As the darkness drew in this evening and a wintry rain started to fall, instead of going home to head out on the run I'd promised myself I would do, I found myself chatting with a few of my colleagues. As the office emptied, the topic of conversation drifted relentlessly towards the subject of what it took to get ahead at work, with my 22 year-old colleague asking me if I would ever consider playing the game in order to get promoted. The easy answer is no, but I still hesitated a little before answering. I'm conscious that 22 y.o. is quite impressionable, and I definitely don't want to give him the impression that my way is the only way to go. In fact, I think I will be doing him a great disservice if I don't point out that if he chooses to walk the path I have chosen, then he is likely to find it somewhat career limiting.
I used to think that I wanted to be managing director, but as I've got older, I've realised how far from the truth that is. I am challenge orientated and I want to do the best job that I can, but I can't quite stop myself from asking questions that it might be more prudent to leave unasked. I can't help myself: the same analytical mind that is essential to doing my job is forever getting me into trouble. My new boss is always going on about how doing a good job is not enough; how you need to work on 'building your brand' and making sure that the right people see you behaving in what they consider the right way. Part of the assessment of our performance is, after all, based upon our "behaviours"..... If you want to get ahead, my boss tells me, you need to work on your brand. Or as one of my other colleagues said this evening, "You have to be prepared to suck some cock".
It's a glib line: it's funny and it means that we outsiders can vent our scorn at the people we perceive to be advancing their careers on the basis of appearances rather than achievements. It's too easy though. It's an easy answer that provides succour to people like us who think we're doing a better job than the people being promoted around us. It can't always be true, can it? It might seem true in my department, but -- as my wife likes to point out -- it is possible to move your career forwards without compromising your integrity, and her career is proof positive: a shining example of someone who treats her colleagues with respect and achieves success through nothing less than talent and sheer hard work.
I've been thinking about this.
We all have our opinions on our colleagues and on ourselves, but I reckon that if you can come up with a method for somehow measuring integrity, then you might just have the benchmark for determining who is merely going through the motions of 'building their brand' and who is genuinely concerned about doing the best job that they can.
How about this:
Picture a sliding scale, with "Self-Awareness" on one end and "Self-Importance" on the other end. I'm going to call this the "Vestiges of Humanity" scale. Every single thing we do at work -- and in life -- will move us in one direction or the other along that scale. I think that any reasonable person should always be aiming to have their self-awareness outweigh their self-importance. Anyone, no matter how much you may dislike them or doubt their motives, who has shown you that they are the right side of that scale, I think deserve the benefit of the doubt. In the spirit of self-development and to further your own self-awareness, you should of course apply this measure most rigorously to yourself.
I'm not claiming that this is the perfect measure, by any means. It's a rule of thumb at best. Actually, I doubt that you will find many people who fall entirely on the wrong side of the scale at all. Most people will probably be somewhere around the middle. But I am convinced that you will get a reasonable measure of someone if you consider the direction they are travelling along that scale.
I've been idly applying this to various of my colleagues over the course of the evening, and the results have been quite interesting. There's only really one of my team who I would say has actively tipped into self-importance in recent weeks (and I don't think he's a lost cause), but it has given me cause to reassess my opinions of a couple of people, including my boss. I've not been sure what his motives have been over the last few weeks, and my overall view of him has taken a sharp turn for the worse as a direct result. A bit of close consideration using the "Vestiges of Humanity" scale, and I find to my surprise that I need to amend my opinion of him. I'm still not sure of his motives, but I am pretty sure that he's both self-aware and not especially self-important. He might be confused himself about where he's going at the moment, so perhaps I should be offering him some help instead of adding to his problems?
A most unexpected result, and one that is going to perhaps lead me to change my own attitude and behaviour. Hmm. I might be onto something here.
I've always fancied writing a book, and I was reading in the paper the other day that the most successful books on the market are self-help books. "Who Moved My Cheese" and all that jazz. With a bit of work, perhaps the "Vestiges of Humanity" scale could be the next big thing? If I can help myself, then I reckon I can help anyone...
Or perhaps I've just tipped critically down my own scale and into self-importance?