Growing up Asian, we are told that hard work is always what is needed to achieve success.Like a good Chinese, I followed that advice and worked my butt off at McKinsey, my first job.Fortunately or unfortunately, I learned quickly that hard work is not enough and sometimes does not even help.
I was on my 3rd project at McKinsey just about a year after college.My manager was a junior EM, basically someone who is not officially a manager yet but is up for promotion soon.This project was his proving ground.I was naive and eager and tried my best to do a good job.I worked almost every weekend on this project.I distinctly remember once he asked me to work one weekend to summarize a mountain of research into two slides.I was diligent and I worked about 10 hours each day. I was able to do it and send them to him by Sunday night.
I remember feeling relieved and accomplished that night.Well, long story short, he didn’t use those slides for four weeks.When the Senior Manager finally saw the slides four weeks later, they used them in the client presentation.And guess who got the credit for it?Well, it wasn’t me.A few months later, when the client was not happy with some part of the project, guess who received the blame?Well, it was not my manager.
How did this happen, you may ask?Well, I was not in many of the senior level meetings as an Analyst, so my manager can say whatever he wanted about my performance, which included blaming me for the clients’ dissatisfaction and taking credit for my work. I only received an Average rating for that project, but I learned a lot about politics and what it takes to be successful.Here were my mistakes:
- I spent 150% of my energy on doing good work and almost none on publicizing my good work to anyone but my manager.I could have easily done some subtle PR and copied those slides I sent to my manager also to the senior manager and partner, under the guise of getting feedback or in case they needed to use them. Either way, they would have known that it was I who made them oand 4 weeks earlier.
- I didn’t take any time to build relationships with the partner, senior manager, or the client and didn’t take any time building a support network at the office with other senior folks.I followed my upbringing, kept my head down, and worked hard.So when the manager blamed things on me, no one could question him about it.They don’t have any other reference point.
- I also assumed that my manager would represent me fairly – a bad assumption I try not to make again.He was up for promotion so any blemish on his performance could affect that.He didn’t really believe in developing others, so I was a good scapegoat.Not all managers are like him, but they are definitely out there.
At the end of the day, I learned a lot during my two years at McKinsey. Years later, the Partner on that project met up with me in San Francisco for coffee (I learned and had kept in touch with him). He actually apologized for that manager’s behavior and asked if I was interested in re-joining McKinsey after business school. I wasn’t but it was a nice gesture.
Moral of the story:
- Perception is reality. Whatever others perceive about you is true in their mind. If you don’t spend time shaping their perception of you, then someone else (e.g., like my manager) will for their own benefit. This is why you should leverage politics to further your career and also why first impression you make at a company is very important.
- Self promotion is key: Hard work helps with success only if the right people knows about it and if it delivers results. Here are some idea of how to start doing self-promotion subtly to build your reputation.
- Soft skills helps us work smart instead of hard to achieve career success. This is why I am passionate about writing these newsletter articles on the 28 soft skills every professional should learn. This way you can work smarter and not just hard and be recognized always for the brilliant work you do.
If you are committed to developing your soft skills, then sign up for a Soft Skills Gym membership today!
Your comments: Do you agree with this articles? Share your comments and questions below and let’s have a discussion.