February 3, 2010

Row Your Own Boat

Filed under: Career Advice,Leadership — Joe Grant @ 2:43 pm

READING TIME: Not even 2 minutes. Worth it.


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Why do some people seem to get all the breaks while others (maybe you) merely march in place? Well, it has to do with grabbing the oars and rowing where you want to go.

ImageIt’s a shame. So much young, eager and spirited talent wasted because they get turned off by intractable management.

You know the people I’m talking about – the career-oriented mid-20s to late 30s folks who love the game of advertising but are terribly unhappy and frustrated because nothing seems to change at their agency. They want to accomplish so much but say the systems are broken, senior management is mired in the past and won’t make obvious changes, the day-to-day load is suffocating, and they resent the price they have to pay to do something they really want to enjoy.

Well, we have a solution to propose and we’re going to drop it right at the feet of the disaffected people themselves.

You’re unhappy at work because you’re waiting for things to get better. And of course that’s exactly right because positive change is what’s needed. But the mistake is the waiting.

Stop waiting!
If you wait for senior management to fix things, you’re doomed to dog paddle your way to the finish line. Instead, embrace the idea that you don’t really work for the company that signs your paycheck. No, the fact is you’re self-employed. That means you don’t depend on other people to do things – YOU solve problems as you see them. It’s you see it, you own it.

Instead of drowning your discontent in pints of beer or Haagen-Dazs, self-challenge to discover solutions you yourself can effect. List all the things you dislike, decide which ones you can nudge ahead, and conspire with similarly distressed people to push for small incremental improvements in your area of influence. This is called leadership.

You’ll change the agency, build your career, and create your own future instead of being the victim of moribund management. But you’ve got to go a step further.

Be Subversive
People who get ahead are also masters of something not often talked about: subversion.

Don’t take this as advocating armed overthrow or regime change. Successful people simply learn to quit bitching about what’s wrong with the place or their bosses – it just doesn’t do any good anyway – and instead change things under the radar, clandestinely waging systematic guerrilla warfare just beneath the aggravation threshold of the status quo police. It’s an art, to be sure.

These camouflaged warriors don’t accept what is, and they certainly don’t waste time complaining about what they find intolerable. They refocus their frustrations on slipping improvements in under cover of darkness. And they rarely work alone.

At one agency burdened by obstinate management, a small band of malcontents met and brainstormed 20 things they thought they could improve without senior level approval. They used the codeword ‘COSNOP’ to keep them on track whenever their sessions degenerated into complaint fests (Concentrate on Solutions, Not on Problems).

They met Saturday mornings because they knew that change rarely happens without extra effort outside normal routines. They understood that company cultures change from the inside, not by fiat, and concentrated only on activities that would yield significant improvements.

Do Important Things
Unless you want merely to survive, you’ve got to use your time to accomplish the important not just the urgent (read First Things First by Stephen Covey – it will turn your head around about time and priorities). If you’re not working on something on your ‘Important’ list daily, you’re blowing it.

Which brings us to setting goals independent of senior management. Don’t be so naive to believe that executive management at your place will always do what’s necessary to push your personal career forward. If you wait for them to accelerate your success, you’ll end up years from now in much the same job you’re in now. . . only older.
Remember, you’re self-employed, so go to Borders and buy yourself a goal setting book. Hokey, I know, but the fact is people who don’t incorporate personal goals in their work get stuck in place. It’s a myth believing doing your current job well will automatically catapult you to the next promotion.

To sum up, our advice is simple: Get over it! How you lead your life means how you take it some place, how you lead it. The onus is smack dab on you. As you go about your daily chores it might be helpful to hum “Row, row, row your boat.” With the emphasis on “your.”

In the end, it’s no one else’s boat, right?

Find out more about our services at Grant Consulting Associates

‘Til next time,
Joe Grant


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