In any young professional’s career, a time and point comes when one realizes that idealism aside, the business world is indeed a dirty rat race, be it at a traditional hundred-year-old corporation or at a two-year-old Internet company.

When that greed muscle starts pumping, loyalty goes down the drain faster than you can say Drano, as office politricks proliferate throughout a company.

While office bureaucracy and red tape are part of any risk adverse operation that seeks to pass the bucket at every opportunity (or Cover Your “Butt” as a wise man once said), these are merely facets of corporate administration that are difficult to circumvent as growth takes off and the stakes rise.

But in many cases, what determines which individuals rise to the top has nothing to do with vision, skill or execution, but how one plays the grand ol’ game we call the rat race.

So in the spirit of the upcoming Olympic games, let’s see what factors are important to identify, understand, accept, and finally use to one’s advantage in order to emerge as king (or queen) of the mountain.

Visionary vs. Executioner

Identifying the players’ roles in a company is key. When a friend of mine joined a young startup, he was trying to impress the company’s founder and CEO, while his efforts should have been targeted to the company’s day-to-day chief, the CFO, who handed out projects, promotions and raises.

This is even more important at larger companies when excessive layers of reporting render productivity less transparent. Making your boss look good positions you as a great ally but represents a double-edged sword.

Ultimately, satisfying your existing boss can hinder your career path, out of their fear of losing a great lieutenant.

Conversely, executives are always seeking up-and-coming talent to take under their wing as this will facilitate their jobs, teach them new tricks and help them boost their own productivity… so do not be shy to show your true worth, even if it means more demands on your resources.

Companies ultimately reward individuals who produce the most with the least amount of resources, as this is what creates shareholder value.

An eye for an eye

Where does performance get noticed more, at large or small companies? I used to believe that no one cared about true performance at large corporations because the task of measuring, tracking and evaluating employees’ work was too hard to qualify, so employers had to come up with “band-aid” solutions to problems and aesthetic quantitative evaluation methods.

That is half-true. I now realize that outliners get noticed at all companies, be it underachievers or overachievers. Those who place in the middle of the pack need not worry too much about the rat race; those at the bottom of the barrel have other things to worry about.

Those at the top of the performance scale need to understand how vital they truly are to their employers. The obvious reason is that they bring up average productivity, no small feat at large corporations.

More importantly, these are the creative, ambitious and driven players who “write the book” and help some companies emerge as leaders while others falter.

The story is somewhat different at smaller companies because things are hard to camouflage. If you are useless to the operation, it becomes painfully clear. If you are a star, then you shine bright in your teammates’ eyes.

The main difference is that everyone around you is probably too busy to stop and congratulate you; they expect you to get things done because they themselves are succeeding in their own way.

Ultimately, individuals should stick around when their value is acknowledged and their work rewarded. But when supervisors make employees feel privileged to be on the payroll, then it is a clear signal that you should be elsewhere, where stars are in demand.

What are the company’s goals?

High share price, of course. But the question here is, does your company wish to be the top dawg on the court, or are they content with being wannabes who get their paychecks bi-weekly, viewing 9-to-5 schedules as a challenging target to hit?

Years ago, while working in the service industry, it became painfully clear that my employers viewed idealistic frontline soldiers like myself as troublemakers who had the desire to… serve clients! That career ended when my supervisor informed me that “I liked the client too much.” Suffice it to say that my resignation letter was on her desk the next morning.

Are you “on board”?

Want to know what really pisses off well-placed and well-liked executives? They love ambition in lower employees because these guys will work hard to get the job done. They hate players who aren’t “on board.”

In the best-case scenario, this can translate to disagreeing with senior management on strategy. In this situation, one can respectfully argue with others using facts, figures and examples and if anything, you will earn others respect for having the foresight and vision to recognize threats ahead of time. At worst, some may label you selfish and not a team member.

Now, the thing I find funny about this concept of “team” is that the ones who preach such verbage are the least team-oriented players in the game. Many, albeit not all, use this as a veil to advance themselves.

Remember that the easy part is to say one is a team player — it is much harder to show the true virtues of a team player such as knowledge sharing; executing menial tasks; helping out everyone from executives to assistants; sharing credit even if one should not; accepting blame if it makes key players look better; and undertaking small tasks that help the entire company.

The trick here is to tell yourself that whatever you are doing, there is a reason for it. You might not know why at the moment, but you will with time, and you will humbly realize that it was well worth it.

Who’s a sell-out?

One thing that I have noticed is that large companies present a difficult environment for “true” team players since others backstab one another and take advantage of one’s team oriented-ness. Why is that?

One reason is that many are worried that they will not get the promotion or raise, so they will step on anyone and everything to get ahead. That is why many prefer to play the hired-gun role these days.

While this strategy of moving from company to company may sound like a selfish career path to accumulate experience, wealth and contacts, the truth is that this way, you get to work with companies that are experiencing hyper growth and do not have the time to jealously look at their neighbor’s plate; they are content and grateful that you are helping them.

Furthermore, others do not become intimidated by your unselfishness and desire to help others.

At the end of the day, all companies dislike those who “rock the boat”. This creates uncertainty, and even the most dynamic, risk-loving entrepreneur fears the unknown…

Don’t toot your own horn

A great leader is a cheerleader. Ask any financier what they look for in a CEO, and they will tell you that a strong support cast is key because no one person can get the entire job done. As a result, start promoting your co-workers when others inquire about the company.

In either case, promoting others shows off your confidence and your intelligence of what will get a business to the next level. In turn, others notice that you are a promoter and good judge of talent, and will remember you when they are looking for talent.

Do not toot your own horn. Let others do that for you. It makes it all so much more credible. After all, if you want to be heard, then stand up. If you want to be seen, then stand up. And if you want to be appreciated, then shut-up.

Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at