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212 – Climbing Up The Corporate Food Chain: “You’re Either A Money-Maker Or A Killer!”

Kurt Sutter's Outlaw Empires
Kurt Sutter’s Outlaw Empires

Kurt Sutter is the guy behind “Sons of Anarchy.” Back in 2012 he did a documentary on the Aryan Brotherhood for the Discovery Channel series, Outlaw Empires.

The Aryan Brotherhood was born in the 1960’s and grew from a prison system based band of criminals to one of the most feared groups in history. One person in the documentary, John  (one of the founders) revealed how the group finally realized they needed a more structured leadership. By the 1980’s they had established a 3-man commission. He was one of the commissioners. An articulate man imprisoned for life, he said, “There’s only two ways to get to the top. You either earn your way or kill your way. You’re either a money-maker or a killer.”

Don’t go thinking I know my way around climbing to the top of a criminal organization. I have no firsthand knowledge or experience. I have seen The Godfather and plenty of documentaries on organized crime so I understand the basic concepts.

In season 1 of Vikings (a History Channel TV series that is now in season 2), the main character, Ragnar Lothbrok, engaged in a one-on-one battle with Earl Haraldson, the local chieftain. The victor would be acknowledged by the society as the ruler. Ragnar killed Earl Haraldson and instantly became the chieftain. Survival of the fittest and all that.

In the business sector it’s not terribly different, except it’s less literal and more metaphorical. Power, fear and authority in the corporate setting often stem from a person’s ability to do you harm. Hopefully, no literal blood is shed. It’s bad enough to have a career that hemorrhages to death. At least you can go find another one and start over though. If you get shanked in prison and die…or if you battle to the death with a subordinate who wants your kingdom, let’s just say your opportunities for redemption are dead, too.

As for the money-maker or the earner, we all appreciate the person who can get us things we can’t otherwise find. From Radar on MASH who could work magic to get the supplies lacking at the 4077, to the rainmaker who brings in new clients to the law firm – and all the countless examples in between – we all have learned the value of the person who can bring in business or increase the assets. They become indispensable to the organization. They may become indispensable to us, too.

Money-Maker or Killer: Which One Are You?

Don’t confuse money making with just sales. It’s not merely about revenue generation. It’s about being valuable and other people seeing your value. It’s also why killing your way to the top works so well. It gains you instant visibility. And notoriety. Doing good work tends to keep you off the radar like a referee in a game who does a great job. You can become invisible if you report to work daily and do a good job. You can’t remain anonymous if you’re terrorizing people.

Now I don’t have to tell you that if you’ve got enough cold water in your veins to instill fear among your cohorts, you’re eventually going to encounter somebody whose blood runs even colder. Then what will you do? Or you may go after the wrong person, at the wrong time and find yourself lying in a pool of your own blood. Ruthlessness is a hard road to follow in getting ahead, but history is filled with success stories.

But there’s another kind of killer in the business world, the person capable of besting the competition. We tend to focus merely on people inside the company who get ahead at the expense of their peers. That’s a crummy way to go. Instead, it’s possible to add value to your organization because you have an ability to defeat the competition, or contribute heavily toward that cause.

Money makers and killers. It’s two completely different personalities, skill sets and inclinations. But both can achieve success others only dream of.

What if you’re neither of these? What if you’re not resourceful in bringing value and you’re not a killer either? Well, kiss your butt good-bye. You’ve got to add value somewhere, somehow. Then, you’ve got to be visible enough to gain proper recognition. Else…you’ll wind up like the millions who suffer daily with the frustration of feeling under-appreciated.

Some tips discussed in today’s podcast:

  • You have to identify and faithfully serve your number one customer. It’s not who you think it is.
  • You have to be able to see problems and solutions.
  • You have to be able to clearly communicate your ideas, and sell them.
  • You must believe in yourself and your ideas. It’s a confidence you must cultivate.
  • You can’t be bashful, but you can’t be overbearing either. You have to know when/where to pick your spots.
  • You must forge helpful alliances. Successful people don’t go it alone.
  • Visibility is key. You have to help others see your value else it will go unnoticed.
  • Your value is often determined by what others value, not what you value.
  • Life is not fair, but you can improve your odds by being capable, smart, confident and visible.
  • Gripe guts and malcontents won’t rise to the top and if they do, they won’t stay there long. Don’t join them. Avoid them.
  • Promote other people. Climb the ladder with colleagues. You need their help. Besides, it broadens your scope of influence.
  • It’s a marathon with countless sprints built in along the way. Be prepared to break away from the pack in an instant. You never know when your opportunity will come.
  • Do not let it go to your head. Keep your head on a swivel and stay on top of your game. Keep building value in your career.
  • Success is never final. Be prepared to suffer a setback.
  • Failure isn’t final either. Well, it doesn’t have to be. Be resilient. Bounce back. Be a fighter!


Luck, Timing And A Benefactor: Lessons From Early American Titans Of Industry

Like most young people who get breaks, luck has a lot to do with it, and timing. And the second factor, besides timing, is that as a young man usually all of us would admit that there was a mentor, a benefactor. And when an older person who you respect and admire has confidence in you, it’s a great booster to your own self-confidence.”

– Steve Wynn, regarding Tom Scott’s mentoring of Andrew Carnegie, on the History Channel’s “The Men Who Built America”

 Timing. Andrew Carnegie’s life was full of good timing and bad timing. Not unlike your life. Or mine.

As a 12-year old boy, “Andy” was working for Tom Scott’s Pennsylvania Railroad. He became Scott’s personal assistant and in short order, Scott took a special interest in Carnegie. He taught young Carnegie the railroad business, and along the way a thing or two about operating a business.

There’s much more to success in business than luck, timing and a benefactor.  Some things that are good. Others…not so much.

Ruthless business behavior isn’t limited to the stories you hear about today’s technology giants or social media moguls. It was well practiced by the men who built America. Winners don’t take well to losing. Some will do whatever it takes – legal or not, ethical or not – to gain an advantage.

Smartness isn’t the private domain of those who’ve built companies like Apple, Microsoft, Intel, Oracle or Facebook. Being smart pays off in every arena of life and in every era. Yet, there are many success stories whose main character was less than brilliant. You don’t have to be a top drawer brain to be successful in business.

Luck, timing and a person willing to show us the way or help us out are three common denominators often seen in the stories of successful people. That isn’t meant to diminish brilliance, determination and courage. Or the power of ruthlessness.

Post Civil War America was built mostly by ruthless men. Men whose business success was fueled by fearlessness, opportunity and an intense desire to best their peers. Putting the other guy out of business was often the primary objective in the early 1900’s. During America’s industrial age capitalism was dominated with men doing their best to gain a monopolistic advantage. From railroads, to steel, to oil and to electricity – early American business success came most to those able to dominate an infrastructure industry.

Could these industries have progressed without enemies driving the competitive spirit? Likely not. It’s the reason Edison invented the electric chair! Nor is it likely that any of these early pioneers of business could have achieved their success without luck, timing and a benefactor.

Take Edison and Tesla, one of Edison’s underlings. Both were brilliant (smart). Both were hard-working and devoted to their ideas. Tesla resigned from Edison’s company because of his firm belief that alternating current (AC) was more powerful and useful than direct current (DC). Edison was all in on DC and dismissed Tesla’s ideas so Tesla quit.

Edison had JP Morgan backing him. Tesla had Westinghouse.

JP Morgan ended up with the whole shebang called General Electric. Sometimes one benefactor wound up on top! It’s always better to have successful coat tails to latch onto. History might have been very different if Tesla’s benefactor had won. But he didn’t. Tesla’s horse lost and the rest is history.

Without boldness, courage, conviction in their rightness and confidence in their ability…it’s doubtful any of these early American businessmen would have found luck, timing or a benefactor. Good things don’t necessarily come to those who wait. More often than not, they come to those who step out from the crowd determined to find them, chase them down and own them. It’s high risk behavior.

But I wonder if it’s any riskier than those poor workers who suffered the abuses of working conditions that were life threatening. Living without options, no choices. Destined to accept whatever low wage was offered, working whatever schedule was imposed on them and suffering a life without hope for improvement.

The titans created their own choices. Failure was always an option, but so was success. It seems they were driven to have choice. And to connect with whomever could help them achieve their dream. They were committed to their own cause, their own idea and their own belief. I hope you are, too!


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