Aptitude and Attitude
Many invincible executives require that new hires take intelligence and psychological tests. Sam Fox of the Harbour Group told me that his company simply will not hire anyone, even a receptionist, who is not in the ninety-ninth percentile of all college graduates in intelligence. "There is no substitute for intelligence and integrity," says Fox. One of the main reasons people cut corners in business is that they are not smart enough to get the job done right. So they look for little ways to compensate for their intellectual shortcomings. It may be by taking credit for someone else's work. It may be by saying they completed an assignment that they in fact have not completed. It may involve stretching the truth or the law. A lot of opportunism that you see in the workplace is a cover for incompetence.
Energy and Attitude
Wait a minute! There are a lot of opportunistic employees and coworkers who are really smart, aren't there? In fact, the stereo-typical corporate opportunist is a highly intelligent, conniving SOB, right?
Sometimes, but less often than you would think. Most opportunists are clever but vacuous—they have mastered the art of appearance but exhibit very little depth. Keep in mind what we said earlier—invincible executives admire ambition. Often what separates an ambitious person from an opportunist is intelligence. Smart people see the whole picture, so they realize that long-term success requires a commitment to the organization and hard work. Opportunists, on the other hand, try to get more than they deserve, which often means using underhanded tactics to leverage their intellectual shortcomings.
There are exceptions—i.e., situations where intelligent people become opportunists. One is where the smart person is downright lazy. People who focus on the "flash" rather than the "sweat equity" will eventually be exposed, according to Joe Ryan, executive vice president at Marriott. If a smart person does not like to work, he or she will cut corners, just like a person who is in over his or her head intellectually. Stupidity and laziness are one and the same as far as the effect on the organization. Consequently, invincible executives keep their eyes on the lookout for people who come in late or leave early, who always take the maximum number of days off allowed, who find excuses not to work extra hours or weekends when the job demands it. Again, this is more than a question of work ethic; it is a sign of a potential opportunist.
The Honesty Check
Finally, invincible executives—even those who feel they have good intuition—do exhaustive background checks on those with whom they are considering working—employees as well as customers and suppliers. They know that 30 percent of résumés have material misrepresentations on them. That includes high-level people. An Illinois circuit judge had to resign recently because he had lied about receiving the Medal of Honor. The football coach at Notre Dame resigned in 2001 because he had lied about his prior playing and coaching experience. If you want to be invincible professionally, you must verify the integrity of those with whom you are entrusting your career.
It is surprising (and unfortunate) how many people hire or do business with others based upon an interview, a meeting, or by taking a résumé or marketing brochure at face value. To protect your own career, you need to verify independently the facts people provide you about themselves or their companies. There is so much information available about other people and organizations—much of it online through LexisNexis, Internet websites, and government agencies from police departments to the Securities and Exchange Commission—that there is no excuse anymore for doing business with a bad egg. Invincible executives check out every fact on a résumé. Invincible executives verify every representation in a marketing brochure. They do criminal background checks and study the litigation history of any prospective employee or business associate. They investigate the financial history of prospective trading partners. They do ethics investigations into financial and legal advisers to see if they have ever been professionally disciplined.
If a person lies to get a job, he will lie to keep it and will lie when he sues you after you fire him. If a supplier lies to get your business, he will lie when he cannot perform, and he will lie when you sue him for it. Most of the time, the professional histories of these people and companies will tip you off that they are opportunistic. Do not take the statements of those who want to work with you at face value.