What drives me nuts is the idea that to show my value I need to stay late or come in early. Staying late is part of the criteria for getting promoted. If you’re not working longer hours, you’re not suited for upper management.
Five days out of seven (71% of the days in our life) we work all day. Do we really have to prove we’re committed by giving up our nights too? And is it at all correlated with how well a person manages other people, how strategically they think, or whether we bring new ideas to the table? No, of course it isn’t.
When I was a kid I saw this movie called “The Big Kahuna.” The whole movie takes place in one room and Kevin Spacey plays this great character who is trying to teach a young guy, Bob, the ropes. Kevin Spacey (playing a character named Larry) says to Bob:
Larry: There are people in this world, Bob, who look very official while they are doing what they are doing. And do you know why?
Larry: Because they don’t know what they are doing. Because if you know what you are doing, then you don’t have to look like you know what you are doing, because it comes naturally.
I never forgot those lines. They stuck with me. For my whole life I’ve remembered to focus on value, not creating perceptions. I don’t say the thing I know people want to hear. I say the thing I think needs to be said. I don’t do what is asked, I do what I think is needed. Sometimes it works against me and I know it. I don’t care.
If I have to work 60 hour work weeks to prove my value, what does that say about my actual value?
There are some people who aren’t good managers, who aren’t strategic, or analytical, or creative. They may need to work harder to be more valuable. I don’t want to be one of those people. I want to get paid more because I think more intelligently than my peers. I’m not asserting that I’m more intelligent than my peers. I’m asserting that I make the important choice of focusing my thoughts and efforts on real value, not politics, and the result is a more intelligent worker.
We don’t promote for intelligence though. Maybe it’s too abstract a concept. People get promoted because they took on, and maybe even hoarded, more projects. Or they’re provide for their experience. That is to say they are not the smartest, but the most entrenched in the workflow. They become the “go-to person”. At some point, some project they know lots about needs leadership and they are very knowledgeable and they work hard. They put in long hours.
Boom, that is your typical manager.
I’m not saying that isn’t what you should do. It might be the fastest way for you to get promoted. My way might not make you more money anytime soon. This could be the rant of an idealist destined for nothing great. I’m just saying, if you want to provide real value and be surrounded by people who offer real value, then you need to focus on real value. If you focus on working hard, knowing a lot, and appearances… you will, to some extent, lose sight of real value.
Here’s an interesting way to think of it. When I picture an athlete, I picture someone tall and muscular but in a lean way, not a body builder kind of way. It isn’t about raw lifting power, it’s about all around agility. Who is quicker, can jump further, climb faster, swim faster? It’s about true athletic ability. That’s who you want to be, the athlete and not the heavy lifter.
If you found this post interesting, I think you’d like my post on managers becoming obsolete: