Joseph Grenny is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.
Dear Crucial Skills,
I enjoy my work very much and am fortunate enough to work on a great team. However, my one big concern is that our team leader has been ineffective for years. I end up filling in the gaps he leaves unaddressed. While I have brought this to the attention of the next in-line supervisor, my annual performance rating is tied to the team’s performance. How can I distinguish myself as being effective when the team leader’s ineffective management causes the team to look less than successful?
In the olden days when bosses walked the same floors as employees, visibility wasn’t an issue. If you put out better widgets than the guy or gal next to you, management would know it. If you punched in sooner or punched out later, you got credit for it. These days, much of the workforce works miles or even continents away from their leader.
So, I’ve got to guess many of our readers share your concern. How can you ensure that the shadow of a weak leader or mediocre team doesn’t obscure your contributions or inhibit your prospects?
Here are my thoughts on that question.
1. It will. You’re going to have to deal with it. The truth is, a weak team does tint the performance of a strong player. If this is compromising your personal goals, you must take responsibility to either influence change or make a change. If, however, you have other interests that offset this cost, you may choose to stay. For example, you may enjoy the work itself, your colleagues, or connections with customers. The key here is to own your choice. Weigh the tradeoffs then make a decision. Don’t, however, become a victim by choosing to stay then blaming your boss.
2. Influence up. Also, examine your own role in the problem. Have you been entirely candid with your boss? Have you found a way to be both 100 percent honest and 100 percent respectful with him? If not, you’ve got work you can still do to influence upward. Many years ago, I had an employee named Lyle who asked to meet with me privately. He was pretty introverted so it was a surprise to get this request from him. When the door closed, he quickly came to the point. In short order he very caringly, respectfully, and factually laid out evidence that I was arrogant and rude. When he finished sharing his feedback, I felt incredibly disarmed. When I thought about what he had said, I felt I should be offended. And yet I wasn’t. Instead, I felt convicted. It was clear I had been difficult for him to work with. I apologized and worked hard to address my flaws in coming months. I’ll be forever grateful for Lyle. There’s often more we can do to influence upward if we hold ourselves accountable to do so.
3. Focus on being not seeming. I caution you also not to obsess over getting credit for all your good work. If you focus on managing appearances you will begin to value credit over contribution. I am a firm believer that the key to happiness in life is to focus on being not seeming. Contribute. Serve. Improve. Assist. Praise. Become the kind of person you want to be and trust that the most important rewards—the privilege of serving even more—will come.
4. Develop a reputation for being helpful. Finally, there is something you can do that naturally leads to recognition and advancement. Become the kind of person who goes the extra mile for others. Share information. Make others heroes. Sacrifice for goals outside of your own self-interest. My partner, David Maxfield, is the epitome of this concept. David is an incredibly busy man with many demands for his time and talents. And yet, if you ask him for information he will go above and beyond the request. If you ask him to be a listening ear he will drop what he’s doing and come to your aid. I venture to say that everyone who knows David would describe him this same way. And this reputation has served him well. He is highly regarded and his influence has grown enormously—in part because of this wonderful attribute. Should you choose to stay in your present team, you can widen your circle of influence by widening your circle of service.
I hope these ideas help you sort through the complex life decision you’re making.
Want to hear more from author Joseph Grenny about leadership and influence? Check out his speech to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit entitled Mastering the Skill of Influence.