Career Warfare: 10 Rules for Building a Successful Personal Brand and Fighting to Keep It

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David D'Alessandro, Chairman and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, is famous for his frankness and his ability to spot the weaknesses in conventional wisdom. In Career Warfare (McGraw-Hill, 12/26/03), this insider spells out the unwritten rules of organizational life, the real truths even the best boss won't tell you.

Author of the best-selling Brand Warfare (2001), D'Alessandro offers a keenly observant guide to the subtle reasons why ambitious people perish, stagnate, or...

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David D'Alessandro, Chairman and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, is famous for his frankness and his ability to spot the weaknesses in conventional wisdom. In Career Warfare (McGraw-Hill, 12/26/03), this insider spells out the unwritten rules of organizational life, the real truths even the best boss won't tell you.

Author of the best-selling Brand Warfare (2001), D'Alessandro offers a keenly observant guide to the subtle reasons why ambitious people perish, stagnate, or flourish in any organization, large or small. Consider this classic nugget from Career Warfare: "It may shock you to learn that the people in a position to actually do something about your career do not think about you all the time. I guarantee that they think about you only one-tenth of one percent of the time you spend thinking about yourself."

D'Alessandro argues that if you want to get ahead, you have to make it easy for powerful people to trust you with new opportunities. You have to make a name for yourself and establish the kind of "personal brand" that commands respect. Of course, you also have to work hard and accomplish things; that goes without saying. But are you seen as honest? Focused? Fearless? Do you have a gift for making work fun for the people you manage? It is these qualities that will set you apart from your equally hard-working and accomplished peers.

Yes, there are a few dramatic moments of victory or stupidity in every career, but D'Alessandro says it is your day-to-day patterns of behavior that really determine whether you win or lose the career war. Seemingly insignificant decisions, such as whether to greet a security guard, drone on in a meeting, or keep a piece of information to yourself, can say everything about who you are. "It is the character you've demonstrated over the course of a thousand transactions that will shape your brand and prompt someone to take a chance on you -- or not."

Writing in a refreshing style peppered with vivid personal anecdotes and lessons big and small, D'Alessandro offers ten major rules for making the right kind of personal impression:

  • Rule 1: Try to Look Beyond Your Own Navel
  • Rule 2: Like It Or Not, Your Boss Is The Co-Author Of Your Brand
  • Rule 3: Put Your Own Boss On The Couch
  • Rule 4: Learn Which One Is The Pickle Fork
  • Rule 5: Kenny Rogers Is Right
  • Rule 6: It's Always Show Time
  • Rule 7: Make The Right Enemies
  • Rule 8: Try Not to be Swallowed by the Bubble
  • Rule 9: The Higher You Fly, The More You will Be Shot At
  • Rule 10: Everybody Coulda Been a Contender; Make Sure You Stay One

In Career Warfare, no organizational piety survives unscathed. A few of D'Alessandro's insights:

How organizations work: "The elders of the tribe eat first. And if you cannot accept that, there is only one thing to do: Start your own organization, so you'll be at the top of the food chain."

On bosses: "The fact of the matter is, all bosses will use you. In their eyes, you are primarily an instrument to help them further their own careers. The real question is whether or not you are smart enough to use them."

On working for a partnership: "Partnerships are a lot like college fraternities, in that they are able to convince the freshmen to do all kind of humiliating and self-destructive things because they want so badly to be a member of the club."

On understanding when it's time to leave a job: "Where ambitious people get a case of the stupids is by staying in a comfortable place long after they have already gained whatever knowledge and power they were going to gain."

On handling the press: "If you resent having journalists prying into your business, my advice is, get over it. In general, most journalists are ethical. If they are asking you questions you don't like, it is generally because they have a job to do."

On building a reservoir of goodwill: "Be generous with your time, money, power, insight, and efforts because you should be generous. But also be aware that one of the side effects of this generosity is that both you and your organization will have some insulation from the mistakes you will make down the road."

D'Alessandro's unique voice gives Career Warfare a refreshing bite that readers will remember from the day they first read it until they day they retire. That's a good thing, because as the author points out, even the best personal brand does not entitle you to let your guard down. At every phase of your career, you will need to defend your good name from the sniping of your enemies, the indifference or incompetence of your bosses, and your own worst impulses.

"You never reach a point where you are done justifying yourself," D'Alessandro writes.

Career Warfare shows you how to command respect at every stage of the game.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
D'Alessandro, chairman and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services and author of Brand Warfare, offers winning strategies based on the notion that everyone needs to develop a "personal brand" that distinguishes them from other employees. This lively book has advice that is entertaining and bluntly honest. D'Alessandro outlines 10 rules for career success including "Try to Look Beyond Your Own Navel," "Put Your Boss on the Couch" and "Everybody Coulda Been a Contender; Make Sure You Stay One." All employees need to realize that success won't come only from hard work and dressing appropriately-"by themselves, they will not set you apart from your peers, and they will not propel you into the executive suite. In fact, the biggest mistake you can make is to assume that organizations are rational, and that success will proceed in a rational manner from your good performance reviews, nice manners, and sharp suits." Instead, D'Alessandro shows how people can get themselves noticed within a corporation, find ways to make their bosses excel, develop reputations for honesty and effectiveness and learn how to work with the enemies that will inevitably jeopardize their positions. He also offers very specific advice on the three types of meetings-staff, get-something done, combat. Occasionally, his comments-not having an affair with a colleague or not getting drunk at off-site meetings-are obvious, but, overall, this volume is a solid and inventive guide to success that should inspire many readers to alter at least some of their on-the-job behavior . (Feb.) Forecast: National advertising and a 25-city radio satellite tour, along with the author's reputation in the business world, should boost this book to strong early sales. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
What really separates those who get ahead? Hard work and accomplishments will only get you so far. If you intend to compete at the levels where the competition gets really ferocious - where everybody is hard-working and accomplished - you need a much more subtle advantage. In Career Warfare, David F. D'Alessandro, chairman and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, explains that you need the kind of reputation or "personal brand" that convinces people to trust you with new opportunities.

It's not easy to build a great personal brand, however. D'Alessandro writes that you first have to understand that people will judge you based on the way you behave even in the most insignificant moments. Then you have to become conscious of the personal impression you are making every day. Next you have to be noticed - and noticed for the right qualities. Ultimately, he explains, a big career requires everything from the right kind of manners, to the right style of handling your detractors, to the right instincts about when to leave a job and when to stick with it.

Career Warfare offers the unwritten rules of organizational life, the real truths you need to know in order to build the kind of personal brand that shouts "headed for the top."

According to D'Alessandro, the greatest obstacle to building a good personal brand is self-absorption. Few of us escape seeing the places we work in terms of our own self-interest. But to build a personal brand that will help you succeed, he writes, you will have to turn self-absorption into a desire for self-respect and the respect of the people around you. You may still be a navel-gazing egotist, but at least you'll be an egotist who recognizes the value of other people's approval. In order to build a good reputation, he adds, you have to view your actions in the same way that the people judging you will view them.

You can't build a good brand if you can't see yourself as others see you. Guard against excessive self-forgiveness, D'Alessandro warns. While you will tend to view your own less-than-heroic actions as no reflection on your basic goodness, others will have the opposite response - they believe you do what you do because of the kind of person you are. Your behavior defines you, he writes, and you are going to be judged by your external actions, not by your intentions.

D'Alessandro explains that the best way to establish a personal brand when you are new to an organization is by becoming uniquely useful. Be smart. Stake out your territory by finding something the organization is missing that you can provide. This may involve tackling less than glamorous tasks since the high-profile ones get plenty of volunteers. By doing what needs to be done rather than what you would ideally like to do, you set yourself apart. Do something humble but essential, he writes, and you'll get noticed by those in power.

When you are young, D'Alessandro explains, getting access to powerful people is the name of the game. If you gain access to power early, you will learn an enormous amount very quickly and put yourself in an entirely different category from your peers who communicate with these people only through a hierarchy.

Getting the positive notice of powerful people is only the first step, he writes. You want them to help you move up. For that, D'Alessandro adds, you have to develop a brand that shouts, "Upward mobility." Package yourself as an expensive product - because that's exactly what you are to your organization, your boss and your customers. You cost them as much a year as a Mercedes. You'd better deliver the performance they expect from a luxury brand.

When it comes to employees, certain things are not negotiable when it comes to being considered for higher office. To go far, D'Alessandro writes, you must develop a reputation for five key qualities:

  • Earning the organization money
  • Telling the truth
  • Being discreet
  • Keeping your promises
  • Making people want to work for you

If you are missing any one of these qualities, he explains, you don't have the right kind of brand for a big career and it is highly unlikely anyone will consider you executive office material. Copyright © 2004 Soundview Executive Book Summaries

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780071417587
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies, The
  • Publication date: 1/2/2004
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

David F. D'Alessandro is Chair- man and Chief Executive Officer of John Hancock Financial Services. D’Alessandro spearheaded John Hancock’s appearance on The New York Times list of the top 100 brands of the 20th century.

David F. D'Alessandro is Chair- man and Chief Executive Officer of John Hancock Financial Services. D’Alessandro spearheaded John Hancock’s appearance on The New York Times list of the top 100 brands of the 20th century.

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Read an Excerpt





Any book about personal brands should by rights start with the greatest obstacle of all to building a good one, and that is the extreme self-absorption from which most of us suffer. In The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce defines the word "I" this way: "I is the first letter of the alphabet, the first word of the language, the first thought of the mind, the first object of affection." "I" is certainly the first consideration in organizational life. Most people's reaction to anything that happens in the outfit they work for is, "What about me? Will this be good for me?" For example, the company is suddenly engulfed in scandal. Your first thought is probably not, "How will we get out of this mess?" It's, "Am I in trouble?" Or, you'll hear that management is transferring a division to Arizona. Your immediate thought is not, "Will this be good for the business?" It's, "Would I enjoy living in Scottsdale?"

Short of Mother Teresa, very few of us escape seeing the places where we work largely in terms of our own self-interest. However, to build the kind of personal brand that will help you to be successful, you will have to add another filter to the lens. You will have to turn this self-absorption into a desire for self-respect and the respect of the people around you. You may still be a navel-gazing egotist, but at least you'll be an egotist who recognizes the value of other people's approval. And in that case, before you say or do anything, you will have to consider whether the move will reflect well upon you. Will it enhance your reputation or tarnish it? Will you be proud of what you've said or done down the road? In other words, you have to view your own actions in the same way that the people judging you will view them.


Unfortunately, it is not easy to adopt an external perspective on your own activities, because such a perspective is extremely unnatural. In fact, social psychologists have documented a Grand Canyon-sized gulf between the way in which a person perpetrating an action explains his or her behavior and the way in which outside observers explain it. The "actor" tends to view the things he or she does as a reaction to external circumstances. For example, if you snap at somebody, you may say to yourself, "I snapped at him only because he drove me to the breaking point." In addition, the actor is very much aware of his or her own intentions in performing an action and is also aware of whether

In order to build a good reputation, you have to view your own actions in the same way that the people judging you will view them.

this type of behavior is normal for him or her. You may say to yourself, "Yes, I sounded snappish, but I didn't mean to." Or, "Yes, I did snap at him, but I'm usually a very easy-going person." Add it all up, and we tend to view our own activities in a very forgiving light. The dog ate the homework, so what could we do? People who happen to find themselves thrust into some kind of unpleasant spotlight often display this self-forgiving bias. Consider, for example, Darva Conger, the nurse who married a stranger on the 2000 Fox TV show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? and then left him shortly thereafter, only to be stunned by an avalanche of bad press. She told Good Morning America, "I am not a gold digger" and "I just want my life back." Then she did the most hypocritical thing of all for someone claiming not to be an opportunist or to like the public attention: She took her clothes off for Playboy magazine in return for a substantial payday. But Conger seemed blind to the hypocrisy, arguing instead that her own good intentions excused the Playboy spread: "It was my way of poking fun at myself."

Another excellent example of self-forgiveness is Jeffrey Skilling, the former president of Enron. In February 2002, he testified before Congress about the company's collapse. When asked whether he had been aware of the partnership transactions that brought down the company, he blamed external circumstances for his lack of awareness to the point of absurdity. Why did he not hear his CFO promise board members that he would approve these questionable deals? Because the power went out. "The room was dark, quite frankly, and people were walking in and out of the meeting,'' he said. To outside observers, on the other hand, the fact that the lights went out during one meeting was hardly material. The problem was Skilling himself, whom one congressman compared to Sergeant Schultz of the old TV show Hogan's Heroes, the bumbling Nazi who said, "I see nothing! I hear nothing!"

Rule One: Try to Look Beyond Your Own Navel

The truth is that while we tend to view our own less-than-heroic actions as no reflection on the basic goodness of our character, outside observers believe just the opposite: that we do the things we do because of the kind of people we are. After all, they have far less information than we do about our actions. They have no idea that we met a dog on the way who ate our homework, or that we didn't really intend to have our homework be eaten, or that we've never had our homework eaten before. As far as the outside observer is concerned-particularly one who does not know us very well-we don't have our homework because we're the kind of unreliable personality whose homework does get eaten.

Social psychologists call this tendency of outside observers to assume that internal attributes are the cause of every action "the fundamental attribution error." It may be an error of perception, but it is also a fact of life. Everything you do and say will be viewed by the people around you as evidence of who you are. Actually, this tendency to interpret other people's actions in terms of their basic character is extremely useful. It adds some sense of control and predictability to the chaotic world of human relations. Person A may decide whether Person B is trustworthy based on very little information -but once A has labeled B, A has the comfort of knowing what to expect from B and is able to adjust his or her own behavior accordingly. And once A's assessment of B becomes common wisdom within his or her organization, everybody in the office feels as if he or she is on solid ground with B as well. Person B now has a recognizable brand.

Once, when I was young and in the public relations business, I witnessed an example of stunningly rapid brand building that immediately told my entire firm how to handle one of its clients. The client was a Everyone has a natural tendency to make excuses for their behavior. Don't make excuses for yours. People will decide who you are on the basis of the things you do.

wine vintner's group, and I was such a minor player at that point that it was my job to make sure that the head of the wine group and his wife were comfortable when they came to New York City. Since they were staying in an incredible suite at the Plaza, you'd think this would have been easy. But this was at a time when the domestic wine industry was still insecure regarding the French, and, maybe as a result, this couple was imperious beyond belief. The guy behaved as if he had been born into the wine business as a Rothschild, instead of having been hired into it as the PR person for a trade organization. And his consort was worse.

We were given a long list of her requirements. One of the things she insisted on was that there be no footprints on the carpet when they entered the hotel room. I'm not talking about dirt; I'm talking about indentations. Since we were constantly in their suite, trying to provide the many amenities they demanded, we were endlessly calling housekeeping and persuading the poor confused chambermaids to vacuum the plush carpet while walking backwards out of the room.

The most specific of the wine woman's requirements involved the light she needed in the bathroom in order to properly apply her makeup. The sheet I received actually specified a setting on a light meter. So I dutifully went over there with a light meter, trying to figure out whether to add or subtract lamps and makeup mirrors. I guess I don't know how to read a light meter, because there was not enough light in the room. Never mind that there was neither enough light nor enough makeup in all of Bloomingdale's to make this woman attractive. She caused a ruckus beyond belief because she had been handicapped in her makeup application, and she insisted that there be a reprimand. So, I was yelled at by the higher-ups. The story spread like wildfire within my firm. Within a day, no one in that office who had any talent was willing to do anything for this client. The better people all said, "I won't work on the account," and they got away with it because they had choices. As I said, personal brands are definitely useful-for the really good employees, there was now one less client to worry about.

Though the wine people were an extreme example, they were suffering from a disease that frequently holds people back in their working lives: What they saw when they looked in the mirror in no way corresponded to external reality. They thought they resembled Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco. We saw Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu of Romania-petty despots with no culture and a monstrous appetite for luxury. Of course, developing an accurate self-image is always a struggle. None of us is as benevolent, intelligent, or impressive as we believe-or, for that matter, as the people who want to flatter us would have us believe. But if you can't begin to look at yourself with some detachment, you will never be able to alter your behavior so that it corresponds to the kind of person you would ideally like to be. Instead, you will be the professional equivalent of poor Darva Conger, moving from embarrassment to embarrassment, denying all the while that these embarrassments express anything significant about you.

In fact, being able to peel back the layer of denial that keeps us from understanding our own behavior is such a huge advantage in professional life that I am all for acquiring that knowledge in any way you can. You can read great novels, or you can consult your wise Uncle Eddie. I'm a big believer in shrinks-good shrinks, not the kind that get employed by corporations-to give you insight into what motivates you to act the way you do. With any luck, they will also give you something else just as valuable: insight into why other people behave as bizarrely as they do.

Above all, be aware that your behavior defines you. Since you are going to be judged not on your intentions and desires, but rather on Don't flatter yourself. You can't build a good personal brand if you can't see yourself as others see you.

your external actions, try not to develop tunnel vision. Consider things beyond your own self-interest, such as the well-being of the people you work with and the organization you work for.


Once you have become self-aware enough to shape your behavior, where do you go from there? Obviously, in order to establish a reputation with the powerful people in your organization, you first have to be noticed by them. This is not always easy.

Let me tell you about the first time I really got the attention of someone powerful.

It was my first job out of school. I was working at a big New York City communications firm and suffering every humiliation you can possibly suffer at the beginning of a career. I was barely able to live on my salary. After paying my rent and other bills, I would literally have $5 for the weekend. I owned two pairs of dress slacks and one sports coat. That was my wardrobe. I had a secretary who refused to type for me because she was making $11,000 and I was making just $10,800. And, to top it off, one day, when I'd been there only a few months, I was told to come to the boss's boss's office at 6 p.m. Obviously, I was about to be fired. That was the time of day people got fired at that firm. They never fired people first thing in the morning. If they had to pay you for the day, they wanted to make sure that they got a full day's work out of you. Besides, what other reason would the head of the office have for wanting to see me? The guy was so uptight and so "my-ancestors-cameover- on-the-Mayflower" superior that we used to call him Mr. Stiff. Mr. Stiff and I had barely exchanged a word during my short tenure. His behavior that evening only confirmed my suspicion that I was getting the ax. At the end of a long workday, he did not invite me to sit. He had me stand in front of his desk as if it were the military. My stomach churned. Mr. Stiff finally opened his mouth, and as I waited for the blade to fall, he did something very strange. He offered me a promotion and matter-of-factly said, "I'm going to raise your salary to $12,000." Twelve thousand dollars! I thought it was incredible. Now my secretary would have to type for me! I wanted to express my joy and gratitude and relief, but, in all honesty, I was still feeling a little queasy. I wasn't sure if it was nerves or the scrod I'd had for lunch at the Captain's Table. I hadn't eaten fish since I was a child, ever since my mother had fried up the family goldfish for my dinner. Of course, I was the one who'd fished the goldfish out of the tank, in retaliation for not being allowed to go on a fishing trip with my older brother. The smell of fried fish had haunted me for years, but this was the day that I thought I'd finally give seafood another try.

Unfortunately, this was not the best time to discover that I was actually allergic to fish. Then it happened.

I was trying to concentrate on the prospect of a hundred extra dollars a month, when all of a sudden, I retched-just straight at him, with incredible force, all over his desk, his papers, his beautiful gray flannel suit. Linda Blair of The Exorcist was a piker compared to me.

He was too repressed to mention the fact that I had just vomited on him. I think he thought it was some Italian negotiating technique he was unfamiliar with. His reaction was so peculiar that it actually saved me from feeling too bad about what I'd just done. I was outraged by his coldness. Did he ask me to sit down? Did he offer to call a doctor? Did he get angry? No. I would have taken anger over the complete lack of emotion and concern.

Despite the raise and the promotion, Mr. Stiff clearly had yet to see me as a human being. This incident gave me a little insight: My bosses were not about to launch a voyage of discovery to learn about me. To them, I was a tool. And, as a tool, I had better find ways to distinguish myself, aside from throwing up.

The fact is, Mr. Stiff's attitude is not uncommon. You may be barely real to the people above you in an organization if you don't find a way to improve their lives. So, the single best way to establish a personal brand when you are new to an organization is by becoming useful- ideally, uniquely useful. Be smart. Stake out your own territory by finding something that the organization is missing that you can provide. That is exactly what I did with Mr. Stiff, and I soon became indispensable to him.

First, I took my youth and inexperience and turned it into something that had value. I became known as the young "idea" guy to whom you could hand any project and he would come up with a number of ideas to move the project forward. This was important in that office because the middle-aged people I was surrounded by were short on ideas. They all wanted to be philosophers, wise men who edited other people's ideas. Soon, there was no new business pitch in that office that didn't include me.

Second, I became a source of news that people could not do without.

These were the days when breaking news came in, not over the Internet or cable TV, but over a Dow Jones Teletype that left reams of paper on the floor. I volunteered to do something incredibly simple: I would leave my office every 30 minutes or so, cut the Teletype, and post the stories on a bulletin board. My peers thought this The best way to establish a brand when you are new to an organization is by offering something that the organization is missing.

To get noticed, turn whatever particular qualities you offer into something that is of value to the higher-ups.

task was far too menial for them, but it put me on the radar. Since I got to monitor the news related to our clients first, I could poke my head into my boss's office or another account head's office and say, "By the way, Engelhard Industries just announced it is going to buy tons of platinum from Russia." The higher-ups could then jump on the phone, call their clients, and look as if they were paying incredible attention to them.

The truth is, the powerful people in any organization have plenty of volunteers to take on the high-profile, high-status assignments. Sometimes the smartest thing you can do is take on a humble task that needs doing.

The third thing I did to establish myself was to become the way to get a reservation at the finest restaurants in the country. This was quite an ironic development for an Italian-American kid from upstate New York who until that point had never eaten in a two-star restaurant, let alone a five-star. But I took on an account called the Mobil Travel Guides, which rated restaurants. Mobil had this incredibly great-looking award that it would give to the restaurants that won its top ranking, but it had never really publicized it properly.

I convinced Mobil to do a series of press releases and features when it awarded any restaurant five stars. Then I got the food critics from the local television stations to come in and do these three- or four-minute bits with the owner and the chef. Even in New York City, we got tremendous publicity, and publicity is extremely hard for restaurants to come by, given the intense competition they face. So I came away with tremendous gratitude from the owners and chefs of the top restaurants around the country.

There are probably plenty of volunteers for every high-profile task, so sometimes the best way to be noticed by those in power is to do something humble but essential.

As a result, I never had any trouble getting a restaurant reservation anywhere. Soon, my bosses figured out that the way to get into a restaurant that was impossible to get into-La Grenouille, La Côte Basque, Lutèce, The Four Seasons-was through me. With clients, it was very impressive. If they were from out of town, their spouse was with them, and they were hoping for a romantic dinner at one of the best restaurants in New York, I could always say, "No problem. Where do you want to go?"

And when you walk into Lutèce and you're 22 years old and legendary proprietor André Soltner comes over and greets you, but doesn't greet your boss until you introduce the two of them and make them both feel important-that is something. If you have the opportunity, try to take advantage of what marketers call "the halo effect." Associate your brand with something glamorous and valuable, and by extension, you will become valuable, too. Of course, my early achievements in terms of the halo effect were minimal compared to those of Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. As a 17-year-old boy, Branson turned a brush with glamour into an empire. He and a friend founded a magazine in London called Student with nothing more than nerve. Somehow they got the hip young actress Vanessa Redgrave-who must have been a very good sport indeed- to agree to talk with them.

"The interview was a turning point for us," Branson wrote in his book Losing My Virginity, "since we could now use her name as a magnet to attract other contributors." Suddenly, Branson was interviewing Mick Jagger and John Lennon and convincing advertisers who were eager to reach a young audience that they should send money his way. He was barely shaving, but he was now a player in the world of entertainment.

Associate your brand with something glamorous and valuable, and you will become valuable, too. When you are young, getting access to powerful people is the name of the game. If you gain access to power early, you will learn an enormous amount very quickly-and you will put yourself in an entirely different category from your peers who communicate with these people only through a hierarchy.



Of course, getting the positive notice of powerful people is only the first step. You want them not just to appreciate you where you are, but also to move you up. And for that, you will have to develop a brand that shouts "upward mobility."

How do you do that?

At the risk of appalling all the humanists out there, I can tell you that it's smart for you to try to think of yourself as a product-an expensive one-because at the end of the day, that's exactly what you are to your organization, to your boss, and to your customers. You probably cost them as much every year as a top-of-the-line Mercedes, and that's how they think of you, too. And you'd better deliver the performance they expect from a luxury brand, because who wants an unreliable Mercedes? No one.

When it comes to luxury sedans, cheap upholstery and poor pickup will not cut it. When it comes to employees, certain things are simply not negotiable if they are going to be considered for higher office. It doesn't matter whether you work in the software industry or the steel industry; or whether you aspire to Warren Buffett's folksy com- When you are young, getting access to powerful people is the name of the game.

mon sense or Phil Knight of Nike's "bad to the bone" attitude. If you expect to go far, you have to develop a reputation for five key qualities:

  • Earning the organization money
  • Telling the truth Keeping your promises
  • Making people want to work for you

If you are missing any one of these qualities, you don't have the right kind of brand for a big career, and it is highly unlikely that anyone will consider you executive-office material. Let's consider these brand cornerstones one by one.


Organizational life is not that different from life among the cavemen. There are the hunters and the trappers, the skinners, and the cooks, as well as the engineering geniuses who invented the clubs and snares used by the hunters and the trappers. This last group, the engineers, is frequently a little bitter, because they think they never get enough credit for their inventions. If it weren't for them, they believe, the tribe would not be able to eat.

In fact, everyone considers his or her function to be the most essential. For example, the skinners-the cave equivalent of a corporation's financial types-truly believe that cutting up the meat and divvying it up trumps all other functions. If they had their way, no one would spend any money on bows and arrows or clubs. They'd just put all the tribe's resources into weighing the meat more precisely. Yet, the greatest respect in cave society invariably goes to one type of caveman: the hunters and trappers who bring home the bear. In other words, those who make money for the corporation or bring in donations for the nonprofit rise first.

It is always smart, therefore, to make your way at some point or other into a production or development job where you can be credited directly for beautifying the bottom line. Especially when you are young, being a successful hunter can give you a huge advantage over your peers. You know, I played on my high school football team one year. I remember one night when we had just lost a game and were on the bus coming back late.

A lot of the people in the bus were chattering. Suddenly, the quarterback spoke up: "Look, the only guys who should be talking are the guys who played. Guys who didn't play, don't talk." A lot of organizations have the same attitude. If you are young and unaccomplished, no one wants to hear from you-unless, of course, you become a starter in one of three ways:

  • By offering such incredible wisdom, skill, ideas, or connections that the higher-ups need you immediately in a consigliere role
  • By being the boss's kid or in-law
  • By the most likely route-selling your way into people's notice

    If you are generating a lot of revenue for an organization, the people in charge simply have to listen to you. You are also less likely to be fired or laid off if you are a hunter. That's why there are so many obnoxious salespeople in the world: People who can sell are retained even if their personality defects are numerous. Just as in the tribes of old, hunters are allowed to be unshaven and crude and unkempt. Of course, none of this means that you cannot rise to the upper ranks of your organization from the club-inventing or meat-weighing side of the business. But in that case, you'll have to become skilled at getting the people who work for you to bring home the bear. You also have to demonstrate faith in the bear-hunting abilities of the entire tribe. I frequently offer the junior executives at my firm a choice: a higher guaranteed salary or a lower guarantee but a greater potential upside linked to our performance. Anyone who chooses the higher guarantee is going nowhere.


    Dishonesty is fatal in business, and for good reason. Trust is the oil that greases the wheels of commerce. As early as 1766, political economist Adam Smith noticed that scrupulous honesty and a thriving business went hand in hand. "Of all the nations in Europe," he wrote, "the Dutch, the most commercial, are the most faithful to their word." Smith observed that it was specifically because their businesses were so wide-ranging and active that Dutch merchants knew that they could not afford a dent in their reputations. "When a person makes perhaps twenty contracts in a day . . . the very appearance of a cheat would make him lose," Smith wrote.

    Over 200 years later, eBay operates a vibrant online marketplace on the exact same principle. Buyers are able to trust sellers that they do not know and cannot visit because other buyers in the past have posted feedback about them on the site. And the more active the seller, and the more feedback he or she has collected, the more likely he or she is to jealously guard the quality of that feedback, and the more trustworthy he or she is likely to be.

    To be considered for the upper ranks, get into a position where you are making money for your organization.

    An active seller cannot afford to fleece even a single customer. At "the very appearance of a cheat," thousands of potential customers would flee. The truth is, when you have a thriving business, the risks of dishonesty tend to far outweigh any potential profit you might gain from it. Any funny business, and the resulting exodus of customers and investors can shrink a big operation into a small one in a matter of weeks. Just consider how rapidly the market capitalization of WorldCom and Enron collapsed after the dishonesty of their accounting was revealed.

    All this means one simple thing for you: Any organization you are going to want to work for will consider dishonest people a risk that it cannot bear.

    Fortunately, I learned how seriously good organizations take even a little white lie very early in my career. When I was 23, I wanted a job so badly that I said on my résumé that I was 25. I thought they would want someone older. It didn't make a lot of sense. I got the job. Then, as I was filling out the paperwork for Personnel, I saw that practically every form asked me for my birthdate. To my horror, I discovered that I was going to have to lie again and again and again.

    I had a profound revelation: Little white lies can haunt you. If I persisted in this lie, I would wind up living it for a long time. I'd already accepted this job and had quit my old one. But I knew that I'd made a terrible mistake. So I called my boss-to-be, a smart, decent guy named Traug Keller, and told him the humiliating truth, recognizing that it might cost me the job. Traug was very concerned. He said he'd have to think about it and call me back. He called me the next day. He was still unhappy, but he had discussed the matter with his boss. And because I'd come forward and admitted what I had done, they were going to take me on. However, they wanted to put me on notice that one more lie at that level, and I would be fired. Traug, who went on to become one of the great mentors in my career, saved me from oblivion at that particular moment. He also kept me from winding up like Sandy Baldwin, the former president of the United States Olympic Committee, who was disgraced for lying about her educational accomplishments, or George O'Leary, briefly the football coach for Notre Dame, who resigned after admitting that he had glorified both his academic background and his college football career. Both of them had been carrying around their little white lies for two decades-until they were successful enough for it to be worth someone's while to look into the truth of their curriculum vitae, and they were caught. I'm sure those résumé-boosting lies were helpful when they were first used. However, no matter what a lie wins you in the short term, it is not worth the cost to your career in the long term. Tell your assistant that her new haircut looks great even when it doesn't, but do not perjure yourself when it comes to your job. No amount of talent, brains, or accomplishments will save you if you do.

    BECOME FAMOUS FOR YOUR GARBO-ESQUE SILENCE Somebody recently said to me, "Information is power only if you can pass it on."

    This seems to me to be a particularly naïve way to look at information. Frequently, it offers more of an advantage when you don't pass it A reputation for dishonesty is a career-ender.

    on, when you simply keep something to yourself that you and you alone are able to act on. That is one great argument for discretion. The second great argument is that if you are indiscreet, no one with any power will trust you. While it's enjoyable to gossip, especially about colleagues you don't like, I've seen enough people damage their reputations by saying something in public that they shouldn't have said, to believe that it is frequently smarter to keep your own counsel. As you might guess, this was one lesson I had to learn the hard way.

    For example, I once had a boss whom I considered a complete nincompoop. And when I was told that I wasn't going to be working for him anymore, I actually made the mistake of informing him how glad I was-without reservation.

    Lo and behold, three years later, I was reassigned to him. His memory was particularly keen, and he made my life miserable. All of a sudden, my expense reports were gone over with a fine-toothed comb. I had no authority to sign bills anymore. All my ideas were unworthy. It was like having your ex-mother-in-law for your boss. Absolute torture, two full years of it, as punishment for five minutes of enjoyment in telling him off. Fortunately, however, with this particular instance of tactlessness, I did little more than hurt myself. If that were all that were at stake-a little personal embarrassment, a bit of a decline in personal reputation for those who talk out of school-no one would consider discretion a particularly important quality. But that is not all that is at stake. If you are the type of person who routinely says more than he or she should and says it in the wrong place to the wrong people, you could wind up costing your company a tremendous amount of money and respect. For example, John Hancock once had a good relationship with a nationally acclaimed consulting company that was doing $7 million worth of business with us every year. This was a very strong group, and they had infiltrated our organization like locusts. Every time you opened a door, there was another one of them.

    Then one day, the consulting company held an off-site seminar for its senior partners, and someone lower down in the organization did a very smart presentation in which he called two or three of Hancock's top executives idiots and laid out a plan for taking advantage of our stupidity. The idea was to move from $7 million a year in fees to $12 million without a corresponding increase in the consulting company's costs. The guy expected to go from a 28 percent margin to a 50 percent margin.

    And he had thoughtfully provided hard copies of his presentation for all attending. Sure enough, someone forgot the thing under his or her chair, and the person who found it posted it on the Internet, from whence it made its way to us. The best part was, the then-chairman of John Hancock learned that his high-priced consultants thought he was a moron. A mistake. The chairman was both brilliant and tough. I told him I would take care of it.

    So, I called in the most senior partner in the firm, not the partner who had prepared the presentation. He arrived at my office, we gave him some coffee, and he settled in complacently, sure that we were going to give him the extra $5 million in business that his company wanted. Instead, he received a gasoline enema, and he rocketed out of there, having learned that he had lost every penny of the $7 million the company was already getting. Sometimes the cost of saying too much is even greater than that. For example, the CEO of Cerner Corp. sent his company's stock price down 21 percent in just three days in 2001 by venting indiscreetly at his employees in an email. Complaining that the parking lot was too empty and employees were not working long enough hours, he wrote, "Hell will freeze over before this CEO implements ANOTHER EMPLOYEE benefit in this Culture." He went on, "What you are doing, as managers, with this company makes me SICK." Thanks to its hysterical language, the email was ripe for an Internet posting. And it immediately made investors want to dump the stock.

    While the temptation to be indiscreet probably goes back to cave times, we live in an age in which the chance that any indiscretion will go unpunished are slim and getting slimmer. Technology allows your thoughtless words to be snatched out of the air and turned from a private communication into a mass release with ease.

    The indiscreet voicemails that you leave, for example, can be broadcast to anyone in your organization-something that happened to me once when a colleague who didn't like me as much as she might have "accidentally" pushed the wrong button on her phone. And the indiscreet memos that you write can be posted within hours on web sites like that exist just to make internal communications very public indeed.

    And the indiscreet emails that you bang out not only are easily forwarded to the universe and easily eavesdropped on by your bosses, but also are easily retrieved even after they are erased. History has shown that they can be used by regulators and prosecutors to cause you and your organization a heap of trouble.

    One of the problems with email in particular is that it's quick and solitary, and it encourages bravado. People tend to say things in an email that they would never say in person. Try to avoid the temptation to be a paper tiger. Do not write or record anything that you would not want to have subpoenaed or published. Ultimately, the organizational costs of a single indiscretion can be so high-you can derail a merger, ruin your company's brand, cost your CEO his or her job-that if you gain a reputation for being indiscreet, you may as well pack it up. You will have no career

    Indiscretions can cost an organization a great deal, so become known for your excellent judgment about when to speak and when to keep quiet.

    worth having. If, on the other hand, you gain a reputation as someone who can keep a secret and has good judgment about when to speak and when to be reticent, powerful people will want you around.

    WIN A NAME AS THE HUMAN EQUIVALENT OF FEDEX: ALWAYS DELIVER ON TIME Like discretion and honesty, delivering on your promises is a trust issue. If you overpromise and underdeliver, you won't be trusted by your bosses, and you will go nowhere. If you say, "I will make this sales goal," you simply have to do it, by any legal and ethical means. In fact, the judicious use of promises that you can deliver on can propel you up the ladder faster than anything except bringing home the bear. Promising to do something that your more timid peers think cannot be done will distinguish you from the pack, provided that you deliver.

    Can you do things that other people cannot do? That's one of the questions that determines how high you rise. For example, I once made a promise to a boss I had in the advertising business that I knew would require a lot of delicacy and thought to keep. One of the boss's best friends worked for the agency and was not performing. They had been in each other's weddings, but he had to go.

    I promised the boss that I would take care of it in such a way that his friend would not blame him. I called in the friend. He was very cocky because he had such a close relationship with the boss. "So what job am I getting with you?" he asked. "You don't have a job," I said. He was astonished. I explained my problems with his work ethic and went on. "If you fight me on this," I said, "I will give you the standard severance deal, and that's it. But if you accept my decision, I will give you twice that deal."

    Then I added, "If you decide to go the boss and complain, you'll have to take the risk that he won't back you up. And even if he does, you'll last only until I rise high enough to overrule him. And then the quality of the severance deal will be a lot lower than what I'm offering you today."

    He weighed the odds and took the deal. So the guy got to save face-he simply said to the boss that he'd decided to leave. The boss looked good, too, because everybody knew it was time for this guy to go, even though it would be hard for him personally. Because I was willing to be the bad guy in the situation, I had kept my promise and had risen in the estimation of someone who held my career in his hands. The two men are still friends today. And the friend still thinks I am a jerk, a cross I seem to be willing to bear.

    BECOME KNOWN AS THE COACH THE PLAYERS WANT TO PLAY FOR Almost everyone starts his or her career managing a simple task. Then you get to manage more than one task, and people start calling these tasks projects. After a while, you come to manage people who manage projects. It's at that point that people become your project. Eventually, you will wind up managing people across different disciplines, often disciplines that you have no familiarity with. Then you

    To quickly elevate your personal brand, make bold promises and deliver on them.

    are really into exponential management. At that point, your ability to do things yourself is relatively meaningless. Your ability to get things done through others becomes what you're getting paid for.

    And the difference between what can be accomplished by a group of people who are willing to do only the minimum and a group of people who are willing to go the extra mile for you is enormous. The recent history of the Boston Celtics offers an excellent example. A talented team had three and a half losing seasons under coach Rick Pitino. Pitino had been a legendary college basketball coach, but many people believed that his micromanaging, overbearing style backfired with self-respecting adults. It appeared that the players just would not play for him. Pitino left mid-season in 2001, and his assistant, Jim O'Brien, took over. In O'Brien's first full season, the team made it to the NBA's Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in 14 years. The apparent difference was, O'Brien treated the players like collaborators, not like errant children, and they were willing to give their all for him. Celtics guard Tony Delk told the press, "Coach O'Brien shows us respect and, in turn, we show it to him."

    People above you will notice whether your team is willing to play for you. You will never rise as far as you want to if you do not develop a reputation for leadership.

    Unfortunately, few things are more difficult to acquire. The most complex undertaking that anyone faces in a career is managing other people. There is only one thing in life that is more complex, and that is raising children. The difference is, the people at work have to listen to you.

    You have to develop a reputation for leadership, because at some point your ability to do things yourself becomes meaningless. What counts is whether you can get other people to do them. I am the last person who would call himself a great manager, but I have learned a few simple rules about leading a team that seem to help: First, it's about the people, not the theory. While I find the many management theories out there interesting-the "One-Minute Manager," management by walking around, total quality management -the best managers are not the most brilliant strategists. They are the people who have figured out how to get the most out of what is probably a highly diverse group of players. My advice is, try to look at the people you manage as individuals. They all need to be motivated differently. With some people, you'll need a whip, a gun, and a chair. With other people, it's sugar cubes and schmoozing. Flexibility is a sign of leadership.

    Second, know what you don't know. It's not your job to be an expert on everything, and you will never be effective if you insist on pretending that you are. Instead of trying to teach all your subordinates how to do their jobs, it is far smarter to hire people with great skills who will teach you something and can give you advice and counsel on matters you know nothing about. Recognize that you will need people with expertise in many different areas. Recognize also that this is unlikely to be a homogeneous group, and make sure that you don't surround yourself with people who walk and talk just like you. Recognize also that not everybody who works for you is necessarily someone you would want to take home for dinner. Third, a reputation for fairness is everything. Before people will really show you what they can do, you have to inspire trust and confidence. You have to listen to them, value their ideas, and treat them respectfully. You have to prove to them that if they do a great job

    Here are a few simple ideas for adding leadership to your brand:

    • It's about the people, not the theory.
    • Know what you don't know.
    • A reputation for fairness is everything.

    for you, they will be recognized and rewarded for it. And fairness on your part becomes more meaningful to them the higher you rise and the more power you have to be unfair. The formula for a successful personal brand is pretty simple: Become self-aware. Get noticed by people in power. Develop qualities that suggest that you are going places.

    Here is what is not simple: convincing your immediate boss to give you the opportunity to demonstrate those attractive qualities. In the next chapter, I will lay out the basic rules of conduct for the most significant and fraught relationship in your working life: the relationship you have with your boss-that frequently problematic person who gives you your assignments, reviews your accomplishments, decides how much you are worth monetarily, and largely determines how you are seen by the organization at large.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Rule 1 Try to Look Beyond Your Own Navel 13
Rule 2 Like It or Not, Your Boss Is the Coauthor of Your Brand 39
Rule 3 Put Your Boss on the Couch 59
Rule 4 Learn Which One Is the Pickle Fork 85
Rule 5 Kenny Rogers Is Right 107
Rule 6 It's Always Show Time 123
Rule 7 Make the Right Enemies 145
Rule 8 Try Not to Be Swallowed by the Bubble 159
Rule 9 The Higher You Fly, The More You Will Be Shot At 179
Rule 10 Everybody Coulda Been a Contender; Make Sure You Stay One 197
Index 209
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First Chapter


The real tests in business are never quite what you expect.

Let me tell you about a decisive moment in my career. I was about 30 years old, and I was making my first presentation before the board of directors of the firm I now worked for. My company had recently been absorbed by this company, so I was completely new to management -an enslaved representative of a conquered nation. Yet it was up to me to lead the discussion of what the combined organization should now be named.

I had spent weeks on this presentation because I'd never spoken in front of such a senior group of executives before.

It was an intimidating audience. The chairman himself was straight from Central Casting. Let's call him "Reggie." Reggie had all the CEO gestures down, including a little wave that he would give to dismiss you.

People never quite walked next to him; they were always a step behind. And he never went anywhere without a group of malevolent-looking guys in tow, who did his "wet work" for him. They sat around the conference table like a series of villains out of Dick Tracy-the CFO with a little sneer on his face, another looking as warm and friendly as a barracuda in big Coke-bottle glasses.

I took a deep breath and was about to begin, when the chairman said to me, "HRS SHYNN RRR TTD U YRRR VRRRY TTRTV YNN MNN?" I was stumped.

I'd thought I was prepared. I knew everything, of course, except what really counted: the fact that these board meetings took place immediately following lunch, and that at lunch, wine was always generously served. So by the time the meetings got under way, Reggie was relaxed and ready for some chocolate mints. He would sit in the boardroom with a box of After Eight dinner mints in front of him.

Would he offer one to anyone else? No. He'd just put one after another on the roof of his mouth. As the square-shaped mint melted into the contours of his mouth and then slowly, slowly dripped into the back of his throat, the rest of the room would wait breathlessly for it to disappear. Because until it did, no one could understand a single word he said. In effect, he gave himself a speech impediment, and the meetings would take three times as long as they should have, because of his mints. And everyone pretended not to notice.

But I had never been to a board meeting before, so I had no idea how to proceed. "I'm sorry, sir," I said. "I didn't quite understand you." "HRS SHYNN RRR TTD U YRRR VRRRY TTRTV YNN MNN?" he said again.

By this point, my boss and his buddies in the back of the room were struggling to stifle their laughter. But to me, this was a critical moment in my career. The chairman of the board was addressing me before I'd presented. And I didn't know what he was talking about. "Excuse me, sir?" I said.

Now he was starting to get mad. But I caught a break. A brief window suddenly appeared when one mint had melted away and he hadn't yet popped in another. "Has anyone ever told you," he said, practically shouting at me, "that you're a very attractive young man?" At this, my boss and some of the guys sitting in the peanut gallery practically fell off their chairs laughing. The Dick Tracy villains at the table, on the other hand, were pros at maintaining face. They suddenly found the reports that had been sitting in front of them for the entire luncheon-and those reports suddenly became fascinating reading. Wow. Armies of numbers marching across the pages. How gripping. As for me, I finally understood the individual words he was saying, and I was still sure I'd misheard him.

"Pardon me?" I said, once again.

"For the last time," he said, so fed up with me that he was turning red, "has anyone ever told you that you're a very attractive young man?" I hesitated just a moment. I felt as if I were listening to an announcement from the Emergency Broadcast System. A siren was wailing in my head, and a voice-over said, "This is a test." I thought, "This is a test-and not with the chairman, because he's a lunatic. This is a test with the hitmen." Indeed, they looked as expectant as the attendees at a NASCAR event, coolly anticipating a car crash. I knew it was important for me to play to them and not say something witless. Had anyone ever told me I was attractive?

"Thank you very much," I said politely to the chairman, "but not in this kind of environment." Reggie seemed satisfied with my answer. Its effect on everyone else, though, was to really separate the men from the boys. The hitmen, leafing through their reports, knew better than to laugh at their leader. The board members, many of them quite elderly, were just happy to still have somewhere to wear their suits. The boys in the peanut gallery, on the other hand, absolutely collapsed with mirth.

Strangled guffaws could be heard from the back of the room.

As a presenter, I was destroyed. After the comedy that had preceded it, my presentation was completely anticlimactic, 15 or 20 minutes of white noise that was of zero interest to anyone. And at the end of the thing, the chairman said, "WTTT BTTT FDDRKR?" Once again, no one had a clue as to his meaning. When he finally cleared his mint, we learned that he and his wife had taken a trip to South Carolina the previous weekend and had seen a place called Fuddruckers. "You know," he said thoughtfully, "that name kind of stuck with me. Maybe we should think about buying this company called Fuddruckers and calling ourselves Fuddruckers." Now, we were a financial services company. We'd spent tens of thousands of dollars on research and hundreds of thousands of dollars on new designs, all in an attempt to come up with a dignified identity for our business. And the chairman thought we should call ourselves Fuddruckers. The meeting was over. By this time, I was ready to go home, sit in a warm bath, and slit my wrists. I thought this appearance in front of the board had been a career-destroying disaster. Actually, it hadn't been. My initial instincts had been right. This had been a very important test-one that I had passed.

Sure, Reggie had been bizarre. But if I had reacted badly to him, it would have been my reputation that was crushed, not his. He had way too much power. His being bizarre was an accepted mode of operation, and, eventually, they'd be able to force him out. If, I, however, had been impolite, or had appeared ruffled, or had been so rattled by him that I couldn't continue the presentation, it would have doomed my chances of rising within the organization because the others would have seen me as unable to handle an adverse circumstance.

Fortunately, I had kept my head, and for weeks afterwards, people were congratulating me on how I'd handled the chairman. It turned out to be a tremendous shortcut for me. In the ordinary course of business, it might have taken me years even to make it onto the radar screen of this group of senior executives. But in 10 minutes, I went from being a faceless nobody to someone the henchmen knew-and knew not to trifle with. I made more powerful friends in that one peculiar moment than I would have even thought possible.

Here is the significant point: I went into that meeting thinking that it was the quality of my presentation that counted, and I came away from the experience understanding that it was how I'd handled myself that really mattered, because it gave me a reputation. I tell this story because this is how business really works. Most of us assume that if we follow our parents' advice-work hard, be polite, dress neatly-we will be given every opportunity to succeed. And these things are all necessary; they are the minimum daily requirements for any professional career, you might say. But by themselves, they will not set you apart from your peers, and they will not propel you into the executive suite. In fact, the biggest mistake you can make is to assume that organizations are rational, and that success will proceed in a rational manner from your good performance reviews, nice manners, and sharp suits.

Organizations are not rational, any more than your average small town in Ohio is rational. Corporations are just vertical villages, as full of eccentricity, rashness, and pettiness as any dot on the map.

Like small towns, they have a mayor, a planning board, and a town drunk-maybe more than one.

Hard work and accomplishments are necessary. But they probably will not set you apart from your peers.

Like small towns, they are driven by gossip, intrigue, and anecdote. Just as no one can avoid developing a certain kind of fame in a small town, no one can avoid developing a certain kind of fame within an organization, either. And, just as in a small town, the really juicy opportunities are usually doled out in a way that makes "competitive bidding" seem suspect. In other words, the jobs do not always go to those who look best on paper. So what really separates those who simply plod along through their careers from those who excel? In my experience, it's the name you make for yourself on Main Street. Everyone in organizational life is constantly being watched and evaluated by bosses, clients, vendors, peers, subordinates, and these people's significant others. Every day, with every bit of human interaction you engage in, some member of this crowd forms an opinion about you. The professional world is a very small place, and everybody talks. Your bosses talk, your clients talk, your vendors talk, your peers talk, and your subordinates talk. And the significant others really talk. They talk about you whether you're a lone salesperson with your own territory or the CEO at the top of the heap. Eventually, those thousands of opinions that are created by thousands of transactions will generate a kind of consensus about who you are. That consensus goes by many names: It is your reputation, public image, legend, or character. This is probably my bias as a marketer who has spent decades helping corporations build their reputations, but I like to think of it as a "personal brand." But no matter what you call it, more than anything else, that collective opinion will determine whether you conquer the vertical village or are defeated by it.

Most organizations are just vertical villages.

What really counts is the name you make for yourself on Main Street.

Don't believe me? Let's consider, then, how big promotions are really won. I've been in thousands of meetings in which someone's future was being decided. And it may shock you to learn that in these meetings, there is no big chart where everyone is ranked by merit. It may also shock you to learn that the people who are in a position to actually do something about your career do not think about you all the time. I guarantee that they think about you only one-tenth of one percent of the time you spend thinking about yourself. Instead, decisions about your future are likely to be made in the most casual way, after a series of people-or even just one person- expresses an opinion about you. It's like a Rorschach test. Somebody flashes your name. What leaps to mind? Eats peanut butter and liverwurst for lunch? Or has a really unique vision for the business?

Somebody will say, "She's smart, but no one wants to work with her." Or, "He's not a genius, but he's loyal and he knows how to motivate people." Or even, "He came unglued at the board meeting last week when the chairman told him he was cute." And you will either get the opportunity you covet-or not.

If you work until you're 65, there will be maybe five or six of these brief moments that will determine how well you are rewarded for your years of effort. The window of opportunity may be narrow, but what's at stake can change the course of your life forever. And an instant assessment of you in one of these moments means more to your career than a foot-high stack of performance appraisals in your personnel file. So you'd better be prepared.

More than anything else, your personal brand will determine whether you conquer the vertical village or are defeated by it.

Promotions are usually doled out in the most casual way, based on someone's instant assessment of you.

Yes, you'll have to have worked hard. That's a given.

Yes, you'll have to have accomplished something tangible in order to be in the running for the job, the partnership, or the venture capital at all. Organizations respect measurable results. But it's how you get those results that gets you to the next level. The deciding factors, more often than not, are qualities that are not measurable but that are just as important to an organization as the numbers. I'm talking about personal qualities, such as honesty, or focus, or fearlessness, or a willingness to think boldly, or a gift for making work fun for the people you manage. In other words, it is the character that you've demonstrated over the course of a thousand transactions that will shape your brand and prompt someone to take a chance on you-or not.

Organizations care tremendously about character because they know that it has everything to do with someone's ability to get a job done well. They also know that if they elevate people whose integrity is spotty or who lack the courage to make difficult decisions, the corporate brand may very well wind up suffering.

In fact, the financial consequences of a key employee's loss of reputation can be devastating for an organization.

Consider, for example, the Martha Stewart-ImClone stock trading scandal. In 2002, news broke that Stewart was being investigated for alleged insider trading in the stock of the biotech firm ImClone, whose founder was one of her friends; eventually, she was indicted on charges stemming from that investigation. Among the many corporate scandals of that moment, this one stood out for its purity. Stewart's ImClone trade had nothing to do with her own business, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. This was a purely reputational scandal. It's the character you have demonstrated that will decide whether you get the promotions you want-or not.

Nonetheless, the damage the scandal did to Stewart's personal brand quickly spread to her company's brand as well. The company's stock price fell more than 50 percent in the two months after news of the ImClone investigations broke, and earnings dropped sharply also. The slightest hint that Stewart was willing to cut corners in her personal life made investors, advertisers, and customers lose faith in her business. And not without reason. The list of great organizations brought down by the bad judgment of just a few individuals is long indeed. Smart organizations have always gone out of their way to look for employees with the kind of personal qualities that will enhance, not compromise, the company's reputation. Now, after watching the personal brands of the top executives of WorldCom, Tyco, Enron, and Adelphia turn to mud and drag down their corporations, even not-so-smart organizations have figured out that they cannot afford to hire and promote people of questionable repute. This means that the single most important thing you can do for your career is to lay the groundwork for an attractive personal reputation, so that the next time someone powerful does think of your name, that person thinks well of you.

Of course, building a great personal brand is easier said than done. In fact, it is frequently a great battle. You have to constantly fight the indifference, hostility, cowardliness, and sometimes even mint-eating lunacy of the people with the power to move you forward or hold you back. Smart organizations go out of their way to look for employees who will enhance, not compromise, the company's reputation.

The single most important thing you can do for your career is to lay the groundwork for an attractive personal reputation.

You also have to combat your own worst impulses. It's easy to be sloppy and allow the dumb things you say at cocktail parties to influence your brand. It's also easy to be blind to the real moments of truth in a career and to blow them. It's easy to forget that good personal brands are usually built brick by brick and day by day-and that any transaction you have with anyone in a professional capacity has the potential to subtly alter your brand, for better or for worse. It's also easy to give in to the temptation to take a little shortcut now and then, only to find years down the road that this has cost you everything you've worked for. As hard as you have to fight to build a good brand, you often have to fight even harder to keep it.

Generally, the greatest battles in a career are the battles you have with yourself as you struggle to give the world reasons only to judge you positively. I wrote this book to help ambitious people win those battles and build the kind of name for themselves that will allow them to rise to the level of their ambitions.

This is a natural offshoot of my last book, Brand Warfare, in which I offered the basic rules for any corporation that was hoping to establish and build an attractive public personality. And like Brand Warfare, this book is not an academic treatise, full of theories derived from scientific studies. Instead, this is the product of 30 years of business experience. The rules are my rules, and they have come out of years of observing-sometimes with admiration and sometimes with stunned disbelief-how people hoping to succeed in organizational life really behave.

Of course, you may very well be wondering whether I wrote this book because I have been infallible in managing my own personal brand.

Definitely not. I have made my share of mistakes over the years and have generated my share of negative news stories. I hope that because I have shot myself in the foot a few times, I can offer you a fuller picture of the struggle to create and maintain a good reputation throughout a career. People also ask me how I have the time to write, given my day job as CEO of John Hancock Financial Services.

I hate to disappoint any reader who believes that CEOs write every word of their own books themselves, in longhand. Maybe some CEOs do, but I had help with this endeavor. The demands on my time were therefore reasonable. I might also have a few more free hours than most executives because I don't play golf, I don't serve on other forprofit corporate boards, and I don't belong to a rock band.

Instead, I actually find it recreational to organize my ideas on a subject that I am interested in. Since I rose to the CEO's job after beginning my career in marketing and public relations, brand building is something I have given a great deal of thought to over the years. Fortunately, this is an interest that serves the interests of John Hancock very nicely. In addition, since my profits from both books are assigned to John Hancock, which in turn sends them to charities, I considered writing this book a good way to help raise money for good causes. Finally, I consider the audience for this book to also be a good cause-good enough that I am willing to accept whatever criticism this work generates in order to give you the unsentimental truth about organizational life.

I have seen too many otherwise talented and capable men and women squander their careers because they were too self-absorbed or arrogant, or failed to project the right personal qualities to people in power, or didn't understand how important it is to treat a receptionist well on any ordinary Monday morning. I don't like to see talent wasted, so I hope to convince you that you are building something important every day with everything you say and everything you do.

It's the brand you make for yourself that determines whether you become mayor of the vertical village-or the village idiot. I wrote this book to help you ensure that the brand you're stuck with is the one you'd give yourself, if you had the choice.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 9 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2006

    Fellow female execs...if you read just one book, make it this one

    This book delivers one of the most powerful insights you will ever collect in your life, and with incredible humor, too! I found this book extremely helpful in explaining what truly sets one individual apart from the next equally capable individual. Hard work is merely half of the game and this book shows you how to win the other half. This amazing book absolutely will give you an advantage over your competitors. The book was not penned specifically with the female audience in mind, but the lessons are so solid that they should be the framework of your overall career strategy. You can forge ahead with all the female specific tips and tactics you fancy, but trust that the branding war will always be the most important one to wage and win.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2004

    Packed with Knowledge!

    Every business person needs a cranky mentor who speaks from vast experience and offers lessons and examples about the skills necessary to realize their ambitions in various business cultures. Author David F. D¿Alessandro is a marketing guru, and a skilled phrase maker and spin doctor. To his own surprise, he was offered a chair at the management table where the bottom line decisions get made on his way to becoming CEO of John Hancock Financial Services. In the framework of rules for personal branding and in the interest helping you play office politics successfully, D¿Alessandro spins dozens of yarns that bring context and reality to a subject that is often speculated about by authors who have never really achieved the success their books describe. His advice is ruthlessly honest, pointed, witty, precise and ripe with polished anecdotes. For this reason We recommend this book to business persons anywhere on the corporate ladder who suspect their battle plan may be ready for a few new moves.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2003

    Great Read

    I¿m not much for career advice books, but I bought this book because I loved D¿Alessandro¿s first book, Brand Warfare. I¿m glad I did, because this is a real gem. It¿s a book that I¿d wish someone had given to me the day I entered the working world. And if you don¿t have patience for boring books, don¿t worry, this is a very fun read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2003

    Career Warfare review

    Full of smart advice for the real world, not just another complilation of ego driven tales by an out-of-touch CEO. This book is full of advice that anyone can use. And it is a great read, instructive and entertaining. I would recommend it to anyone, especially those just entering the working world.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 2003

    What they don't tell you in business school

    I picked this book up figuring I might find a couple of tips to help me navigate office politics. What a surprise! I was totally blown away by the quality of the writing, the humor, and volume of valuable insights. I highly recommend this to anyone that has to work for a living.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2003

    Smart and entertaining book...

    'This is both a smart book and a very entertaining book. In addition to the often hilarious but useful stories, I loved the comparison the author makes between companies and towns. Anyone who has ever worked in a corporate setting knows that organizations are not rational. I loved the concept of workplaces as 'vertical villages' that D'Alessandro refers to, complete with a mayor, a planning board and a town drunk. This is a great book for recent and soon-to-be college graduates.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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