The soft-spoken executive in my recent training seemed reasonable, intelligent and even-tempered. While role-playing scenarios, he shared a real-life story about wrangling with a top executive that was clearly upsetting him.
When I was first hired and asked to prepare my department budget, I was told I couldn’t have any data or authority over several line items. Everyone said off-the-record it was an irrational decision, a power move by a brilliant, yet overly controlling leader. They said he perceived me as a threat and wanted to “put me in my place.” They told me just to live with it ...
Now a year later, however, those line item expenses are significantly higher than anticipated, and senior leadership handed me the problem to fix. I refused, reminding them I had been denied responsibility and data from the get-go. We remain at an impasse. I want to stick to my principles, but I’m also frustrated having to play this game. Any suggestions?
We’ve all been there. Most of us have encountered brilliant but troubled leaders who don’t always act rationally. Typically, we work around or clean up after them, doubly frustrating when everyone sees the dysfunction and, yet, counsels inaction. Sure, you can wrangle in return or draw a well-deserved line in the sand. Or you can rightfully complain, joining the others who have worked around this dysfunction for years.
But here’s another approach. Pretend he’s perfectly rational, openly collaborative, and a great team player. Pretend he’s easy to work with, and, then, behave as if that’s actually true. Convince yourself as much as you can. No wrangling. No complaining. No politics. Just ask for exactly what you need and expect you’ll get it. Be clear, calm and hold the best intentions. And after you make each request, let it go.
It may not make a different at first, but keep at it and see what surprising things unfold. Perhaps that person will grow more yielding, but even if he doesn’t, you may very well find you get the information, collaboration and teamwork anyway. Besides, at minimum, pretending someone is easy to work with does absolutely no harm, and imagining you have the best colleagues on the planet may surprisingly make you feel better. And research shows that feeling better, in and of itself, makes a huge positive difference.