6 Benefits You Can Learn From Working With An @r$3hole?

The other day a friend, who’d spent a grad rotation in my team, rang for some mentoring advice. He’s an up and coming project manager, now working for another company, and he felt he was being stymied by a micro-managing, personally vindictive, martinet. In short an arsehole.

We established some expected professional guidelines to ensure he wasn’t simply a millennial not getting their way. Although I will add that nothing in my experience with him ever indicated any sense of entitlement. And it certainly seems that his manager in case was being a jerk.

What to do?

Quit, and face the shifting cost of finding another role. Whether in or out of the organisation.

Or Persist, and face the daily humiliation and degradation of working with an arsehole?

The 3rd Alternative

Lesson one, whenever there seems to be a ‘suckers choice’ look for a third alternative. In this case we agreed to tough it out for a period of time, but to use this as a career development opportunity because of two immutable truths:

1. Every organisation contains arseholes. Better to learn how to deal with a jerk and develop that muscle than to be upset every time you have to.

2. ‘Leaving from’ is never as good a choice as ‘going to.’

Here then are 6 lessons you can learn working with an arsehole:

1. Develop Empathy.

Few people come to work to be nasty. Sometimes it’s years of poor company culture, sometimes it’s the insecurity of being threatened, sometimes there’s something in their personal life that makes them (appear) mean. Sometimes they have good intentions and poor judgement.

Whatever it is, figure out the root cause. Empathy makes you a better human being. And more adept at dealing with them.

2. Find their ‘Win.’

What can you do to make them ‘win.’

It’s incredibly hard to be nasty to someone who is helping you succeed.

3. Step up your personal game.

The idea here is to over-deliver.

Most people in work over-promise and under-deliver. Good employees under-promise and over-deliver. The key to success is to over-promise and over-deliver.

So do that. Make it impossible for your manager to find anything to complain about.

The risk is that your over-delivering threatens them with their peers, so see lesson 2 above.

4. How not to be an arsehole yourself.

Once I used a technique I’d learned to encourage punctuality in team meetings. I’d gain permission from the team to get latecomers to tell a joke, or sing a song at the front when they arrived. The intent was to lighten the mood, have a laugh, and of course (slightly) embarrass latecomers into being punctual. Harmless? Sure.

One of the other managers later used this to accuse me of bullying. This certainly wasn’t common feedback from the team, the other managers or even our director, but it was great feedback to me. Sometimes the things you do with the most honest intent can make you a jerk.

So the 4th lesson is to note down precisely what behaviours are annoying you, and ensure you don’t do the same things to others.

5. Build your confidence.

How do you progress in any skill in life?

By overcoming challenges.

As you develop your skills, maintain your integrity, and stand up to the arsehole, you become proficient at dealing with all sorts of people. This puts you in a unique position. You become the person that can lead the difficult team, teach the feral class, work with the impossible client.

Learning to deal with difficult people at work builds your confidence to handle your obnoxious neighbours, your children’s complaining teachers, and pushy sales people.

6. Develop your exit strategy.

If you can’t change the behaviour, it’s time to develop an exit strategy.

But it’s always time to develop your exit strategy.

Use this opportunity then to catalyse something that should be a continual process. Determine the timing, the milestones you need to achieve, and begin executing on your strategy.

At The End Of The Day

I do believe there is a line across which it makes more sense to leave a team than stay. For me that line includes any of: physical violence, racial discrimination, sexual harrassment, and overt bullying.

Although I’ve seen many times how a little coaching and 1:1 feedback can go a long way to rectify a situation. Especially when a perpetrator is ignorant of the impact of their behaviour, like I was.

The worst thing you can do is endure without communication. That just builds up resentment eventually leading to catastrophe, where you quit without another opportunity. Or worse do something that gets you punished.


Are You Leading, Following or In The Way?

Lead Follow or Get Out of the WAY
Attribute: American Method – Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Have you ever noticed how tough it is for some leaders to follow others? A great leader is one that as a team member can hold themselves back from taking over.

This is a particularly difficult skill, and it catches us out in all sorts of areas. Parenting is a classic example. There are contexts when your partner has the stage, and the worst thing you can do is anything but support them fully. This can be nigh on impossible when you have a serious disagreement with a discipline style like corporal punishment. But the heat of the moment is not the time to question your spouse.

The same is true for your subordinate that’s screwing up the sales presentation. Or the band leader that is changing the intro for a beloved song.

Either take the baton. Lead yourself.

Or follow. That means fully supporting the leader’s direction whether you agree with them or not.

Or get out of the way. Excuse yourself and let it go.


6 Signs You’re A Multipotentialite (aka Versatilist)

The Multipotentialite

Throughout life someone somewhere will encourage, even insist you specialise. To follow your ‘passion.’ To focus.

But what if you have more than one passion? What if you just don’t fit the pigeonhole? Family and teachers may’ve written you off as a generalist. After all even the proverbs in our language deride the ‘Jack of all trades, but master of none.’

You might just be what Emilie Wapnick calls a ‘multipotentialite.’ What in the past, in my frustration at either being asked to deny much of the real value I bring, or being written off, I’ve termed the ‘versatilist.’ A recognition that you can be passionate, and excel in, multiple domains.

Not a generalist but a versatilist. A multipotentialite.

[ted id=2341]

It’s the reason this, my personal blog covers such a gamut of interests: Motorbikes, travel, parenting, leadership, technology, and more. So how can you tell if you’re a multipotentialite?

1. Serial Interests

Growing up the versatilist immerses themself in serial interests. This is not the equivalent of ‘having a hobby.’ More like mastering something as quickly as possible, then seeming to move on entirely. For me this included cycling, motorcycling, waterskiing, camping, hiking, sailing, photography, and computers. It led to leadership roles in Boy Scouts, St John’s Ambulance, and Youth For Christ.

Later this led to professional roles in youth work, sales, instructing scuba, and sailing across oceans, interspersed with my career in IT.

Even in IT I’ve programmed, administered, supported, architected, designed and implemented computer systems. Also worked in sales, marketing, service delivery, people management, and IT evangelism.

Chances are if you become passionate almost to the exclusion of everything (& everyone) else, only to move onto another passion 6 months later…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

2. Gear Snob

One of the side effects of wanting to master your current passion is the drive to get the best gear you can. Again this shows the difference between the generalist and the versatilist. To a generalist, any guitar will do. They’ll make do with the camera on their phone. They’re happy to rent scuba gear. To borrow camping equipment.

You on the other hand may struggle with affording the latest and best gear. Perhaps you spend hours researching holidays, gadgets, and vehicles, to ensure you can get the most (diverse) value you possibly can.

If you can explain the best brands in just about any domain, because you own so much of it…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

3. Versatile Purchaser

Not only are you obsessed with the best gear, but the most versatile as well.

Consider car(s): Do you have a ‘People Mover’ (MPV – Multi-Purpose Vehicle) or 4WD (SUV – Sports Utility Vehicle)? Something you can, and do, take off-road, through city streets, and down to the beach. A car that you can use to help a friend shift furniture, tow a trailer across the country, or reconfigure to take the entire soccer team to ice cream? Or maybe you have more than one car. The idea of ‘Transport-as-a-Service’ where you simply get exactly the vehicle you need when you need it sounds awesome.

For me this extended to my motorbike: A Ducati Multistrada. Multistrada literally means ‘many roads.’ A motorbike as performant on a track, touring over long distances, commuting in city traffic, or heading off-road.

Also to our boat: A Gemini Rigid Inflatable. As comfortable with a dozen divers out to sea, as towing someone on waterski’s. A boat we’d moor in the city for a night out, and beach when camping. Light, tough, comfortable, versatile.

If you ever feel that you’re next house, or car, or [major purchase here] simply doesn’t do all of the things you want, that you simply need something that may not even exist, just maybe…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

4. Participant

This is an interesting one, but you may find that you simply cannot sit in the audience. You become restless. Package tours are too passe. You’d much rather be exploring on your own. The traveller rather than the tourist. Nothing wrong with tourists, it’s just they’re not you.

Concerts are ok, but you’d much rather be on-stage. Even when taking part in participatory activities like diving, you yearn to be the Dive Master. To be on the helm when sailing.

This isn’t a control thing, at least not entirely. More a mastery thing. This is the difference between the generalist and the versatilist.

For the generalist, ‘good enough’ in any domain, ‘is.’ For the specialist, ‘good enough’ in any domain other than their speciality, ‘is.’ For the multipotentialite, ‘good enough’ simply ‘isn’t’ in anything they attempt.

If you prefer to participate yourself, much rather than simply watch others experience the joy of mastery…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

5. Cartographer

Models and maps are how the multipotentialite navigates the world. It’s how they master new skills so quickly. If there isn’t a map or a model, the versatilist will at least conceive of one, if not document them.

If you find you have a model to explain everything from trust (T = (C+R+I)/SO) to the AV and Sound system at church…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

6. Autonomy

Perhaps this one is because it’s hard to follow a single system of command and control when you have such diverse interests. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to be told how and when to do something when you’ve already modeled the most effective path.

If you find that there’s a blur between your professional and personal interests to the point that you thrive in roles where you can dictate when, where, with whom, and how you work…

…you’re a multipotentialite.

Ignore The Madding Crowd

If you are a versatilist, you’re going to have to overcome the existentialist threat of societal norms. Everything from exasperation at the sheds full of expensive, now disused, top notch equipment you still own; to managers, teachers, and investors insisting you focus.

This constant refrain to focus is a demeaning war of attrition. Don’t settle for anything less than the richness of your full diversity, endless energy, and constant curiosity. Be all you are and add colour to the monochrome of life.

And those projects you haven’t completed? That’s ok. You’ll come back to them…

…or something better.


Leadership Principal #3 – Empower

One of the best lessons on leadership is explained by Ricardo Semler in his book “Maverick: The Success Story Behind The World's Most Successful Workplace” about trusting the skills, capabilities and commitment of employees, rather than treating them like school children. The modern enterprise is not a classroom with expectations about attendance, where you reward or penalise prescribed behaviours.

Or rather, it needn't be.

This was also picked up in Dan Pink's “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates People

It is the easiest thing in the world for a leader either to do, or worse prescribe, too much. Letting your team have autonomy to determine when, where, with whom, and how they will accomplish is tough. Especially with novices.

Yet we invest hundreds of thousands in attracting, recruiting, and retaining the best talent.

If the old motivators of prescribing work, and motivating with a carrot or stick, no longer drive engagement, enjoyment, or effectiveness, then how do we empower?

Some principles I've found work well (and frustrate when ignored):

  • Agree on purpose first, the 'Why?'
  • Let the team member(s) determine 'What' needs to be accomplished collaboratively.
  • Don't ever worry about the 'How.' (Except with unethical behaviours)
  • Communicate openly and transparently – conflicts with other teams, changes in organisation, overall company performance, all of this should be common knowledge members can openly discuss.
  • Regularly discuss performance. Not for reward or punishment, but to remove blockers, or allocate needed resources
  • Celebrate creativity, effort and learnings rather than 'successes.'
  • Encourage downstream empowerment

If this isn't working, chances are more that you have the wrong purpose, or the wrong person in the role. Change that rather than flogging the horse harder.