Feb 22

In the movie Scarface, there is a scene where the drug lord Frank Lopez instructed a young Tony Montana that it was the guys who flew quietly in his business that did well. At the time the hot-headed Tony took it as a soft guy’s instruction on how to play it soft and stay a peasant but Frank’s words held more meaning than he even knew.

When you work for someone, and you aspire to grow within the company and accomplish wonderful things, you cannot do it by joining the regulars in gossip, discontent, and mediocre work. There is a fine line between brown nosing and what I am about to say to you, but brown nosing is something else completely so please don’t misunderstand my intent.

“A man is a good retainer to the extent that he earnestly places importance in his master. This is the highest sort of retainer.”Yamamoto Tsunetomo (Hagakure)

To succeed in life, business (which we are focusing on in this article) and anything, you should do your best to make your boss feel and appear powerful. This does not mean you kiss ass, kowtow and spend overtime in order to get a pat on the head – NO! This means that your work should be so stellar that it makes your boss look good.

Too often we forget our place and our ambition, then let ego destroy our progress by wanting to one-up the boss or make him look stupid. A prime example of this is when a business that I worked for got a hold of some new software that was going to be a game-changer. A co-worker of mine was told by our boss that she had to come in the very next morning to present the software to the business owners.

The poor girl studied all night to learn the ins and outs of that software so that when she presented it, she would appear as if she knew what she was doing. When it came time for the meeting, the boss – not trusting her knowledge, started to bullshit his way through the presentation, but she stepped in at a key moment to explain the details and it made her boss look like a star.

How Does This Help Me?

In the example above, the girl who presented backup to her boss in his big meeting was never rewarded or thanked for what she did but a few things happened:

  1. The boss took mental note that she was beyond knowledgeable and was reliable to bring to future meetings.
  2. The boss began to respect or fear her a bit because of her sharp senses and ability to keep her cool and  call an audible even when she had no sleep.
  3. The people attending the meeting were happy with the presentation and the boss and our company was rewarded for it.
  4. With new meetings to come, new trust place on her shoulders, my co-worker will eventually learn everything there is to know about the business.

I can keep going, but the benefits to this can be endless. Being a reliable retainer puts your boss at a crossroads with you; he will either want to train and promote you so that you can do more damage on a higher level, or keep you as a great toadie that is willing to shovel shit whenever he has to deal with it. Either way he feels like a king because of you, and as you absorb his knowledge, advance his career and secure your position – you will be an irreplaceable asset even if you are a toadie.

A position like this gives you a free strike at the heart if your ambition is to take over. You know the boss’s weaknesses, you have covered for his crimes and burnt the panties of the intern found in his desk. A well-timed strike will make you a king-slayer, a usurper and a brilliant assassin. If your ambition is a well-meaning position however, it is people who abide by this rule who become vice-presidents, consiglieres and lords.

If you are a movie-watcher, one of my favorite examples of this principle was in the movie Gladiator where Marcus Aurelius tried to give his greatest general and retainer: Maximus Decimus Meridius the highest title in Rome (Caesar) over his own son.

I think of a great quote: “Before a man can stand he must learn how to kneel“, and it explains why your boss being uplifted is your path to success. My fellow denizens of The Hall, let me ask you this… have you been a good retainer?

See some words or phrases that you don't understand? Check out The Dragon's Lexicon.
  • That is great that it worked out that way for your coworker. Saving the mgrs ass could be a double edge sword though. The manager could have felt threatened because the associate out shined them in the meeting. Mangers are just as worried about their career as their employees. And I have seen where the associate was turned into a lackey and unofficially banned from meetings with Senior leaders but still providing all the research and work on the projects. I have also seen where the manager was insecure about the associate being recognized and no longer used them on projects.

    • With respect to what you’re saying Na Taya, this application of upliftment is definitely not meant for all situations. I would hope that a worker who recognizes that his boss is a slimy coward would leave for greener pastures eventually. This application is meant for jobs that offer opportunity one way or the other and if my coworker’s boss had reacted by nixing her from meetings and clamming up then she would be wise to buff her resume and float away. Many people aren’t meant to lead, and if you recognize that you are under that type of foolishness, you should move on silently – but that’s another post. Thanks for reading.