Leadership

10 less-than-ethical ways to get ahead

Itching for advancement, no matter what it takes? Alan Norton offers a wry look at some strategies for those who are unencumbered by a moral code.

It's a new year and a good time to strategize ways to get that long-overlooked promotion you deserve. Admittedly, there are risks involved with the 10 strategies listed below, but where has playing it safe gotten you thus far?

1: Gift your boss

A gift to your boss can go a long way toward your advancement. Don't waste your efforts on lower management who have no say in your future. And don't give money -- that's bribery! Instead, cater to your boss's vices. And don't skimp on the gift. No doubt your boss has expensive tastes and you want the gift to be remembered, so get the best. The ROI will be well worth the money spent when you consider the future income stream from your soon-to-be-received raise. Gifting works only with naïve, shallow bosses, so be judicious about where you fling the bling.

2: Suck up to your boss

Being the Yes Man is a time-honored tradition for those who lack the highest valued skill sets. You will likely lose a few friends in the process, but hey, it's a small price to pay to get that bigger paycheck. Besides, if you don't take the role of manager's pet, someone else will.

3: Lie about your nonexistent virtues

There is no need to lead a virtuous life. It is so much work and so tedious! All you need to do is tell others about your charity work in the community, your acts of kindness toward animals and the lesser hominoids, and all those old ladies you have helped across the street. The fact that you haven't actually done any of these is totally irrelevant. They will never know the difference.

4: Exaggerate your work

Chances are that your managers don't really know what you do, so it's easy to make your work sound like it should be nominated for the Turing Award. Drop a few buzzwords whenever the opportunity arises and snow your boss with a blizzard of technical jargon. The more obscure your area of expertise, the better. Of course, you will have to restrict access to your actual work to successfully carry out the ruse. But that can easily be accomplished by leaking only a few bits and pieces when details are requested.

5: Talk down the competition

It is so easy to hurt the image of the competition. A few words here and a few negative rumors there will raise your status as surely as it will lower theirs. Nevermind the patent leather shoe marks on your co-worker's backs; they will eventually heal. Climbing the corporate ladder is a contact sport.

6: Sabotage

One way to bring down those rising stars in your group a peg or two is to throw a virtual shoe into their work. You have to be creative enough to point the finger at the right person without being caught and without doing damage to your group or company. Good luck with that.

7: Cheat the numbers

A few extra hours added to the "hours worked" column on your timesheet here or there will rarely be noticed, but it may be just enough to show that you work harder than your peers. Besides, it's not really cheating if you take your work home with you. During performance appraisal time, don't forget to inflate the numbers that show how much money you saved the company. There is a teeny tiny catch: It may be illegal where you work. But it's only fraud if you get caught.

8: Hack the system

Remember when you learned about the classmate who hacked into the school computer and changed his grades? You were angry -- not because he got away with it, but because you didn't think of it first. It is so easy to deceive those who rely on "system data" at work. Just hack into the HR system and nudge your performance rating up a point or two. If you're really ambitious, slip a few letters of commendation into your personnel file when no one is looking. You know you deserve them. Don't worry about getting caught. If your rewriting of history is discovered, you can always work for USCYBERCOM or the FBI Cyber Crime unit. Well, then again, maybe not.

9: Blackmail

Blackmail is such an ugly word. Consider it coerced behavioral modification for the stubborn. If you have a co-worker who is impossible to work with, you can always leave. But why give up a good job in tough times when an alternate strategy can get rid of that pesky peer? Present your boss with an "either he goes or I go" ultimatum. You can simply refuse to work with the bad egg. It's risky business, though. You better be awfully good at what you do. If your boss decides that you are the bad egg, you might be the one to go.

10: Incite mutiny

If all else fails, it is time to bring out the heavy guns. A little bit of discontent sown amongst your crewmates can lead to a change of captains. Managers are moved on to greener pastures all the time and who knows, you might be doing them a big favor. You only have to whisper the right words to the right people to tilt the decision in your direction. It's a crapshoot, assuming it does work. You might get a new manager who's more favorable to you and your future advancement -- or you might wind up with the manager from Hades.

The bottom line

We like to think of ourselves as "civilized" beings. After all, we have a conscience that guides our behavior. But when we want something, the human mind seems to have an endless capacity to rationalize the most unethical of acts. In many ways, our bad behavior is not all that dissimilar from the bad behavior of animals. There are numerous examples of "unethical" behavior in the animal kingdom, from ravens that steal and gorillas that lie to the cuckoo bird that tricks another bird species into raising their young and the cuckoo chicks that murder their non-cuckoo nest mates. Like it or not, humans deceive, cheat, steal, and lie to get ahead and probably always will.

If you do decide to employ any of these strategies of advancement, don't blame me if they do not work out well for you. You are completely on your own. I've got you sussed if you try any of these on my watch. I'm not gonna take it.

About

Alan Norton began using PCs in 1981, when they were called microcomputers. He has worked at companies like Hughes Aircraft and CSC, where he developed client/server-based applications. Alan is currently semi-retired and starting a new career as a wri...

92 comments
dcavanaugh
dcavanaugh

There is a catch. Any behavior that is rewarded is sure to be repeated. If you use these tactics to get ahead, it's only a matter of time before someone else plays the game better than you do. Guess what happens then? If you work for a company where these tactics work, the best career advancement is a new employer.

jayohem
jayohem

and Lord knows I've worked with some. The weird thing is that the people in charge believe them. Ohterwise they wouldn't keep winning performance awards and bonuses. Six to Ten can result in 6 to 10, if they're lucky, murder and mayhem upon their person or 25 to life if they're not. Number one is just silly. Unless the boss got where he/she is by following one or more of the other ideas, the gift will go to the wife and family, the bit on the side, the secretary, the Secret Santa gift exchange. Ah yes, good old original sin! or as the medieval poet expressed it, "In Adam's fall we sinned all."

skooboy
skooboy

A co-worker once tried this on me. I confronted him in the hallway and invited him outside to destroy me face-to-face. He declined, so after quietly threatening that next time I'd kick his @ss, he backed off and he never attempted to sour another person's character for personal gain, ever again.

chrisl317
chrisl317

Come up with 10 ethical ways to get ahead that actually work.

bobmatch
bobmatch

I'm going to print this out and give it to my child when she enters the workforce. Not that she should use these tactics to get a head, but to defend herself from those who do. From my experience its a cruel world out there and I had to learn the hard way. The fact of the matter is lots of bosses encourage this behavior. For them its a sport of sorts with the benefit of keeping them divided while promoting competition. And the thing of it is, if its a privately own company, you can only get so far. There is always a blood line somewhere waiting in the wings that will pop in and take that management spot fresh out of school while being groomed to be boss someday. At one job, I've quitted after being severely screwed around with only to find out that the 'winner' of the game died of a hart an attack a few months later.

cybershooters
cybershooters

Especially if you're in a govt. job, all sorts of HR, civil rights, etc. rules you can use to your advantage.

lscottk0
lscottk0

Tom Shadyac (Hollywood director for films like Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor) recently released a new documentary that examines scientific evidence which suggests another picture of human nature than that painted in Mr. North's article. While we humans certainly engage in behaviors that are destructive, self-serving, mean, and hurtful to others, perhaps we're actually wired to find our greatest peace and fullfilment by engaging in behaviors based upon compassion and fostering community. While many may not agreee, this documentary is thought provoking if nothing else. Here's a link to the website for Tom Shadyac's new film: http://iamthedoc.com/

Gwynnie
Gwynnie

She had the Top 7 down solid! When you have that, there's no need to know #10: the boss always went along with her! I left and it was the best thing I ever did.

raos01
raos01

Alan, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your satire on people who use unethical practices to get ahead in their organization. The corporate world is full of "educated" jokers who lack moral fibre and integrity (these are black words in that world). But then I remember the immortal words - You can fool some of the people all the time, all the people some of the time but not all the people all the time. Personally, I like to be straightforward and treat my team members as I would like to be treated. This has not taken me very quickly up the corporate ladder. What the hell, I am happy the way I am. Are people at the top happier than others? I am not so sure. After all, we only live one life (unless you believe in reincarnation). Great article....I hope people read it carefully enough to see the satire in it.

cd613
cd613

bitchin and moaning back stabbing squealing on your friends

The Management consultant
The Management consultant

Things change and all these things are short term fixes.If you have not got it in the first place you are buying time by undertaking these things.Its amazing after leaving companies you discover who was doing what and who had the hands in the till!

Bomber1JZ
Bomber1JZ

Good to see that around 90% of us saw this in an amusing light. As for the the other indignant people... Smile, stress less, you will live longer!! :D

Dukhalion
Dukhalion

then You are not a teamplayer, and get the boot. If You do, You get caught, and get the boot. So what can You do? Start selling boots of course.

doc.beattie
doc.beattie

Sorry 'bout that, but this information has been immortalized by the US military many years ago (just after WWII) in one of their textbooks that all MUST read to get advancement potential. Kind of Military Subjects 101.

RickVogelVTS
RickVogelVTS

Simply ridiculous. I hope this is all a joke. If it's not... I pray anyone that follows this type of nonsensical advice is soon added to the unemployment figures. There are plenty of good people out there who could fill your shoes, and who need the work you're pretending to do...

pitairis
pitairis

hope this is a joke or else no wonder our country is in decline and in decay and don't blame anyone but those who espouse this low life philosophy for the obvious outcome

patg00
patg00

is the only thing I've ever seen work. And it works a lot. Me, I'm old, (changed careers at 38, 15 years ago) and tend to speak my mind. Burning bridges all the way.

Englebert
Englebert

Find out about the bosses hobbies/interests. If it's bullfighting, then read up about this like crazy. Then converse on the subject, asking questions and pretend that you're fascinated with the subject. 'E would not want to let go of an employee who shares his interests

Ed.Pilling
Ed.Pilling

From being in board room meetings and seeing others get ahead it is almost that you do have to lie, cheat and steal to get ahead. It is shocking that some of the biggest crooks I have met have actually went the farthest in the market.

deltadan
deltadan

In the future, please spare us when you have nothing to say...

kitekrazy
kitekrazy

Enter the public school teaching profession. This kind of crap happens and sometimes works when it comes to filling administrative positions within a district.

Freetime000
Freetime000

At first I wasn't sure if this was a joke or not.

Brian.Buydens
Brian.Buydens

Alan: I really enjoyed your piece. In one of my former jobs I had a colleague who consistently engaged in behaviors 1) 2) 4) and 5). As examples, he would invite the boss to his place for visits, play on the boss' hockey team (yes I'm Canadian), make funny but biting remarks cutting down the other employees etc. If he saw another employee in the parking lot he would literally run into work so he could be there first. In a way it was kind of funny to watch. Unfortunately employees like him cost companies a lot of money. While they look good to the boss they may cause otherwise good co-workers to become mediocre, disgruntled, or leave the company. One point I think you missed was 11) Stealing other people's ideas. This is much easier if you have already convinced the boss you are a star player, and everyone else is mediocre at best ;-)

Jemonaco
Jemonaco

I worked with one guy who claimed he hadn't had a vacation in 4 years and so nobody else should. When confronted that he'd taken his family out of town for two weeks just last month, after taking a few seconds to ponder he claimed "that was no vacation. I was working remotely the entire time". So another important rule of blind ambition is: "be prepared to lie convincingly to others and yourself".

Vorpaladin
Vorpaladin

It is well known that the Conspiracy of Doves arrangement is unstable and can never persist for long, on those rare occasions when it appears at all. Cheating in any of it's innumerable forms is part of nature because it contributes to a stable evolutionary strategy. There will always be some cheating in any system composed of independent, self-interested elements for the exact same reason that a soap bubble naturally forms into a sphere rather than a cube; all systems seek their minimum energy (i.e. most stable) state. To understand this more deeply, start with the Neo-Darwinian classic "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins and go from there.

stupid user name
stupid user name

So......how did you get such an in-depth knowledge of the subject? :-)

kinglittle
kinglittle

Why even suggest such ways as an alternative and put these ideas into someone's head who maybe never would have considered such unethical behavior?

ggalvan
ggalvan

... you must remember you will become the boss, so someone else would use these against you later :-).

harischandrav
harischandrav

Laugh at boss' crappy jokes Agree, agree, agree with boss, Have lunch with boss everyday - out of sight out of mind Compliment your boss for whatever reason - at least twice a day Dress like your boss - same colors/patterns. Wear the same kind of shoes Same harido

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Do your job to the best of your ability. Unfortunately, too many bosses make this exceedingly difficult by requiring you engage in the behaviors described above.

DennyThePenny
DennyThePenny

President Ronald Reagan said, "There is no limit to what a person can accomplish, if it doesn't matter who gets the credit." Takers always keep taking; givers never stop giving. With the taker, there will be a perpetual churning and he will never have enough; with the giver, contentment. It's just a matter of how you want to live! My wife & I raised 8 kids on a shoestring. They are all winners today, with a proper self image because they had little and could advance up on their own merits. I've had a lot of happy times even though I've seen the undersides of many shoes as they climbed over me, grabbing what they could on their way up the ladder. I was rewarded by many bosses, fired by a few, and at 60, still work hard and find good in life and people. Whatever way you choose, it's contageous to the ones around you.

Jemonaco
Jemonaco

Unlike Bill Clinton's renowned photographic memory, mine is not so good. I can't remember who I told what lies to, so for me honesty and ignorance are appropriate policies! :-)

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Thank you for the kind words. You sound like a good team leader and the golden rule is a great template to follow. Being happy with your work is priceless.

Jemonaco
Jemonaco

cd613 -- Very funny! You made me think of the Al Pacino film "Scent of a Woman". During the "honor trial" scene, Al's cahracter forcefully pointed out to the inquisitor that at least the Chris O'Donnell character was NOT a snitch!

v r
v r

Doc, What is the title of that textbook? I'm sure my last boss' (younger than I and pathologically insecure) father subscribed to its every tenet.

jlippens
jlippens

I don't think the writer was intending to give you ideas, more arming you for what you may be up against in the furture, how to identify it and deal with any aftermath.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

Hi Brian. Thank you. I am glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for point number 11. If only there were some statistics showing just how much this type of bad behavior costs a company perhaps managers would be less apathetic and blind to unethical behavior. One bad egg leads to another. As the good eggs leave, bad eggs get hired. And yes, it's management's fault when this kind of behavior is allowed to fester.

dcerisano
dcerisano

John Nash was awarded a Nobel Prize for mathematically proving the Golden Rule is true: The best result is achieved by considering the collective interest, not merely selfish interest. Dawkin's work is superficial and incomplete, just as Nash found Adam Smith's to be.

Brian.Buydens
Brian.Buydens

Both Conspiracy of Doves and "The Selfish Gene" date back to the 1970s. I wonder if there is more recent research. Psychology has come a long way in the last 40 years.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I have always thought that my skills of observation were weak. Apparently my observation of details over the years is much better than I had thought. I have seen most of these and had a few used against me. One of them, unfortunately, successfully - unfortunately for me that is and fortunately for the other guy.

harischandrav
harischandrav

Actually snarky comments like this are also part of the repertoire. You get in-depth knowledge from accurate observation.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

It is perfectly logical to think that I may be arming the hordes to ravage the planet with bad behavior. Forewarned is forearmed or some such meaningful catchphrase. The next time you see this behavior, you can chuckle quietly to yourself, print out this article, circle the offending behavior, add the offenders name and stealthily slip the article onto your bosses' desk. Then again, ratting out a rat might be considered unethical. Better yet, send a link of this article to your boss today. The antidote for hordes of zombies behaving unethically is managers and co-workers with a conscience armed with knowledge.

DSAnlyst
DSAnlyst

Dress like your boss and wear the same kind of shoes is a brilliant mind poke. They will find that they can relate to you but they won't know why...

jlippens
jlippens

But what was the end result in the long run? Meaning years down the road? Did the "other guy" continue to excel (promoted to his level of incompentancy)? Or was there an inevitable crash somewhere along the way....Karma is a female dog.

Jemonaco
Jemonaco

I have to admit that one of my favorite books on individual and organizational psychology is "Dinosaur Brains: Dealing with All THOSE Impossible People at Work " by Albert J. Bernstein (written in 1989). If a person hasn't read this they are cheating themselves. When dealing with those people impelled by blind ambition, remember, they haven't bothered to flip the lizard logic switch to "off", looked in the mirror, or contemplated the adage: "one thing to remember, as you're climbing to the top, you'd better know the way back down!" :-)

jlippens
jlippens

Think color! Unless she wears pink...I don't particularly like pink on a guy...maybe a pink golf shirt.

techrepublic1947
techrepublic1947

In Sept. 2010 this type of ethics cost 13 people to loose their jobs. They work for Ky Educational TV. They have a board that protects them from the law they thank. At this time some was force to retaire others are still on unemployment 5 have taken their problem to State Personal board and one has a federal law suit pending.

bob
bob

Enjoyed your input, very different from mine I must point out!

v r
v r

Actually, Karma (vroom vroom) is what ran over my dogma (arf arf). Sorry for the old joke. I missed your point. It has been my observation that the jerks will get promoted to a level way, way beyond their level of incompetence, but make enough money to retire earlier than most. A few are fired when their tactics are discovered by someone who is ethical or by someone for whom the benefits no longer accrue. In any case, the jerks leave a long trail of bruised people. It is up to those people to learn from the experience and see the jerks coming from further away. Publicizing your own accomplishments in a matter-of-fact way and continuing to act ethically seem to be two ways that effectively battle the bad energy. I agree with you, jlippens, it is a long run, though.

Alan Norton
Alan Norton

I don't think he got off scot-free. I can tell you what happened to me. I considered the situation untenable so I "took charge" and left - not the smartest move of my career. I probably should have stayed on and taken charge in a less drastic way. But I almost certainly wouldn't be writing today if I had stayed and I do find writing rewarding in a much different way than my previous day job.

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