Book Review: The Unwritten Rules, The Six Skills You Need to Get Promoted to the Executive Level

Post-MBA I became very intrigued by how senior leaders navigated their career progression. It was also at this time that I realized I learned nothing about this during my MBA and needed to fundamentally teach myself this from the ground up.

I started looking around for a good read on this topic, and stumbled upon John Beeson’s book – The Unwritten Rules: The 6 Skills You Needto Get Promoted to the Executive Level. I was specifically searching for a book on executive presence, but this book fit the bill.

Here’s what I like about this book:

Explicit and Direct

John Beeson tells it like it is – I’ve been in a corporate setting for just over a year and many of Beeson’s teachings either build upon my own observations or strengthen them. Getting constructive feedback is often difficult, but Beeson found a great way to share feedback – by using detailed anecdotes. In each chapter, there are many multi-page, detailed examples that prove his point. The reader can figure out which ones apply to them and understand what to change and how to improve.

In addition, I felt this book gave me areas to watch out for in more senior roles down the road. This is because many of the examples Beeson gives are folks who are more senior and are managing teams already. Certainly useful knowledge to have to prepare for having direct reports later on.

Abundant and Detailed Stories

Unlike the other book I recently reviewed - Getting to the Top, Strategies for Career Success, Beeson does not have quantitative data. Instead, as mentioned earlier, Beeson includes great stories in this book. When I finished reading the book, I felt as if I had 50 one-on-ones worth of learnings in my head. 

The way that Beeson explains each leader’s situation and what was preventing them from moving to the executive level – and what the appropriate action should be – is very effective from a learning perspective.

Recommendations are Fundamental

One thing that differentiate books and articles is that books should be fundamental – they should cover all perspectives. Articles, on the other hand, often focus on one aspect or emerging trends and are not complete. 

This is what I love about this book. What Beeson explains in this book applied to executive development 50 years ago – and I’m sure it will also be applicable 50 years from now as well. His recommendations are boiled down and condensed to the essentials – there is no fluff to be found in this book.

Here’s where this book may fall short

This is a tricky one, as I can’t really find an area that didn’t deliver in this book. If I was really nit-picky, I’d say that perhaps increasing the use of visuals to explain these frameworks could be beneficial to those who are visual learners.

Final words

I think this book deserves a place in everyone’s post-MBA bookshelf. Whereas Getting to the Top, Strategies for Career Success provided a general overview of career paths, Beeson’s the Unwritten Rules focuses on the critical juncture between management and executive transitions – something I’m sure MBAs everywhere would want to learn about.

Also – I wonder if this is an area where MBA curricula could improve upon. MBA curricula do a great job transitioning folks into business functions – but I honestly felt unprepared when managing my career progression post-MBA. 

Ultimately we own our careers so I actively sought out these books, but is there an opportunity to prepare some basic training on career progression to all MBAs as they leave their programs? Just a thought.


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