Friday, April 24, 2009

Instant capitulation vs. dying on the hill

We rarely seem to find a happy medium between these extreme choices in the workplace. Traditional behaviour dictates that you capitulate to your autocratic boss the moment they've stated their desire or intention. Doing anything but their plan will label you as a problem. You're essentially raising your hand and announcing that you are not a team player... for their game, anyway.

This roll-over response is well ingrained. When you consider the career challenges of later baby-boomers and Gen-Xers, it's even understandable. To paraphrase Linda Duxbury, when you're lucky enough to have a seat on the crowded bus, you don't complain about the rip in the seat. Well, the world has changed. There's now room on the bus, and an empty one comes in another 10 minutes. The power dynamic has shifted more in your favour.

Aside from this, instantly capitulating to your boss' ill-formed idea has never been in the best interest of what you're trying to accomplish. You're not safe anymore to just let someone else define your work and your direction. You'll still feel safe, sure. The problem is, that safe stance is very similar to the one taken by people who put bolts on cars. They feel completely justified saying "you get to run this how you want, even if I disagree," until the day they no longer have a job. Please don't accept that role.

Here's the simple first step. Become a student of the Instant Capitulation vs. Dying on the Hill continuum. Objectively examine your behaviour in the context of this scale. Do you like where you're at?

Step two, try something that isn't so much instant capitulation. Don't go all the way to Dying on the Hill. Make a small shift.

Here's some behaviours to think about:
  • Don't tell anyone, just turn off your email for a morning. Re-engage at 11:45 and see if you can clear your inbox by noon.
  • Propose an amendment to the specific wording your boss gave you for a letter.
  • Push back on a deadline by saying "I've cleared Friday so that I can get my files under control," or "that task will have to wait until after my coaching session with Tom."
  • Allow all your calls to go to voicemail. Set one hour aside to deal with them all.
  • Unilaterally schedule a meeting in your boss' calendar called "Establishing Performance Expectations with (insert your name here)"

In my experience, establishing the way YOU want to work allows you to benefit from the roll-over response. No one else is spending as much time thinking about processes and what it takes to be effective. Rather than engage with you in a rational discussion about why you are doing this (which would be immensely helpful), they'll do their own capitulation.

Once again, I'm advising something that doesn't particularly feel good for the ego, but it should be just about right for your soul and your sanity.

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