I have counseled, mentored and advised many business professionals, young and old, through the years. I still do. Even today I can count at least ten people that look to me for career advice and guidance. I also have a few special entrepreneurs in my life with whom I collaborate and develop long-term growth strategies for their businesses.
There is a really smart guy named David that I stay connected with as he continues to climb the corporate ladder. I hired him to work on one of my account teams several years ago. Though we’ve both moved on to other professional endeavors, we have a similar outlook on life and embrace some of the same business philosophies. Plus, I love his humor. He keeps me laughing with his wit and creativity. Recently David accepted a senior level position for a leading consumer products company. He was brought in to oversee social media strategy and corporate communications for two lines of business and he felt adequately prepared to step into this high visibility role. The position offered him solid opportunity for growth, a nice a bump in salary and a chance to apply some of the training he received over the years to a couple of well known brands. Though he researched the company and felt that he had adequate discussions with people on the inside, what David didn’t properly evaluate when he decided to take the job was the tremendous contrast between the corporate culture he left and the new one that he inherited. The agency he worked for previously, while cutthroat on some levels, was mild in comparison to the new environment where his peers judged him harshly as the new kid on the block. Hence, a new threat. David found himself working around the clock, not only to successfully manage his responsibilities, but to also navigate the treacherous waters he faced in this unfamiliar corporate environment. He calls me from time to time to share his frustrations about how it feels to swim upstream in weekly team meetings where his peers show him no mercy. News flash, David: They’re not going to. Period. It’s time to stick and move.
Here’s what I shared with David:
Not all corporate cultures are equal. I think a lot of people underestimate their peers’ willingness to do whatever it takes to get ahead. In my 20+ years as a professional woman I have made some great friends at work. But for all of the friends I’ve made, I’ve encountered as many ‘sharks’ who either smile in your face while plotting to take you down or they hold you in blatant disregard and make no bones about the fact that you’re a threat to their position in the company. It’s unfortunate, especially when you decide to take a new job and like the first day of school, you’re so excited that you can’t even sleep at night. You plot your own professional strategy to make a long term impact and impress your bosses and peers, just to find out that what you thought about the culture when you interviewed and talked to people on the inside was far different than the reality you came to know once you got your feet wet. Major disappointment to say the least. This is what David is experiencing. While I feel for him, I’m telling him to lick his wounds for a minute (and only a minute), then get up swinging. Corporate environments are not for sissies. [David, I'm not calling you a sissy, I promise.]
When you come into a new environment especially at a senior level there will be haters all around. This is inevitable. You have to let their insecurities roll off your back. I say this for women especially. Women tend to get emotional and caught up in that ‘Mean Girl’ high school syndrome where we worry about who likes us and who doesn’t. I can honestly say that I have never, ever overly concerned myself with who likes me and who doesn’t unless they had the power to fire me. Then my whole strategy changes. While we all have shortcomings, I’ve always brought my best self to any and every work environment. I believe that when you’re confident about who you are and what you bring to the table, those who feel threatened really can’t touch you. It makes more sense to stick and move, bob and weave, than to get distracted by people who don’t care about you. It’s also in your best interest to create alliances within your own business unit and others. It’s unlikely that you’ll dismantle some of the internal cliques right away. (How high school is THAT?) But if you develop solid, credible relationships with smart, like-minded people who operate above the fray, some of the angst about you being there to take over will dissipate. People will slowly start to drop positive bits of information about who you are as a person which will, overtime, make you less of a threat. And always, always, beat folks at their own game by being well prepared. Moreover, don’t let them beat you at your game. Research the ins and outs of your brands, know what you’re talking about every time you open your mouth, listen and ask questions and don’t ever stoop to the level of those you are trying to take you down. Bob and weave… not in a literal sense. No office violence please. I just mean that when people are coming at you, trying to undermine your credibility or encroach upon your territory, stay ten steps ahead of them by being knowledgeable, approachable, mature, confident and poised. And kill the arrogance. Arrogance will undermine the trust and confidence you’re trying to build. Just be smart and beat them at their own game.
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