If there ever was a cheat sheet for hacking the corporate race it would tell you to focus on one thing before all others- find a winning horse and ride it. What does that mean? When you start in a corporate, you are an insignificant employee, one of many. In order to advance you need to step up and gain traction. You can do this by working diligently for many years, hoping to be noticed, or by simply attaching yourself to a successful executive within the organization and piggyback him. You’ve seen it many times- people who have roughly the same skill set and experience as you are being handed more interesting, high-profile tasks, which the utilize to build a name for themselves and later to leverage towards a promotion. If you look closer into what they are doing you are likely to find that they have found a mentor or a patron which sees them as their protégé, grooms them and carries them under they’re wings. This is not to hint that these people have done something wrong (like sucking up to their superiors), but just to indicate that such relationship exists and are utilized by both parties- the benefactor gains a loyal helper while the client gains a mentor, a career boost and access to additional, improved opportunities. And these can be very useful in a corporate environment, where everyone is vying for the elusive “promotion”. So, yes, the winning horse strategy is certainly beneficial for many operating in such culture. But it’s a double edged sword strategy. Why? Because when your patron has reached its apex and the inventible decline starts, so will your career trajectory. I’ve witnessed it firsthand several times- I’ve bet on a dashing executive, helped him and was subsequently rewarded, only to find him being cut and having to look for another, which, in turn, has also found a premature end to his corporate ascent. After experiencing this emotionally draining process segveral times I’ve decided that I was never going to let my fate be tied to this of another, regardless of how talented or “trending” he might be. I’ve continued to groom my relationship with these hotshots, but never too close as to be seen as “the VP Sales’ man”. Affiliation can be a dangerous thing in a corporate environment, so if you’re not 100% aligned with someone at least make sure you are distinguished from them. I think that this experience taught me the importance of agility (the need and ability to hop between one leader to another) and self-reliance. In the end, these people are not your friends. They are using you as much as you are using them (for delegating tasks, gaining a cult-like following within the corporate or simply enjoying a home crowd). Make use of such connections, by all means. But don’t relay on one to carry you through your career. At best this is a short term tactic, not a career strategy.
The best way to win this race is to be self-reliant. After all- even the best horses fail sometimes, but your independence and perseverance will never fail you.