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4 Lessons For Success From Mayor Tom Kane

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4 Lessons For Success From Mayor Tom Kane

In the television series Boss, Kelsey Grammer plays the ruthless, tough-minded, Machiavellian mayor of Chicago, Tom Kane. Kane is single-minded in pursuing his political agenda and allows no one, not even his own family, to get in his way. A great deal of his behavior borders on the sociopathic. He constantly threatens and bullies his colleagues to get his way. He has individuals illegally surveilled and removed from their positions if they threaten him. He even has people murdered and his own daughter jailed to ensure his political survival.

Mayor Kane’s lust for power drives him to cruelties and absurdities that are beyond what most people would be willing to countenance. He is certainly no model for anyone who wants to live a life that is filled with bonds of affection and genuine friendship. And even if you are professionally ambitious, he is not someone I would suggest looking to.

However, not everything about his thought and action is without merit. The trouble with people like Kane is that they cannot be completely divorced from the reality of life. Kane is a politician. But we are all politicians when it comes to the pursuit of success: we are all willing to bargain, compromise, negotiate, trade favors, and maybe even cheat a little in order to get what we’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Kane takes politicking to the extreme. But he does provide some general lessons for success in the modern world.

1. See the whole board, and keep yourself ahead of the game

Mayor Kane is always two steps ahead of those trying to bring him down. Just when his enemies in the city council think they’ve put him in a jam, he surprises them with a move that he had worked out in advance. The lesson here is: don’t wait for things to fall into place; act consciously to put them in place. It is easy to fix your attention on a particular issue or person, which, in the larger scheme of things, is not all that important. Success depends on knowing and understanding as much as possible of the circumstances that determine your fate. Don’t just think about what your boss is thinking and doing. Think about what his boss is thinking and doing. Don’t worry over some else’s advancement. Focus instead on the path to your own advancement. Formulate a strategy and then the tactics to carry it out.

2. Know your enemies among your friends

The majority of the politicians that Kane works with are members of his own party. They all share similar aims and values. However, blocks within the city council are bitterly opposed to him. His awareness of such persons, and the dynamics among them, allows him to outmaneuver them at every turn. You may be in a similar situation yourself, especially if you’re an entrepreneur. You may have been compelled to form alliances to develop your business and find new opportunities. Some of the businesses you work closely with may be at once partners and competitors. You should look out for shifting attitudes and patterns of behavior. And always be aware of the things that facilitate cooperation between you and those that put you in competition.

3. Ambition at times requires ruthlessness

It’s not tenable for anyone who wants to keep sane to be as ruthless as Tom Kane. But you should be under no illusion about what it takes to succeed. Yes, charm and grace and kindness are important in building the kind of professional relationships that will advance your career. However, others are also after that prize. You need to be ready and willing to move aggressively and decisively in order to seize it if presented with the opportunity to do so.

4. It is best to be loved and feared

To the above should be added: by the right people, at the right time, and in the right proportion. As the decades-long mayor of Chicago, Tom Kane has built a bond with the people of the city. Many have come to love him. Others, however, hate him with a passion. And this, I think, speaks to a final lesson for success. You should not seek to be loved by everyone all the time. Nor should you seek to be feared by everyone all the time. You should seek the confidence and trust of the people who you know can be brought over to your cause. And you should aim to show your more entrenched enemies just enough of your strength to make them think twice before moving against you.

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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.

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