The bedrock secret of success can be summarized as this: Find a place in the system where you manage others. To find such a place if you start with no inherited wealth, you must be more intelligent, ambitious, and vigorous than your competition. And if you are to succeed greatly in the world’s terms, you must also be lucky –and ruthless. Live with wolves, and you will learn to howl.
Once you find your place, you must be able to keep it, defend it against attack from your rivals, and improve upon it. Many will contend for your place because such places reward the holder inordinately, to hold it, you must be clearheaded –and ruthless.
You will know the people to know in your world, and they will know you and trust and use you as you use them. There is understanding in these matters: You do favors and carry out certain assigned undertakings: you know what should be done and what cannot be, and you know what your share will be. In return for your goodwill and services, you have the backing of sponsors with even greater power. And so you work your way up and up.
The common thread that runs through most of the great success stories in the cut-throat, complex world of business is this; a majority of those who rise to the top are adept in the art of managing others. Part of their talent as managers is perhaps innate, part perhaps acquired through experience, and part no doubt a reflection of the acute intelligence peculiar to some, but not all, of the successful.
There are books in vast profusion examining and analyzing the management techniques of successful corporation executives and business tycoons. But most of these volumes are simply recitations of theories widely held to be fact in corporate circles and by academics part of the standard MBA curriculum. They are, that is purveyors of conventional wisdom which is, as is well known to successful managers invariably wrong. These works go on superficially at great length and serve only to entrench error.
Machiavelli, one of the great theorists on the exercise of power. It was Machiavelli, author of the most celebrated treatise yet written on leadership and statecraft, The Prince, who counseled the Medicis thusly: “A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must necessarily come to grief among so many who are not good. Therefore, it is necessary to learn how not to be good, and use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.
The world at large today, as in its past, turns on greed and fear. Citizens of the United States of America particularly, looking back on their country’s last half century especially, and into its next, know this –or should. And as the philosopher Nietzsche observed: “on the heights it is warmer than people in the valleys suppose, especially in winter.”
As we all know, there is plenty of rooms at the top –though never enough to sit down.