This is not your typical career post. I’m not going to patronise you by telling you how to make your career the envy of many. Neither am I going to tell you to forget having a corporate career because the corporate world is evil. No, none of that nonsense. I’m going to tell you my greatest misconceptions during my corporate career that spans 10 years. You will see potential identity issues and near misses, which could derail any promising career.
Choosing a job, not a manager – New challenges are so exciting! It doesn’t matter if I don’t have direct experience in a role, I get excited about finding out what I’m meant to be doing. In fact, if I can already do the job I’m unlikely to be interested. I read the job description, highlighting in green where I have experience, in yellow where I have knowledge but no direct experience and in orange where I have nothing at all. Then I make a plan to fill the gaps. Sounds pretty thorough, right? Well, that’s a misconception right there. I hardly ever ask crucial questions about who’s going to be my manager in the new role. I know their names but I don’t find out what they are like to work for, what their management style is and if I should be bothered to enter into their kingdom. Oftentimes, this is more important than the job itself. It doesn’t matter how smart I am. If I have to regularly combat difficult personalities or succumb to a management style that doesn’t work for me, I’ll lay awake at night. If I could go back in time, I’d ask more questions about management style and values. I might still take the job after finding out that the manager eats human ears for breakfast (my ears are my favourite feature) but at least I’ll know – and I’ll have an approach for managing them…because the job is worth it.
Tolerating bad behaviour for far too long – Corporate environments are odd places. Many have open plan spaces where you sit at your desk for hours hitting away at the keyboard connected to your computer. There are times that I’m a few meters away from a colleague(s) and no words are exchanged for the most part of the day. It’s not that we hate each other. We are just really busy, hunched over from 9 to 5, buried in a spreadsheet or a slide presentation or horse manure. Offices are odd places for sure. Then imagine people behaving badly on top of that. Behaving badly could include:
- sending that saucy email with a lot of comments about things the sender knows nothing about while copying the whole world,
- shouting at other colleagues because life just feels better after shouting,
- people not pulling their weight on the job
I use the ‘3-strikes-and-you-are-out’ approach but not everyone is as understanding as that. After all, we are all here to work and to get paid for a hard day’s job. Corporate environments are not charities. Sooner or later, somebody will mercilessly threw slackers under the bus.
Focusing on weaknesses instead of strengths – Ever since I was a child, I have ignored my strengths. Literally. When I get my report sheet, I scan through and notice all the ‘buts’, ‘althoughs’, and ‘could-do-betters’. I almost always need a second opinion on the report sheet, someone to talk me off the ledge. It takes another look for me to notice the ‘she is excellent at this’ and ‘she is a leader in that’. Honestly, I never see it the first time. If someone asked me my weaknesses, those would roll off my tongue quickly but I often have to think about what my strengths are. In fact, I ask my friends what my best traits are quite a lot because I tend to forget.
In my corporate career, this is probably the worst misconception – the misconception that I need to improve my weaknesses more than I need to make my strengths even stronger. It causes what I call, ‘mistaken identity’. I could end up presenting myself with my weaknesses at the forefront. Try it. Describe yourself with your weaknesses. For instance, you could say, ‘I’m terrible at numbers and I have no patience for slow learners.’ Then try describing yourself with your strengths. Something like, ‘I’m creative and often come up with innovative ideas. I’m also calm and productive under pressure.’ Well, who would you hire for a job? It’s the same person. One of my lecturers at business school used to say and still says that people should ignore their weaknesses. ‘Just leave it alone’, he says. ‘Focus on your strengths’, he says. ‘That’s what the company hired you for – to tap your strengths – not to improve your weaknesses,’ he’d often say. I’m not sure I can totally ignore my weaknesses but perhaps if I focus more on my strengths, I’ll have greater impact because I’m more effective. Or so I’m told.
Neglecting to feed the ego monsters – I cannot for the life of me massage people’s egos. I’m not dissing it, trust me. It’s a good skill to have and should probably be in the curriculum at any good university. I just can’t do it because I struggle to say things I don’t mean. It’s worse when the ego monster is expecting me to feed them without doing much to deserve it. I think, ‘Huh? Excuse me…I have things to do’. Really bad attitude on my part and a potential near miss as far as corporate careers go. In corporate careers, the ego monsters could be:
- the boss
- the boss’ boss
- that IT guy who can work magic on a fried hard drive
- a senior manager whose buy-in is needed for the project to go ahead
- his secretary
I conclude that feeding egos is possibly the most important skill in large organisations with tall hierarchies. Hopefully, it’s backed up with a measure of efficiency on the job. Bosses want to feel good (as do all human beings) and the majority of them don’t mind if you mean it or not. Just do it and it might be the start of a blissful relationship. It feels awkward when I do it. Like Pinocchio, I stand there expecting to be outed as my nose grows… My smile is tense and phony. Certain muscles in my face twitch. It would be easier if I could sit this one out. But I can remember times when my corporate career would have been much easier if I had simply played along…
There they are – I shuffled along with energy, enthusiasm and some mildly worrying misconceptions.
Do any of these resonate with anyone?
Images from flickr users: Pulpoux!!! – the boss; Theen Moy – Speak No Evil, Hear No Evil; Giulio Magnifico – Light the cigarette for the boss