Promoting Yourself: 52 Lessons for Getting to the Top . . . and Stayinby Hal Lancaster
Longtime Wall Street Journal columnist Hal Lancaster is tired of feel-good career guides written by football coaches and soap opera actors who boil the complex workplace down to buzzwords and platitudes. Refreshing and controversial, Promoting Yourself asserts that readers can best build their careers not by listening to so-called gurus, but by studying others like them who have flourished.
Through stories of real-life professionals, Promoting Yourself reveals a workplace that requires you to pit your competitive fire against a horde of ambitious bosses, peers, and subordinates, all seeking the brass ring of success. Lancaster shows you how with tough, savvy answers to the fundamental questions: How can you find the right job? How can you improve your job? When should you leave? How do you survive your boss's foibles? How do you make sense of all the mergers, technological advances, and cultural changes that have muddied the career waters? When is it necessary to ignore the incessant calls of "family first"?
Promoting Yourselfgives readers the street smarts and insight needed to tackle the highly political and often unjust reality of corporate life.
- Free Press
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Read an Excerpt
Welcome to the career guide for people who hate career guides. You know the books I'm talking about: How to Get a Raise in 30 Minutes; How to Become a CEO in 30 Days or Less; Follow Your Passion to Achieve Career Bliss. The shelves at your local bookstore are groaning with career/leadership/management tomes penned by the latest hot headhunter, executive career adviser, football coach, or motivational flimflammer. You can get leadership lessons from Star Trek, a success primer from Winnie-the-Pooh, and management tips from Moses really! I'm waiting for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Dictators by Fidel Castro or Management by Bullying by Bobby Knight.
Have these career gurus ever lived on this planet? If they did, they'd know their simplistic formulas for career success don't work for everyone. All of you who have toiled in the messy, chaotic vineyards of work know the task of building a career is replete with ups and downs, hurdles and roadblocks, luck and misfortune. Along the way, you pit your skills and competitive fire against a horde of ambitious bosses, peers, and subordinates, all seeking to grab the brass ring of career success. Some will play fair, others won't, and justice won't always prevail. The workplace isn't a pure meritocracy, as much as we'd like it to be (that goes for your workplace, too, you high-tech dreamers).
But that doesn't mean you can't prosper and be happy while doing it. You just need to know the possibilities available to you and then make the best possible choices. That's what this book is all about. What I am offering is a commonsense road map to the issues thatreally matter in building a successful management career: How can you find the right job? How can you make your job better? When should you dump your current job? How can you survive your boss's many quirks and foibles? How do you maneuver through the political quicksand that makes corporate life so treacherous? What alternate paths to glory exist, and what do you need to know to follow them? How can you make sense of all the mergers, technological advances, and cultural mutations that have muddied the career waters? How can you be an effective leader through all these shifting circumstances?
I know a little something about this, having been both a participant and an observer on the front lines of business for thirty years as a reporter and editor for The Wall Street Journal. And for five years I wrote the Journal's weekly "Managing Your Career" column. I'm currently writing a similar column for the Journal's CareerJournal website.
So what will you find lurking in these pages? It won't be convenient buzzwords about empowerment and owning your job, which bear little resemblance to corporate reality. There won't be any paradigm shifting on my watch (if my paradigm shifts one more time, I'll need a chiropractor). I won't kill any trees expounding on the wonders of the two-paragraph cover letter. Entire books are already devoted to that riveting subject. We won't be exploring the soul in the workplace, and I won't promise you health, wealth, and the mate of your dreams in thirty minutes or less.
This book is for those folks who are as bewildered as I am by the training gurus who collect big bucks for convincing people that they can build a smooth corporate team and advance their careers by walking on a wire or tramping through the woods. It's for people who question the quick-fix psychobabble served up by the empowered, self-actualized, spirituality-seeking nexus that now dominates the overstuffed career advice field.
This is a book not for dummies or complete idiots, but for accomplished managers and highly skilled professionals seeking fulfilling careers. It recognizes that as much as things have changed and they have many essential truths about careers remain the same. It recognizes that there are no magic rules of conduct that will transform you into Jack Welch overnight.
But make no mistake about it: This is a book about people seeking a path to career success. And that means wildly different things to different people. For some, it's more important to be an integral part of their children's lives and to support their spouse's careers. They're willing to sacrifice their own advancement to be there when their family needs them. These are certainly people to be admired.
Others want to steam ahead at full speed, even if it means sacrificing parts of their lives. They won't be at all the soccer games and school plays. They'll often combine vacation and business. They will undoubtedly cross swords with their spouses now and again over whose career takes precedence.
Keep that in mind as you read this book, and ignore the incessant bleating of the work-family mafia, who insist that you must always place family and children above all else. All that matters is what works for you and your family. Sometimes not always, or even most of the time the needs of your career must take precedence over the needs of your family. I once wrote that there are times you must say to your kids, "No, I can't play with you, I have to work now." Such heresy earned me several scathing letters, which, in essence, damned me as the Antichrist and insisted that I promptly surrender my children to the nearest authorities.
But for many of us, careers are important and fulfilling. And if your career is a major priority, it doesn't mean you're a bad person. Nobody can do it all, not man, or woman, or beast. If you plan it well, you can be there for most of it. If you've married and parented well, and frequently demonstrated your enduring love to your family, they will understand the rest. Finally, this book is constructed on the notion that you learn best not by listening to the ramblings of so-called experts, but by studying the experiences of others like you who have been through the business wars.
Most of what you will read here comes from the real-life experiences of managers and professionals I have interviewed over the years. Their stories reflect the often baffling contradictions of the business world and offer no pat formulas for career success.
One caveat: It is highly likely that many of the sources cited herein have moved on to other positions since we crossed paths. Since up-to-the-minute descriptions were impossible, given the harsh realities of deadlines in the book-publishing world, I decided to leave them where I originally found them.
Hopefully, in the ensuing chapters, we can show you some of the roads to success others have taken and some of the principles they followed. Many of them, I hope, will resonate with you and offer templates for your own career. Some of them won't. So be it. You choose what might work for you.
Copyright © 2002 by Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Meet the Author
Hall Lancaster spent more than thirty years at The Wall Street Journal as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, and columnist. From 1994 through 1999, he wrote the Journal's weekly "Managing Your Career" column, as well as "Career Corner," a bi-weekly column for CareerJournal.com, the Journal's website for executives, managers, and professionals. He is retired and lives in the Los Angeles area.
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