LBJ in 1968Long before years of wheeling and dealing etched deep lines into his face, Lyndon Baines Johnson displayed a preternatural ability to cozy up to those in power.

In college, his first job involved picking up trash, chopping weeds, and raking small rocks and lugging larger ones off campus, according to biographer Robert Caro. Whenever he saw the college president, he would run over and chat with him about politics.

On his own initiative, he got the newspaper early so the president could read it during breakfast and he helped carry groceries for the president’s wife.

After telling the president that he wouldn’t be able to stay in school earning 20 cents an hour, or just $7 or $8 a month, he asked for a promotion to a mopping and sweeping job that would pay 30 cents an hour, or $12 a month. Such jobs were usually reserved for athletes, but Lyndon got what he asked for.

Not long after, he told the president he wanted to work for him. He persuaded the president by describing and ultimately creating a job where he saw a need. At the time, a part-time instructor served as the president’s assistant.

Lyndon proposed to serve as an office boy who could carry messages around campus (as no internal telephone system existed), run errands so the instructor wouldn’t have to, and mind the office when no one else was available.

Lyndon got the job at $15 a month. Within five weeks of his arrival at the college, notes Caro, “he was working in the president’s office, in a job which hadn’t even existed before he got there.”

Lyndon would go on to cultivate relationships with many powerful patrons. Rayburn, Russell, and Roosevelt were others who later helped him consolidate power on Capitol Hill. Nor was it the last time Lyndon’s naked aggressiveness would get him what he wanted.

Takeaway: Identify who holds the reins of power and can give you what you want.

Takeaway: If you can identify a need, you can create a job.


Source: Robert Caro, The Path to Power (The Years of Lyndon Johnson, Volume 1)
Photo credit: LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto, 1968.