Let me just put it out there: I feel uplifted by Newt Gingrich's surge in the polls. You already know he's a leader (he gave us American Exceptionalism and Contract with America), scholar (Ph.D. from Tulane and author of several books), and incurable romantic (wife number three seems to be The One). But did you know he's also a role model for young lawyers--in fact, anyone who wants to reach that ephemeral "next level"?
Newt (can we be on a first-name basis?) has a special place in my heart because he exemplifies a theory I've long held about success: If you have enough bravado, you can rise to the top. I've seen this over and over again in law firms, where lawyers with modest talents rise to partnership, while some of their smarter and much more hardworking colleagues get left in the dust. If this doesn't give us hope about upward mobility, I don't what will.
But this is not as simple as it might seem: Not only do you have to project superiority, but you have to believe in it too--even in the face of evidence to the contrary.
I saw this from the time I was a first-year associate, when I had to research securities law under the supervision of a second-year associate. Now, second-year associates don't usually supervise the work of first-years, except this particular associate (let's call him "Fetcher") already acted like he was a partner (he wore suspenders, played golf, and smoked cigars just like the Big Boys). Always eager to show he was on top of the game, Fetcher reported back to the partners that my memo was wrong, which certainly didn't help my nascent reputation. The only hitch was that Fetcher was the one who misread the cases.
But did his mistake cost him? Not at all. As I recall, he begrudgingly admitted his mistake, but then turned the tables on me by telling me I shouldn't make such a big deal about it. In other words, my mistake would have been a big sign of my incompetence, but his mistake was trivial. The upshot: He made partner on an accelerated track.
Being self-important (and I don't mean just being confident) is really a career propeller. It works in law, business, politics, and even in the hallowed halls of journalism (don't get me started on that one). But here's the thing: To get the maximum benefits, being male really helps. I don't know why, exactly, but we often find a guy who has an overinflated view of himself to be cute, if not endearing, in an irritable kind of way.
But to be fair, it's not just a matter of societal attitudes. Most women I know really can't pull it off—because they just aren't convinced of their infallibility.
That day of true equality will surely come. In the meantime, let's just celebrate what Newt means to all of us: You can succeed only if you believe in yourself. Truly inspiring.
Related post: Whatcha Think 'Bout This Role Model?
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