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The Invaluable Lessons I Learned In Corporate America That Helped Propel Me Into Succeeding With Entrepreneurship

Photo by Jeremy Dorrough on Unsplash

The corporate world is a beast all to itself.

It is full of people who are looking to climb the “ladder” and realize their own American Dream.

It is like playing a game. The game is setup with many different elements to it. You must be cognizant of the psychological aspect: playing the political game, know how to negotiate on your behalf, know when to put on the pressure from your superiors and know when to pull back.

There are many people who believe the corporate world is a positive entity that can offer growth and opportunity for those who seek to play “the game.”

As Douglas Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s, puts it

“The corporate world has the resources to improve the world. It’s where people live and work.”

As someone who ventured into the corporate world at a young age I flourished in the beginning of my tenure:

  • I went from a low account management position and was promoted twice within 18 months.
  • I lead my team in sales on both a personal (commission) basis as well as overall revenue generated for the company on an individual level.
  • I grew to be a team lead.
  • I did this all by age 24

How did I go about making this happen?

Well it was a combination of different factors. Some were impromptu- I learned as I went. Others, I had an enormous amount of help from the former Senior Vice President of Business Development with the company, who later became a very close friend and mentor of mine.

Political Lessons:

Get to know something about everyone in the office.

This includes the CEO (if accessible to you). Your sway and “likeness” in the office is like a currency.

Develop it and use it. When you can make connections with individuals you allow yourself some negotiating power.

This isn’t necessarily leverage.

There is an extreme psychology and emotional connection that arises between coworkers- we work with one another for 1/3 of the day minimum. When you get people on “your side” you can use that you navigate the office well and build relationships.

Never snitch.

It happens too often in the corporate world.

You have people that make mistakes and they rat on one another. The corporate world is built similar to the Mafia in a way.

Snitching and selling your fellow colleagues out can always have adverse effects that come back to you down the road. Don’t let that happen. When a mistake is made, fall on the sword- your superiors will notice that.

Take responsibility.

Like stated above, mistakes are going to be made. When this happens, you can dance around in conversation with your colleagues and superiors until your head spins.

This is easily recognized in the office.

The corporate world is ripe with opportunity for advancement. Advancement requires leadership qualities. Accepting the responsibility of individual and team mistakes is a revered leadership quality.

Refrain from gossip.

Gossip and complaining keeps you in a whirlwind of misery.

Always be a little detached from the “drama” in the office- it has no place for your advancement.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

If you are looking to further yourself along the “ladder” of which you are climbing than you are wasting your time with the needless rigmarole of office dirt.

Growth Lessons:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

This was told to me by my aforementioned mentor.

I remember walking into his office and confiding in his leadership and expertise. I was picking his brain of how he got to sitting in the chair he was in. I was looking for advice for advancement.

I remember him asking me what I wanted: was I chasing money or some type of achievement? I couldn’t answer the question.

He responded with the above quote. Define what you want with the organization. What are your goals. Write them down and follow them or you could end up at a dead end.

Volunteer for projects/roles that exceed your abilities.

I remember when we got a new CEO in the office.

We had a “meet and greet” with him in the conference room.

We went around asking questions.

Most people were asking surface level questions such as, “where are you from?” and “are you excited about the job?”

all of which were a waste of time.

I asked him “what advice would you give a young, hungry professional such as myself in terms of growth?”

He paused for a moment. He responded with,

Put yourself in situations you aren’t prepared for. I’ll tell you a secret. This is my first CEO position and I’m scared. I am setting myself up for a challenge knowing I am scared but capable. That’s how you progress.”

Ask for help.

Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash

I don’t know if it’s ego or fear but it seems like there is a lack of asking for help in the culture of the corporate world.

When you are falling behind with your tasks and responsibilities- ask for help. Don’t allow for you to fall too far behind before you reach out.

Ask for help from people in your department or perhaps people in senior positions. People love the feeling of being able to be seen as an “expert” or “savior” or “leader.” Make them feel as such. Don’t abuse this however and become the “Boy who cried wolf.”

Financial Lessons:

Shift from a “selling” mindset to “helping” mindset.

I was a great salesman in my company because I built relationships with people. I still like doing that even outside of the corporate world.

Everyone is always trying to sell. Think about it from the client’s perspective: they probably have tens if not hundreds of people trying to sell them a similar product on a weekly basis.

Instead of trying to sell them on the product, help them solve their problem. This helped me understand if I could really truly remedy their issue and make them a long-term customer.

When confronted with a cost rejection, follow with “why did you take this meeting/call?”

Everything in the world costs money. The client knows this. Sometimes I used to get so caught up in just selling I would forget, on the individual level, why the prospective took the call.

Obviously, there was something intriguing enough in their psychology that they answered the phone.

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

When we got to the point of price, I would ask this question. Sometimes the answer was as simple as “to see if the price lowered” and at that point, it would end there. Other times, it was for the client to get re-educated on the product. At that point, I could re-illustrate the value often resulting in a sale.

Keep your word at all costs.

A prospective client doesn’t trust someone who can’t keep their word. If you tell someone you are going to call them and setup a pitch or a meeting at 3pm, you better uphold that commitment.

Even if they need to reschedule, they know they can count on you. People don’t purchase based fully on logical reasons, they purchase due to an emotional connection. Let them know you care.

While there may be many more ways to navigate and progress through the corporate ladder, these are the lessons that I noticed help catapult me from the absolute “floor” to a respectable position with a lot of sway in a very short amount of time.

The corporate world ascension requires the tactful blending of science (metrics, tasks, responsibilities), art (creativity with projects, writing skills) and psychology (negotiation, office politics).

When you are able to take these elements and blend them effectively, it will result in a prosperous progression of the corporate world.

Once you have a footing in the corporate world and you have learned a handful of lessons of how to grow as a powerful individual you are ready to strike out for yourself.

While I have my gripes with the corporate world, I can confidently say it helped provide me with an invaluable tool belt that prepared me for striking out on my own.

The most important lesson was how to deal with human beings.

We are social creatures. We exchange value between one another in the form of products and services. It helped me understand how to find that value and propose it to my audience.

The American Dream is essentially about freedom:

  • Financial freedom
  • Relationship freedom
  • Geographical freedom
  • Speech and thought freedom

In order to achieve that freedom, you'll need to go through some tough times and learn the difficult lessons.

For me, the corporate world was a fantastic and necessary teacher.

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