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How To Succeed: Be A Jerk

This article was written by in Career and Work. 6 comments.

Jeffery Pfeffer, a Stanford professor (say that out loud), often invited his friend Keith Ferrazzi to speak to his MBA students. Here’s a little about the frequent guest, who is now an independent consultant:

Ferrazzi earned his MBA at Harvard in 1992 and quickly became a star at Deloitte Consulting. Starwood Hotels hired him as its chief marketing officer at age 32, reportedly making him the youngest CMO in the Fortune 500. In 2000 he became CEO of YaYa, a marketing and entertainment company, where he more than doubled revenue each year–even during the dotcom implosion. He sold the company to American Vantage in 2003.

keith-ferrazzi.jpgFerrazzi didn’t get to where hs is by being a nice guy. He made is presence known early on in his career. When accepting his first job post-MBA with Deloitte, he had one condition: that he could dine with the CEO three times each year.

Here’s his key: while he was hired as an entry-level consultant, he behaved like a senior partner from the beginning. In these formative stages, he bragged about his accompishments and ambitions in social settings. Obviously he’s not making friends, yet people eventually came to like him or at least tolerate him so Ferrazzi would associate with them.

Here are some points to take away from the article, if you want to try this method of career advancement:

* Don’t hide your ambitions. (You first have to have ambitions.)
* Sort your acquaintances into A, B, and C lists based on their ability to advance your career and spend more time with those on the A list.
* Focus on activities you do well rather than trying to be well-rounded.
* Don’t worry about offending people on the way up.

I’m not convinced that strictly adhering to this approach without some consideration for other people will work best for all people. There are some things I can take away from the article, but I wouldn’t apply these lessons 100% of the time.

Updated January 27, 2010 and originally published May 16, 2006.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

This premise is TOTALLY false. I’ve worked with and worked for many CEOs throughout my career. The best leaders (“best” meaning those who are able to have people follow them) were the ones who were NOT jerks. I would always throw my full support and loyalty behind those who had no qualms about spending as much time with people on the “C list” as the “A list.” Those leaders show maturity and genuine concern for ALL. Anyone who thinks they can climb the corporate ladder by following this advice will be easily recognized by coworkers who are smart enough to see a kiss-ass. It will only do the opposite of the inrended effect, trust me.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

The most important thing to take away from this story is be true to your talents. The “jerk” is actually what’s known as a shaper. Somehow he figured it out early in life (or got lucky) and positioned himself for advantage.

Everyone has dominant and passive team roles. Every role is needed for high achieving groups. Certain roles cannot succeed without complimentary traits in others. This is why some marriages work and some end in disaster; why NASA could succeed so brilliantly in the 60’s and fail so spectacularly recently. It’s high performing and low performing groups of people, not individuals.

If I still have your attention after all this BS, google Belbin and team roles. Figure out your team role and live it. Trust me. I’m an anonymous person from the internet and I want to help you…

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Don’t hide your ambitions.

I agree with this little rule here. But other than that they sort of rub me in the wrong way. I believe in the “Treat the janitor like the CEO” way of thinking.

You never know who will be ahead of you in the future, so you don’t want them to already be pissed off at you.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Flexo-I’ve been a fan of Keith’s for several years and he does have a blog Never Eat Alone and is the name of his book. Some are put off by Keith but he did work his fanny off considering where he came from. Here’s my executive summary of his book on Networking: Build it before you need it!

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avatar 5 Anonymous


Good stuff. Another winner post. This guy reminds me of some of my brother’s friends on Wall Street in New York. A lot of type “As”, are like this, Madonna included, I think.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

This reminds me of the podcast from “This American Life” how it doesn’t pay to be nice.

People interestingly enough in Chicago left a generous tip to the waiter if he or she wasn’t nice but just did the job. compared to the waiter that was really nice and cared about the customer, they got little. Not sure if it really works but it did for those two.

But you don’t get ahead in the real world by being nice. sometimes people’s feelings get hurt as you advance. it’s the game of life.

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