How to get your boss’s job

The era of the Organization Man has introduced new ground rules for Getting Ahead. Now, according to a clutch of Canada’s top executives, you’ve got to marry your job—and the right girl— and rebel at precisely the right moment. But be warned— it’s lonely at the summit

Peter C. Newman February 14 1959

How to get your boss’s job

The era of the Organization Man has introduced new ground rules for Getting Ahead. Now, according to a clutch of Canada’s top executives, you’ve got to marry your job—and the right girl— and rebel at precisely the right moment. But be warned— it’s lonely at the summit

Peter C. Newman February 14 1959

How to get your boss’s job

The era of the Organization Man has introduced new ground rules for Getting Ahead. Now, according to a clutch of Canada’s top executives, you’ve got to marry your job—and the right girl— and rebel at precisely the right moment. But be warned— it’s lonely at the summit



Nearly all bosses complain these days that an increasing number of their employees are more concerned with security than success. Whether this is literally true or not, there are still millions of young Canadians whose chief goal in life is to get their bosses’ jobs.

A growing literature on the subject in recent years suggests that the simple requirements for promotion that applied in Horatio Alger days no longer hold true—that success is not the result of working every waking hour, leading a saintly and spartan private life, and speaking respectfully to the boss and all his relatives.

Because the new code of self-improvement in business which has displaced the old reliable virtues often contradicts itself, many of today's acolytes in the temple of business are confused about the best way to promotion.

Does a brash NO-man have a better chance than the polite YES-man? How dependable an aid for success is it to drag home with you every evening a brief case bulging with extra work? Has the theory been discredited that it pays to be kind and gentle with subordinates? Are ruthlessness and toughness the surest way to promotion? How essential is formal education? How important a supporting role can a man’s wife play in the advancement of his career? Is it true that to succeed in big business, it helps to be slightly neurotic? Or is that a fatal disability?

For any individual the answers to these and similar questions depend on his present height on the management ladder. For the teen-ager, get-

ting the boss's job usually means a move from office boy to behind a junior clerk's desk. For a slightly older man or woman starting out in business it’s often the equivalent of advancing from clerk to chief clerk. At these levels, most ot the old virtues still apply—the pace of promotion depends largely upon arriving at w'ork on time, sticking to the job, working when necessary off the job's allotted hours and obeying to the letter a superior’s most offhand instructions.

But those who have progressed beyond the elementary tiers and want to become big or medium bosses are faced with a changed and increasingly complex set of propositions. The higher the level, the more metal is needed in the soul. If you want to become an executive, you’ll have to sacrifice personal preferences for corporation policies—to identify yourself with your company so thoroughly that you accept its actions and philosophy as extensions of your own feelings. “An executive can be sensitive to the needs of his organization,” says Dick Forrest, director of management development for Trans-Canada Air Lines, “only to the extent that he assumes the personality of his company.”

Psychologists who have tried to w'eigh the qualities essential for advancement in business and the men who themselves have advanced agree there is no behavior pattern which, if followed, will take you to the top. What changes a man into an executive, they emphasize, is his gradual shift in attitude toward his work and fellow employees. Few men are aware of when this change occurs.

But once it comes, they never are the same again.

Within the great body of research on getting ahead in business there are views to back almost every rule of behavior short of arriving at the office drunk and passing out on the boss’s desk. But certain guideposts are generally accepted by (he country’s top businessmen and industrial psychologists. Here is some of the more arresting advice they offer the young man who has hurdled the most elementary phase of his career and now wishes to launch himself toward executive status:

• Don’t constantly come up with fast and accurate answers to your boss’s queries. The boss is looking for visionaries. He realizes that the man below him with quick solutions bases his replies on what has happened in the past, not on what might be. Never forget that near the bottom you’re doing things by minutes and days, near the top you'll be concerned with months and years. Some self-doubt is essential.

• Try to marry a woman willing to accept gracefully the costs as well as the rewards of success. “If your wife won't allow you to devote the largest proportion of your life to your company. you just haven’t got a chance,” warns Professor Eric Kierans, director of the McGill School of Commerce.

• If you’re competent and ruthless, you’ll probably manipulate yourself into the top ranks much more quickly than rivals who are only competent. When you don't agree with management's decisions, rebel. That can get you fired, but the restless aggressor is much

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more likely to succeed than the staid company fixture who expects automatic rewards for his loyalty. You must be as cold and calculating in deciding your personal objectives, as is your company in setting sales targets.

• You’re not eliminated from executive office by not having a university education, although a degree has become a minimum requirement for mounting the first rung of most management ladders. But it is good judgment, not knowledge, that puts a man on top. You should try to know at least one industry intimately. A thorough understanding of the stock market is almost obligatory in business; a good golf game is not essential.

• It’s a liability if you’re a teetotaler, but so are over-dressing, driving a flashy car and living in a neighborhood beyond the reach of your pay cheque. Your accomplishments are more important than your appearance.

• When you become an executive— even at the lowest level—you must he able to delegate authority and constantly remain hospitable to the opinions of your subordinates. Your language must be tailored to fit each situation, so that you're equally effective defending your ideas to the directors or exchanging quips with the elevator operator. You can’t become a good executive if you’re not a good listener—especially when ambitious subordinates are talking.

Routes to the top diverge widely, but in general, as a junior executive, you’ll be charged with relaying the decisions of others and choosing, in a limited way. how they can be made effective. On the intermediate level, you'll have surprisingly heavy policy-setting powers, but will remain subject to higher veto. At or near the top, you’ll be in the most rewarding—but also the most vulnerable —position.

Fear of this vulnerability at the summit is one of the reasons you may eventually find yourself among the majority of competent executives who are satisfied to remain at middle tiers of responsibility. "A great many businessmen,” says Dr. L. C. Webster, director of the department of psychology at McGill University, "just aren’t willing to pay the ultimate price in terms of physical and mental energy output.” To get to the top, the psychologists emphasize, you must have an irrepressible itch for assuming more leadership and more authority, not just a vague desire for more prestige and more money. "To become a successful executive." says Herbert l ank, the president of the Du Pont Company of Canada, "you must be willing to live dangerously—to sit on the edge of your chair all the time, for that's what you'll have to do."

Executives admit reluctantly that luck —the element of being in the right place at the right time—is often a major influence in determining who gets a promotion. “You can have two people with equal ability doing the same job. But the one who meets the president on the

elevator once a week has a much better chance for promotion than the fellow out in the field. There’s no point being a hero in Yellow'knife,” claims Neil Macdougall, head of the Technical Service Council, which picks engineering executives for Canadian industry.

“It’s just a case of endocrine glands, that’s all," insists James Muir, president of the Royal Bank of Canada. "If you’re born with endocrine glands of a certain nature, there’s nothing you can do to satisfy yourself, until you get to the top.” Muir, who now' manages a staff of fifteen thousand and bank assets worth more than four billion dollars, was so anxious to begin his own banking career that he joined the Peebles branch of the Commercial Bank of Scotland as a clerk exactly one hour after graduating from high school, on July 17. 1907. “There were several boys who wanted the opportunity. so I didn’t take any time for lunch that day.” he recalls.

Muir is convinced that executive positions are much more freely attainable in Canada than south of the border. “In Canada." he says, “success stays closer to the talent and industry of the individual. In the States, it often is a case of internal politics and special privilege." Yet the odds faced by the Canadian youngster determined eventually to rise to command the assets of a major business concern in this country are very long indeed. Fewer than three thousand of Canada's sixty thousand incorporated

businesses have assets of more than hal: a million dollars. More than half o! Canada's large manufacturing firms (ar.c even higher proportions in groups likt mining and petroleum) are owned in tht U. S. A recent study by the Empirt Trust Company of New York shower that fifty percent of the U. S. subsidi aries in this country have Americar presidents. That leaves just over twe thousand major domestic company prest dencies potentially available for Can ada's bright young businessmen.

Opportunities in the middle echelon of course are much greater, but accord ing to Department of National Revenut statistics, only thirty-two thousand Cana dian executives have taxable incomes 0 more than fifteen thousand dollars year. The top salaries are enjoyed fo: a relatively brief time. A recent surve; by The Financial Post set the averag' age of Canadian corporation president at 57.9.

Young men and women starting ot their business careers can profitably stud; such statistics to determine which indus tries within their personal aptitudes offe the highest wages, but their main con cern should be the proper basic prepara tion for executive greatness. Althougl fewer than half of Canada's present com pany heads are university graduates, pos high-school training is becoming a pre requisite for advancement even at th¡ lowest executive levels. Educators arn businessmen, however, are sharply spit over the value of business training at university. "Nothing can replace experience,” says Geoffrey Notman. the president of Canadair Limited, the Montreal aircraft manufacturing plant. "I dont like the business-school grads who think they know it all."

Can psychological tests discover executive ability?

More and more Canadian business firms are insisting that employees take a battery of psychological tests before they’re considered for promotion — even, in more cases, before they’re hired at all. No combination of these tests is regarded as infallible, because no two psychologists can agree exactly on the personality ingredients that make a man a good manager.

Why should a candidate for a thirty-thousand-a-year job as comptroller of a huge industrial complex be asked to prove his qualifications by writing an examination on the words he associates with “mother"? Because, the psychologists maintain, his answers will bring to the surface faults and strengths not otherwise identifiable. The five hundred tests now on the market range in scope from simple true-and-false questionnaires to assembling building blocks and writing essays about drawings or photographs. They probe not only into a man's abilities and experience, but into his sex life and subconscious fears.

Despite their wide use, not every-

one agrees about their value. “I

have no use for psychological tests,”

says Charles Scrymgeour, manage-

ment development counselor for

Imperial Oil Limited. “They can give you the wrong impression of a man.

The psychologists have made more

of a business than a profession out

of it.” Dr. J. K. Thomas, a Toronto

psychologist, violently disagrees.

“Tests," he says, “are terrific. They

can even measure the level of a

man’s aspirations.”

Many industrialists have taken an in-between stand by using tests as a hiring guide, but basing promotions on their knowledge of an employee's performance. “I believe in psychological testing for choosing a new man, but not for promotions—I base that on my knowledge of him,” says Herbert Lank, the Canadian head of Du Pont.

Impartial authorities who have studied testing claim it can be dangerous if improperly used. “Lots of executives duck the very risky, very human decision of whether to hire or promote or fire a man by hiding behind the psychological test,” says Wallace Muir, an Ottawa personnel consultant. “Tests can tell you what a man’s potential ability is, but they can’t tell you the degree to which he will exert himself. The best indi-

cation of what a man will do is what he has already done.”

Notman and many other Canadian executives place little weight on academic achievements, even during hiring. "A man who had to fight for his marks often is more adaptable within the company setup. The gold medalist can be a real problem." claims Charles Scrymgeour, management development counselor for Imperial Oil Limited. With performance rated as more important than background, there is a great and growing controversy over the value of ambitious employees spending most of their hours at home between supper and sleep doing extra office work.

"1 don't see how anyone who expects to get ahead can expect to do so by working an eight-hour day," says Geoffrey Notman. James Muir, the Royal Bank head, disagrees violently. "The man who makes a habit of carrying home a brief case." he insists, "is either a poseur who thinks it adds to his dignity, or someone who can't keep up with his job.”

Just as homework is no longer unanimously accepted as indispensable to success, other once dependable hallmarks of ambition also are going out of fashion. Men on the way up in the past have tried to satisfy those above them by doing only the things which they thought would win approval. This attitude no longer is effective. "If your superior is a good executive." says James Muir, “the last thing he wants is an automatic YESman. It's remarkable how often you don't get an honest appraisal from juniors. but just what they think you want to hear." Professor Eric Kierans, the head of McGill's School of Commerce, urges his students to become rebels by questioning the daily flow of decisions from the top. especially those directives grounded in historical patterns and not recently reviewed. Herbert Lank, the Du Pont of Canada president, agrees, with one reservation. “Certainly youne executives should question management decisions," he says. “But rebellion is ;i nasty word. They should be curious without being nastily nosey."

At lower levels of responsibility youn;: men anxious to get ahead often express their attitude of controlled rebellion by turning to oflice politics. "The best mar does not always succeed. It is sometimes the man who conducts the best campaign for himself," admits Neil Macdougall, who heads the Technical Service Council. The traditional vehicle for demolishing a competitor is the inter-office memorandum. Promotion-anxious executives will sometimes wait for their rival’s project to flop, then submit to management carefully back-dated memos documenting their original opposition. You get fooled if you're influenced bypersonal feelings." claims J. B. Fraser, a Toronto executive placement expert. Some presidents promote men into vicepresidencies when they hate them, because they know they're good."

Not all promotions are won in the office. Nearly every executive and management consultant interviewed for this article emphasized the importance to youngsters on the way up of taking an active part in community affairs by joining charity drives, university advisory boards and doing other good works. "You can't help but benefit from these occasions,” says Geoffrey Not man. of Canadair. “It makes available to you and your company advice you wouldn't otherwise get." Notman is a director of eighteen hospitals, universities and various societies. During 1958 he received invitations to attend three hundred and fifty functions.

Case of the impolite wife

Another factor not directly concerned with the work situation but becoming increasingly important in hiring and promotion is the suitability of the wife as a public-relations extension of the potentially successful businessman. "Companies are interested in finding out whether waves realize that their husbands' jobs always must come first. A lot of them can't take it." says Dr. Herbert Moore, a Toronto industrial psychologist.

"I think that fifty percent of a man’s success is due to his wife." declares Charles Scrymgeour, the management counselor at Imperial Oil. “She must above all. learn when and how to drink. The wife who can't keep her mouth closed at office cocktail parties can wreck a man's career." Following a recent bigcompany reception in Toronto one promising management trainee w»as quietly dismissed, because his wife had continually cooed at the section manager that her Johnny would make such a good executive.

The executive spouse is being scrutinized less for her dexterity as a hostess than for her ability to keep up mentally with her husband, and to act as a safety valve rather than an obstruction for his emotions. Wives receive the most concentrated attention from management at transfer time. “If a man gets an offer to move elsewhere in the company to a better job and says he wants first to talk it over with his wife, he has just about finished himself with management,” insists J. B. Fraser, the executive placement adviser. “Certainly he should consult her, but he's not fit to be an executive if he accepts a promotion only on the condition of his wife's approval."

Some firms assign professionals to interview the wife. “We have a psychologist hold a session with the executives’ wives, so that they get an idea about the kind of pressure placed on their husbands,’’ says Clive Ambrey. the personnel manager of Canadian Line Materials Limited, in Toronto. Other companies, like Pigott Construction in Hamilton. consider talks with the wife as a compulsory part of their hiring program.

What kind of a wife should you choose if you want to become an executive? "Don't marry an intellectual,” ad-

vises Dr. J. K. Thomas, a Toronto industrial psychologist. “But it's best to pick a girl above your social class, so that she'll fit in when you reach executive status.”

The emphasis on the supporting role of the wife has not prevented bachelors from rising to head some of Canada's largest corporations. They include James Stewart, the board chairman of the Canadian Bank of Commerce; Edw'ard Wood, the president of the Imperial Tobacco Company of Canada; Wilson Berry, the head of the Guaranty Trust Company; and H. Grevillc Smith, who was until recently president of Canadian Industries Limited.

Fit the picture

Corporate intrusion into the private lives of rising youngsters generally is not extended to dictating dress, type of car ownership or approved living districts, but these things are important to you as a budding executive. Managements generally believe that since the man who wants to be successful will consciously or subconsciously try to fit himself into a picture of success, he reveals much of hisinner self by the clothes he wears and the manner in w'hich he lives.

Moderate drinking isn’t a flaw. “I don’t think you can be very successful in business if you hold strong views against alcohol—if you have a repugnance toward people who take a social drink,” maintains D. B. Watson, a director of J. D. Woods and Gordon, the Toronto management consultants.

In their unrelenting drive to the top many promising young men are elimi-

nated by physical and mental inability to withstand the pressures of increasing responsibility. The youngster dead set on success should remember that the higher he goes, the more isolated he will become. Decisions once taken following friendly consultations with equals and superiors must at the top be made alone. Trust in subordinates often must be tempered by the feeling that they have some special interest to promote. “It’s lonely in terms of lacking confidants. You have to wre tie with yourself,” admits James Muir. Herbert Lank adds a plaintive agreement: “Well, it's not always lonely." he says. “You can always talk to other company presidents.”

Lank insists that many executives arc happier as vice-presidents, because that leaves someone above them to make the Final policy commitment. Like the captain of a ship, the company president must always bear at least part of the responsibility for business moves that go sour.

“If you want to become an executive you'll have to pay in full measure for everything you get and probably more, in terms of loss of privacy, inability to plan according to personal feelings, and loneliness. You do what’s best for the company—day and night.” says Vernon Johnson, the president of Canadian International Paper Company, this country’s largest pulp and paper producer. Johnson lists the pride of fulfilled ambition and intellectual stimulation as the main compensations of attaining executive rank but considers the loneliness of Final decisions as unavoidable. “It has to be a lonely job,” he insists. “Damned if I know why so many people want to be president.”