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HR Consulting and Executive Coaching Newsletter - Issue #4

Win at All Costs

This newsletter is the third in a series of 5 dealing with bad habits.  It is again based partly on the book by Marshall Goldsmith called "What Got You Here Won't Get You There".  I would highly recommend this book as you reflect on improving yourself by eliminating your own bad habits.

I received a lot of positive feedback on last month's newsletter about bad habits in the area of communication, and how saying too much in certain situations can have an unintentional negative impact.  Since we have learned by now that many successful people convince themselves that their bad habits are strengths, these may be hard to recognize and also hard to let go of.  In fact, these bad habits may be points of pride that we do not really want to change.  However, they need to be corrected early, before they become problems that prevent career advancement.

This month, we will look at more bad habits in the category of the "winning at all costs".  Winning is a natural behavior, and is feels great.  Very few people begin a game of chess hoping to relish in the feeling of defeat. In Corporate America, there is an even bigger premium on winning.  Winning companies are rewarded by bigger budgets, higher stock price, retention plans, etc.  Traditional performance management systems reward individual performance, so winning employees get promotions, more money, favorable treatment, etc.  Winning is good.

The problem with winning is that it starts to creep into the wrong situations.  We start to compete over things that don't matter.  We look at teammates or other company employees as competitors, even when we have a common goal.  We start to do things to promote ourselves, or to keep others at a disadvantage.  Intentional self promotion and undermining of others is not a bad habit in my opinion, but bad behavior.  The bad habit is when we do this unintentionally with no knowledge that we even have a bad habit that needs fixing!

Here are some examples:

  1. Oh, I forgot to tell you...
    Bob was asked by his boss Julie to research potential new application areas for a current product.  When Bob's analysis showed that the product might work well in the medical field, Julie told him that a decision was made last week at a higher level to avoid the medical field.  Bob's work was wasted because he didn't have that information.

    Knowledge is power, and there is a huge advantage to being "in the know".   It feels good to be plugged in, and it makes us feel at a higher level than others around us who are not.  The most efficient thing for the overall goal would be to share information, but we don't place as high of a value on sharing as we do on knowing.  There are a lot of excuses for why we don't share knowledge - we didn't have time, didn't think they would care, forgot, etc.  Reality is sometimes that knowing is fun, but sharing is work, so we find ways to forget.

  2. They couldn't have done it without me...
    Ken was the team leader of a strategy team, and was asked to present findings of a research project to management.  As his presentation went better and better, Ken shifted from "we" to "I".  After the meeting, Ken told others  that  he had really nailed that presentation, and about a crucial decision that he persuaded the team to make.

    It's really easy to accept praise for a positive result if someone wants to give it to us.  It's also easy to forget all of the other people who helped to get that result.  When that competitive inner voice takes over, we start to honestly feel like the team could not have succeeded without me.  Pretty soon, team accomplishments are on the resume as personal accomplishments.  Rather than keeping in mind all of the others who helped along the way, we are sucked in to the good feeling of individual accomplishment, and we are inadvertently taking credit for work that was not 100% ours.

  3. No one could have known...
    Prakesh's project was three months late.  In his review with his manager, he blamed changing customer input, a related quality problem, and poor cooperation from teammates as the reasons for the delay.

    As mentioned above, it's easy to accept praise.  It is equally difficult to accept criticism, or to publicly admit mistakes.  Admitting mistakes makes us feel like we lost.  There are always obstacles to success.  If we let them make us fail, we need to own up to the fact that we did not see them coming, or have a contingency plan in place.  A better habit would be to accept responsibility, and show what will be done in the future to overcome similar obstacles.  Incidentally, the boss in the scenario above need to do the same thing, and evaluate how he/she could have helped the employee avoid obstacles.

  4. You wouldn't believe what I heard...
    Lois found out that a coworker was selected for an exclusive leadership program by management.  Lois could not wait to tell a few of her teammates before the announcement came out.  Or, when the announcement comes out, she tell others that she knew about that a week ago.

    For people with the habit of gossiping, it's not enough to know something first.  The feeling of satisfaction (winning) comes from the demonstration that they know more than others, not the knowledge itself.  It's a competitive race to tell people something before they hear it from others.  These individuals also occasionally have to give up something juicy to get something, so trust is impacted.  People with this habit sometimes excuse the behavior as networking, but it is really a poor way of networking to feed a need to win.

  5. I didn't think it was that difficult...
    Bob: I finished my project yesterday.  Man was it tough!
    Mary:  I finished mine last week.  I always do better when I get things done right away.  I didn't think it was too hard.

    For Saturday Night Live fans, there is a recurring sketch character who constantly one-ups everyone that she encounters.  It's scary that we all know people with this habit, even if it is very subtle.  If you had a good weekend, they had a great weekend. If you made a sale, it reminds them of a big sale they made 2 months ago.  What this shows is that these individuals are constantly grading themselves against others, and can't accept that sometimes others win.  They compete when it's not necessary, and become very difficult to be around. 

In summary, winning feels good.  Sometimes that good feeling creates unintentional bad habits.

Tips for Avoiding these Bad Habits

  1. Set time aside on your calendar to share information.  Keep a log of what you learned during the week.  Spend 15 minutes a week reviewing your list, and think about who it might impact.  Send quick emails or make quick phone calls just to share information.
  2. Make a list on Friday afternoons of everyone who helped you that week.  Call or write them to simply say thanks.
  3. Turn every blaming statement into something that YOU should have done to prevent poor results.
  4. Read "What Got You Here Won't Get You There" by Marshall Goldsmith, available at Barnes and Noble

For the purposes of this series, we are done looking at bad habits.  Next month, we will look at how to find your own bad habits.  In June, we will get around to actually fixing them.


Jim Bowles
James Bowles and Associate