of good work. Being good at what you do is not only psychologically satisfying, it does not genuinely require you to sell your soul.

Dr Jim Bright FAPS owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy, and is director of evidence & impact at BECOME Education an Ed Tech start-up www.become.education. Email to [email protected]. Follow him on X @DrJimBright

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