- Wise Words -
The Genuine Article
by kirsten rasanen
In my last column for EarlyStageProfessional.com, I talked about how not knowing what you want to be when you grow up is absolutely OK. This time, let’s talk about knowing how to be and what that can mean for your long term success and personal happiness. It may sound pollyanna-ish, but I promise you - if you follow one simple rule, you’ll be happier, well-respected and a genuinely higher-value colleague throughout your career.
It’s pretty simple - Be collaborative. Be helpful. Be genuine. Be thoughtful. In short, be nice. Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because in the end, the not nice guys always lose. Really. They do.
Have you ever had a colleague who seemed only to care about her own success? She takes credit for other people’s work. She doesn’t really listen when others speak but chimes in at every opportunity to offer her own opinion. She is always looking for ‘the win’ and will do anything to get it. She is expert at managing up, but is quick to demean or take advantage of those further down the ladder. And yet, she keeps rising through the ranks! She is constantly rewarded even though most who work with her have no respect and quite a bit of animosity towards her. WTF?!?
It can be unbelievably frustrating to see this play out in your career. You may think to yourself, “Gee, maybe I need to be more like her. She’s a self-serving jerk, but it seems to be working for her…so maybe I should...” Don’t do it. Don’t be that person. She (and you) might win in the short term, but long term, the a-holes get what’s coming to them. You may not be around to see it. You probably won’t be, in fact, but it will happen. It may be public comeuppance - an unceremonious firing, an HR investigation, or (more mild, but pretty painful) a sudden shrinking of team and scope. Or, it may not be so visible - a lousy home life, a sudden illness, klepto kids.... You name it. Sounds extreme, but I’ve actually seen it happen. Some of the worst people I’ve come across in a business setting have ended up in really not good places professionally or personally. For some, I’m still waiting for it to happen. But, I know that it will.
Getting some distance
So, what to do in the meantime? If you’re smart, you’ll distance yourself from the jerks as fast as possible. It’s tempting to try to ride with the rising star to the top. Don’t. You won’t get there. She’ll get to the top, but you’ll be left dangling and aimless. Or worse, you’ll be associated with that jerk, will lose the respect of your colleagues and maybe your opportunity to prove your true value independently. It’s not worth it.
Be the good guy. They say that we finish last, but I don’t believe that’s true. It may take us a little longer to get there, but, if you are an ethical, upstanding, collaborative and decent colleague, you will get there. You will be the person that people come to for career advice and mentoring. You will be the person that your team turns to for calm, selfless perspective when a re-org is freaking everyone out. You’ll be the person that leadership trusts to help them solve difficult challenges and looks to for honest answers. You will be respected and relied upon by your peers. These things (along with your hard work and fantastic output, of course) are the things that earn you that that promotion, get you the biggest bonus, and help you fulfill your personal and professional goals.
There are rarely shortcuts to success. Being a jerk might get you down the road 15 seconds faster, but the road will be bumpier, lonelier and ultimately less fulfilling. Being an ethical, upstanding colleague will get your further and make you happier.
For more content by Kirsten, see her "Your Career As A Journey" column.