Should I go along to get along?

Q:  I attended a client event with my boss and was taken aback by the over-the-top antics.  I thought—is this really happening? When we returned, my boss said, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”  I thought—Vegas, no! The Godfather movie, yes. What should I do?

A:  Some might recommend that you go along to get along, or chalk up this client event to experience. If the behavior was consistent with your moral compass, you might be able to follow this path.  However, it seems that this situation set off two alarms for you:  the “antics” at the event, and your manager’s request to remain silent about them.

  • Were the actions or behavior unethical? Contrary to your corporate policy?  If yes, you  are obligated to act based on the employee agreement you signed when you joined the firm.
  • Did you witness sexual harassment? Bullying? Racial or ethnic slurs? If yes, you have a responsibility to act based on your organization’s values and people management policies.
  • Was the behavior merely careless, clueless, juvenile? If so, can you avoid participating in future, but “leave it in Vegas”?
  • Do you think that this was a one-off situation or is it a pattern of behavior?

Now, consider the relationship that you have with your manager, because your actions in this regard will be shaped more by your values and integrity than by organizational guidelines:

  • Is the relationship close, friendly and informal, or distant, aloof and formal (old school)?
  • If it’s friendly, have you ignored or overlooked previous off-color remarks or behavior by your manager in the office? That is, have you gone along to get along in the past?
  • Is it possible that your manager thinks that you would OK with the “antics”?

Finally, the answer to these questions might be difficult to own up to especially if the answer is yes, it might be the result of the decision that you made:  “going along to get along.”

As for me, going along is not the way that I “roll”.

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Stop working under the radar

Let’s look at the temptation to overachieve. Many people believe that they have to work twice as hard as anyone else in order to be recognized and promoted over members of the dominant group. There can even be an “I’ll  show them” attitude driving their overachievement. But overachieving can  backfire. Here’s what happened to Tony:

I always thought that my boss would be fair and when the time came  all my hard work would pay off. I get in at 8:30AM and I don’t leave  until 9:00 p.m. I come in at least one day on the weekends. They all  know that I do and frankly, it’s the only way the work gets done. I  know that my boss appreciates it.  Now I see one guy is losing his job and the other is being promoted and I really thought that I would get that job because I have  been doing a component of it functionally. I have never been the one  to push but I am really hurt that he didn’t give it to me.

You might think that quietly putting in long hours, working under the  radar and not complaining would be the characteristics of a solid professional,  but these practices have both positive and negative outcomes. The benefits  are obvious—you develop a reputation for being a dependable and detail oriented  person who will get the job done. Your boss values you because in  a pinch she can give you a tricky assignment and you will move heaven and  earth and deliver with no complaints.

But here’s the downside: as I always advise, you should look at every  assignment carefully. When you take on an extra task without considering in  advance how this project will provide either increased visibility or allow you  to deepen or expand your professional experience, then you have wasted a  big opportunity.

If you accept extra work as “no big deal,” without asking to have anything taken off your plate, you risk sabotaging your own efforts by shortchanging other work. Remember; as you move into senior levels you can’t expect your hard work to automatically pay off. It’s up to you to approach the challenge strategically and seek out opportunities that will showcase your abilities and catapult you for the next level.

Now is the time to stop working under the radar.

From Getting There Staying There: By Priscilla H. Douglas 

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Stuck due to training cutbacks

StuckQ:   I am stuck.  Due to cutbacks, corporate sponsored training has gone out the window.  Now what?

A:  It’s great if your company offers training—believe me, I am envious of the classroom courses that I see offered at GOOGLE HQ.  However, most organizations have reduced traditional training—seminars and classroom training—in favor of online learning, town hall briefings or product launches.

So, you are not stuck: you are responsible for your own professional development.  You always have been!   The good news is that you can learn at your own pace and you can venture far from your company-offered courses to the mountain of “free” learning on line.

Now, what do you want to learn?

  • Do you have a gap in your hard or soft skills? If you want to improve hard skills—cyber security, program management, procurement, etc.—go to Kahn Academy—it’s free, online, and convenient.
  • Is there a specific skill area you need to develop based on feedback from your manager? If yes, what advice or direction did your manager provide to close the gap?
  • What certifications will add to your credibility, value, advancement or business acumen?

Your manager will probably applaud you for taking the initiative to grow professionally, so make certain that you can link the skills you are developing to your job.  Think—what is the value that I now add?

  • How am I putting my new skills, knowledge and behavior to use? Develop your own metrics and observable outcomes.

Take the initiative and invest in your ongoing growth and development. Don’t miss the opportunity to shine with your manager.  Your actions will distinguish you from your On line learningpeers and can propel you to the select professional development opportunities that are afforded to senior leaders, high potentials or future leaders.  You aren’t stuck if you are moving.   The world isn’t static—continue to grow as you go.

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Move laterally to move up?

Move_laterallyQ: If I accept the lateral move, my colleagues will see it as a step back not a step forward.  Am I making a mistake?

A:  You are only making a mistake if the offer is not moving you toward your career goal.  A lateral move can be a great way to get new experiences, have more visibility and expand your portfolio of clients, products, and services. Before considering how your colleagues feel, be secure in your decision by answering the following critical questions:

  • What are the specific skills, knowledge, and competencies that this opportunity will provide?
  • Will this opportunity take you off the promotion track or enhance your promotability?
  • Will you be better positioned for the future?
  • Will this lateral position move you toward your goal?

The answers to these questions are essential to effectively steer your career and avoid getting derailed.

Now, for your colleagues:  Develop a compelling elevator pitch that succinctly communicates the benefit of this lateral move and the excitement, passion, and energy that underlie your decision.  Don’t skip this step!  You are moving laterally and will soon move up—keep friends informed and always nurture your network.

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Remembering a quiet hero: Keith Phinney

Today is a day to remember and to be thankful for the men and women who put their lives on the line to safeguard our country.   Returning from war zones to home these veterans return to their communities and resume their lives usually without fanfare.  So, I am pleased to share with you today about a quiet hero–Keith Phinney — and how he made a difference in my life.

I had no idea that he was so much more than my music teacher and choral director at Bedford High School.  In that role, Keith Phinney was a maestro:  he commanded the attention of even the “townies” who tried to goof off by standing in the back row.  He was amazing—he would conduct and reprimand all with the same hand, and we excelled as a Glee Club.

I loved to sing and Mr. Phinney cast me in the role of Peep-Bo, one of the three little maidens in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado.  This was an extraordinary achievement and in retrospect I can see how courageous—maybe unconventional—Mr. Phinney was.  He choose me, a black girl, to play a key role, while outside the music room my color kept me from being a cheerleader and my gender prevented me from running track.

I must admit that as a teenager I viewed teachers as teachers—not as individuals with rich sets of experiences that shape their teaching styles.  At the time, our knowledge was limited to married vs. not married, lives in Bedford vs. some other place.   We knew that Mr. Phinney was married and had children but what I didn’t know until I attended his memorial service on April 17 is that that I—we—were the beneficiaries of his exemplary service as a B-17 bomber pilot in the United States Army Air Corps during WWII.  I learned from his son Keith’s eulogy that Mr. Phinney completed over 25 sorties during the war.  That takes courage, discipline and focus.  Now I understand how he was able to command our attention and keep us in order.

His memorial mervice at the Congregational Church in Chelmsford included beautiful music, of course, and the gathering of his close-knit family.  Oh the stories his son shared!   And it ended with a formal presentation of the American flag on behalf of the President of the United States to his wife Elizabeth for his service to our country.  As the sound of “Taps” filled the air, I had a richer appreciation of Keith Phinney the man, and I am so thankful for the opportunity that he gave me:  to sing my song. I am not alone in my sentiment

Melinda Lopez, BHS ’82, is an award-winning playwright whose work was cited by President Obama in a recent speech. “Mr. Phinney  — he was never, ever Keith — was a remarkable man. A superstar, European in his manners, and precise in his teaching, he was all glamour. His posture, his attitude, his speech– he was like a character out of a 1930s Hollywood movie, and I adored him,” she recalled. “He was a great teacher, and inspired me to believe that a career making music, theatre and beauty in the world was possible.”

Melinda continued. “He didn’t stand for fooling around when it came to making beautiful music. He demanded respect for the art form, and he taught us to do the same.”

As Stephen Lord, another of Mr. Phinney’s students and now one of four conductors in the Opera News “25 Most Powerful” pantheon, shared, “He made a difference.”

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 Are you hiding something important about yourself?

If you didn’t grow up in the country club set where professional and personal lives are blurred, you may still be operating by the old adage of “I keep my business and personal lives separate.” This is a failed strategy that many women, LGBT, and people of color employ. The divide begins early: “We don’t want those people to see how we live. They think they are better than us.” Or, “I work all day; I don’t want to have to work all night being around them.” Or maybe you were just taught to keep your personal life personal. From Haiti and the first in her family to make it, Bea took pride in being direct and, while at work, working.

I am not really a people person. With clients, you have to make small talk but for the most part chit-chatting is a waste of time. I honestly don’t understand why people do it. They look at me like I have three heads.

The explanation for Bea’s behavior can be found in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers:

Practical intelligence, the savvy to know what to say to whom, doesn’t come easily to poorer children. Children who grow up in poverty are more submissive when addressing adults and authority figures. They aren’t raised to assert themselves. This disadvantage can result in a lifelong struggle with interpersonal communications.

Keeping personal life personal can be especially difficult if you are the success story in your family or if have challenges at home—responsibility for a sick or aging parent, a wife with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a husband who is unemployed, or children with special issues. Perhaps you cope daily with a medical condition or mental illness, or you struggle with the crises and shame caused by a family member’s substance abuse or legal problems.

Few things cause more feelings of isolation than trying to hide something about yourself Don’t imagine that you can wall off an important part of your life. On the contrary, you can be certain that even if your boss or colleagues don’t know exactly what is wrong, they will know something is wrong. Most people are unconsciously sensitive to the cues that others are “hiding” something, and as a result they trust those people less. Ultimately, you will feel even more isolated!

The solution for this kind of isolation is to talk, in a limited way that you define and control, to a select group of people. As risky as this may seem, it is much better for your manager and colleagues to understand that you are dealing with issues at home than for them to think you are dissatisfied in your position.

From Chapter 6:  How Can I Meet the Challenge of Being the Only One Like Me?


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Lost my motivation

Q:  I just graduated with honors, but now I feel that I won’t be able to replicate my success in the job market.  What happened to my motivation?

A:    Congratulations!  Well done. You worked hard, applied yourself and achieved your goal. Now it is time to identify what compelled you to achieve your goal.  What was your motivation?   Your first thought might be:  I don’t know!  Commencement is a good time—after all, the word means “beginning”—to not only celebrate but to take responsibility for the success you have achieved.

You didn’t lose your motivation, but you may be looking for it in the wrong place.  Motivation comes from you, not from outside.  It’s easy to think that you were motivated by the positive support and feedback that you got along the way, and of curse those supporting actions contributed.  However, the foundation—the source—of the motivation came from you.  You achieved high honors because you had the drive, desire, passion and interest to do so.

If you are asking what happened to your motivation, the best way to get it back is to answer the following:

  • What motivates me?
  • What causes me to do my best and be my best? Being in my preferred environment? Feedback from others? Challenge? Competition?
  • What compelled me to graduate with high honors? My major? My mentor? My mom? Or myself?

The most empowering way for you to be successful is to tap into your ability to self-motivate. You can do it—that’s how you got to graduation day!

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Are you leveraging your relationship with your mentor?

Recognizing the value of positive relationships outside the chain of command, some firms have developed formal internal mentoring programs. These programs assign executives as mentors for high potential staff. Like arranged marriages, both parties must work to develop mutual trust and regard to make these pairing beneficial to both mentor and mentee.

The relationship is often limited to the mentor “showing the junior person the ropes”— a worthwhile outcome in itself, nonetheless. Whether you have an “arranged” mentor, or your relationship with your personal mentor is your choice, be alert to clues that tell you the relationship isn’t helping you. Like any good relationship, a positive mentorship is marked by good chemistry and trust, with easy and open communication and an atmosphere of give and take.

It all comes down to relationship management. Through your relationships, you will pick up on business trends and directions that you would not have had access to. Once you start connecting the dots with the insights and support from your mentor you will eventually see the whole picture.

GTST Chapter 4: Am I Getting the Most Out of My Mentors, Advisors, and Advocates?

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Every day counts

Q:  I begin my new job next week and wonder—are the first 100 days (or 90 days, depending on which books or pundits you read) really so important?

A:  Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you have 90 days to make your mark in your new role.  The reality is that the first day, the first week and the first month are equally important.  Your hiring manager and the members of your new organization are all watching to validate that they made the right hiring decision.  A misstep can create a question mark about whether you “fit” with the organization or raise suspicions about your competency for the role.

Regarding “fit” here are a few common sense (but not commonly practiced) “don’ts”:

  • Don’t talk about how great your “former” organization is/was
  • Don’t look or act dramatically different from the people in your new organization
  • Don’t talk too much
  • Don’t cause conflict
  • Don’t gossip
  • Don’t be a “know it all”

Instead, ensure that your actions each and every single day have the following intentionality:

  1. Build relationships and develop alliances for the tasks and deliverables that you were hired to lead
  2. Get connected and learn the lay of the land
  3. Be likeable
  4. Respect culture, rituals and organizational heroes
  5. Keep your promises—do what you were hired to do
  6. Add value
  7. Appreciate and leverage the expertise/contribution of others
  8. Keep an open mind
  9. Execute

Finally, ask yourself these important questions

  • Do I fit?
  • Am I meeting the expectations of my hiring manager? Key stakeholders?
  • Am I likeable?

Be intentional on your first day, your first week and your first month and you will be successful at the 90-day and the 100-day mark!

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In limbo after re-org

Limbo_reorgQ:  After 18 years, I am out of a job following a reorganization. I wasn’t surprised by the reorg, but the timing caught me off guard. Now I am in limbo:  should I look inside or is it time to move on?

A:  With 18 years invested in your firm, career and a network of friendships, it isn’t easy to walk away.  And it seems that you anticipated that a reorganization would sweep your position away. If more changes are coming, recognize that your firm has changed dramatically.  My questions:

  • Have you adapted and adjusted to “fit” with your organization today?
  • Or, did you lose your job because you are “obsolete” or perceived as “not flexible”?
  • Are you excited about the direction in which your organization is moving? If yes, explore opportunities that match with your skills and interests.  Leverage your network

On the other hand, it is time to move on if:

  • You feel betrayed, victimized, not valued or in general not well treated
  • You believe that now is the time to pursue your “real” interests and dreams

Finally, being in limbo—either confused or immobile—will drain your energy and dampen your self-esteem and efforts to snap out of it or “power through” it only make matters Unknown-1worse.  If you feel bad, I recommend that take it to the max and have a two-to-three-hour pity party.  When you take off the party hat, step through the newly opened door—either in your firm or out.

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