Unqualified? Not You!
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT I FEEL very sad for Harriet Miers. She got so close to a really good job, one that would quite literally have set her up for life, and then poof! There it went. No can do. Do not pass go. Do not collect the big brass ring.

And this after all the smiling, glad-handing, and backslapping, the public requirement to pretend to know things she didn't, the pleas for more time so that, like every senior-officer-in-training, she could fake it convincingly. Enduring the glares and giggles of people who thought she wasn't up to snuff. What a nightmare! I sure wouldn't want to do it. And now it's all for naught. Scary, huh?

The implications are grim for all of us. Truth is, once you get to a certain position in your career, it becomes increasingly possible that you, too, will have to dance like mad if you want to take the next big leap up the corporate tree, because eventually, unless we retire, die, or go into feng shui consultancy, almost all of us will be promoted to a position beyond our training and capabilities. That's a fair definition of success, come to think of it. How can we avoid getting Miersed?

Well, first of all, I think, you have to start with the right attitude. Yeah, you've been looking in the mirror and saying, "Me?" But the time has come to ask the right question--"Why not me?" Honestly, how is one to know if, among all those who might like to have the key job, you are in fact the most unqualified? There may be dozens of people out there who are even more unprepared. You just might be the best candidate who shouldn't be under consideration!

Now get out there and spread some beans around. You're full of them, right? There's no use hiding in your office or tiptoeing around with faux jocularity the way Harriet seemed to do. You know your capabilities! Fortunately, they don't! Let everybody see the can-do spirit. After knowledge, experience, and competence, that's 90% of any job.

Of course, there are mean people who are going to try to make you look bad. I was at a staff meeting once where we had a fellow starting out in an executive VP role who should more properly have been serving the Danish. A couple of the guys started in on him with questions about the impact of Ebitda on Oibitda. He didn't do very well, and the boss, who had selected the guy because he looked something like himself when he was younger, saw that. Six weeks later the man was gone, in a record for brevity in action.

Next point: Don't admit you don't know anything! Arrange your face! Look sharp! And don't try to fake answers to things you don't know about. You could get tripped up and appear as confused as did the recently withdrawn Supreme. Here are some rejoinders you can use with annoying interlocutors.

•That's a good question, Ed, but if I told you, then we'd both know what I think about it. I'm going to reserve that for a little while, okay?

•That's something I'm still working on, Fred. I don't want to be glib about an issue that's as important as that one, so I'll get back to you on it soon.

•Honestly, Ted, I'm more into listening right now than hearing myself talk. What do you think about it?

While you're vamping, hit the books. You'll need a couple of people to coach you on giving the impression of depth. Look around the chairman's inner circle, the guys who live to support his every action through a combination of self-interest, greed, and love. One of those will help you and work on scaring those who oppose you, and hopefully won't abandon you when the going gets tough.

It's starting to be fun now, right? You've got your canned replies, an occasional impressive sound bite, and even a few allies. Now's the time to find one or two in the media who are friends of the friends who are being your friends. You'd be surprised at how many genuine suck-ups there are whose job it is to cover the activities of your enterprise. Take them to lunch. Pick up the check. Bring along another guy they might really want to speak with and are afraid of.

You're almost home! With your boss and his flunkies in line, your enemies are in disarray. You've got enough upstairs now to be responsive on almost any issue that's germane. And the ones you can't handle? They're not germane!

Huzzah! You've played your cards right and the office is yours. Now take a moment to feel a bit of humility. There's a huge task that confronts you, and you know exactly how well suited you are for it.

And if you fail? Don't get down. The mark of achievement in this society is failing on a very high level.

That's business, God help us.

STANLEY BING's latest book, Sun Tzu Was a Sissy: Conquer Your Enemies, Promote Your Friends, and Wage the REAL Art of War (HarperBusiness), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at stanleybing@aol.com.