The Community Proxy
Finally, banker Drew Baur notes that most successful executives become best known not for their on-the-job accomplishments, but for their involvement with the community. They participate in charities and fund-raisers. This commitment "cannot be hollow," but must be sincere, according to Baur. Indeed, Baur believes it is the duty of business professionals to take an active role in their communities. He notes, however, that civic activities have the secondary benefit of increasing your standing in the business community.
The Hollywood Rule of Self-Promotion
Joel Gotler, the Beverly Hills agent I discussed earlier, belongs to the sizeable minority of top executives who believe that self-promotion is almost always good for a career. And in Hollywood, he may be right. But even Mr. Gotler and Hollywood have one limit on the extent to which you can successfully self-promote: never become bigger than the client.
When I interviewed Adam Clymer, Washington correspondent for the New York Times, he said effectively the same thing: the reporter should never be bigger than the story. In media-centered fields like music, movies, and journalism, you can get away with more overtly self-promotional activity (jeez, look at Geraldo), but you cross the line when your self-promotion "diminishes the product," "becomes the story," or "overshadows the client." Good advice from the pro-promotion side of the court.
Rule 6: Connections Get You a First Chance, but Never a Second One
How important are connections and networking to professional success?
Important: 25 percent
Unimportant: 75 percent
A management consultant told me the following story, which captures in a nutshell the value of networking and connections to professional success. The CEO of a major company called the chairman of a prominent consulting firm. The consulting firm received an average of $4 million annually from the company that the CEO ran. The CEO asked the firm's chairman to "consider" his son for an associate's position at the consulting firm. The son had a grade point average of 3.0 and a class rank of 64 out of 150 at a mid-ranked business school. The consulting firm normally hired students from that business school only if they were in the top 10 percent of their class.
The chairman of the consulting firm was concerned that the firm could lose the company as a client unless he hired the CEO's son. He recommended to the recruiting committee that the firm lower its standards and hire the kid. There was stiff resistance to hiring him among some members of the recruiting committee, but other members of the recruiting committee did a lot of consulting work for that client and sided with the chairman. The young man got the offer.
Within six months, the young man had screwed up two projects and treated a client rudely. The consulting firm lost one client, fired the kid, and lost the father's business as well. The partners who had recommended against hiring the kid were merciless on those who had supported the hiring.
"If we had just told the CEO that his son simply did not meet our threshold requirements for associates—in very straight and objective terms—the kid would have been better off, our clients would have been happier, our partnership would have been wealthier, and we might not have lost the father's company as a client. That was the last time we played the connections game," the consultant lamented.