Here is Part 3 of the corporate rendition of 12 lessons I derive from the life and times of Arjun. Like the previous parts, this part too will cover 3 lessons: 1. Forge Alliances, 2. When in Doubt, Ask and 3. When in Need, Seek Help. For Arjun’s life story, please refer to “Life Lessons from Arjun”. Here I stick to the Lessons for the Corporate Warrior.
1. Forge Alliances
Thumb rule – you have just one friend in office. One permanent friend and that is no one but you yourself. There are no permanent friends or foes in office. There are just permanent interests. On your first day in office, you entered alone and the same will be the case on your last day. You’ll exit alone. You’ll exit with a mixed bag of good and bad people experiences. Some you would cherish, some you would wish you forget. Your entry into your current office is history and your exit is sometime in the future. For now, whilst you’re in office, embrace some realities. Whether you realize and like it or not, there are two sides. Liking or disliking is a different issue. But if you haven’t realized it yet, you have a problem. If you’ve realized there are two sides and you’re not on either side yet, you’re someday going to come under crossfire. You don’t come to office to make friends. What you need to have in office are allies. Look around and you should be able to categorize your colleagues into two sets. Those who you know want a pound of your flesh and are waiting for a chance. And those who you think will probably not let that happen! No prizes for guessing who your allies ought to be and why. It’s always good to have allies in office. The ones who will cover your back in a bad situation, fill-in for you when a personal commitment and a deadline to meet clash, the ones who’ll answer your SOS calls and so on. It’s even better to have allies who complement you. Imagine having an ally who’s good at what you’re not so good at. Not that they’re going to be doing your work but with some help you’re definitely going to be better than what you would have been alone. You need someone who is good in his or her domain and acknowledges your strengths in your domain. People who respect your capabilities and experience, understand your situation and have a firm sense of purpose themselves are ideal candidates to forge an alliance with. Forge alliances with ambitious and positive people who can add value to your work and be a part of your success story. Ally with people who inspire you, motivate you and challenge you. Picture an ideal ally for yourself and ask yourself a question. Why should your ideal ally forge an alliance with you? Well again, no prizes for guessing that others need to see you as an ideal ally too! You don’t get anything free in office. Be verbose when forging an alliance by outlining what you have on offer and be clear in what you want in return. Be ready to scratch backs if you want your own back scratched. It’s simple. Don’t feel shy or ashamed to strike win-win deals with the right people. There also exists a third category of people among your colleagues. The ‘arms dealers’. They’re not on either of the sides. To a very large extent, they’re also immune to cross fire injuries. They thrive on chaos to get away with their prize. They swing, sway and always smile. You’ll never know what’s on their mind. There is but one rule to deal with such colleagues – “keep safe distance”. Ensure you have some strong and long term allies on your speed dial. The more, the merrier!
2. When in Doubt, Ask
Do you often crib how ‘directionless’ your work life is? Do you think it’s quite often that you’re expected to deliver something but you don’t know what and how? How you’re not clear on your tasks after a meeting is done? That there lies no way forward in a project? That after all your stakeholders make their point, there are no next steps? Or how vague an idea from someone seemed during that brainstorming session? Well none of these situations or people are going to get more articulate for your convenience. You have but one ask here – ask. All questions are good questions and no questions are bad questions. Period. You need to ask when you have low or no clarity. Doubts or queries aren’t bad. Who, what, when, where, why and how are the words that start the process of solving the mysteries around your desk. Ending sentences with a question mark highlights the fact that your mental faculties are sound. You try to picture things in your mind and feel uncomfortable with the ‘missing’ pieces. You may think asking questions may complicate things but that’s far from being true. Asking questions or sharing apprehensions clarifies expectations, helps define goals better, clears the air, reduces ambiguity and positively effects time management. There can be three reasons why you might not (or choose not to) ask. One, you fear sounding stupid. Two, you think you know it already and there is no need to ask and three, you do not see the ‘missing’ piece at all. The third reason is fine. It still lets you ask when you realize something is missing. But the realization has to come before it’s too late. The first two reasons are recipes for disaster. The fear of appearing stupid is a stupid fear. Appearing stupid by asking beforehand is by far a much better deal compared to being proven stupid later. By asking upfront you not only help yourself, you also help many others who choose to keep shut. Thinking you know it all is an eye opening thought. If that’s the reality with you, you’re wasting time in your current job. Time to move on. Getting into things half-heartedly is a bad start and no one can afford that. So the next time you have a question meet, ping, call, text or email the right people. Needless to mention, the right people obviously are the ones who would know the answer. If they don’t, you’ll need to find out who has the answer – for which, you’ll need to ask!
3. When in Need, Seek Help
Knowing you need help and asking for it – both difficult things to do. Yes there are times, you do need help to ensure you successfully navigate through situations in office, especially the bad ones. You need help when your ‘things to do’ list piles up suddenly, when something catches you unawares, when a buried issue crops up, when you’re simply not able to get a task moving, when you lose control on a project, when the ask changes faster than you progress or may be when you’re on a damage control mission. The list is endless and such situations are normal. You will also need help when you’re doing something for the first time and cannot afford to fail. You’ll also need help when you’re taking a go at something for the second or third time, having failed earlier. Obviously you learn on the job but you’re neither paid to learn nor are you paying to get coached. You’re paid to deliver and that’s what counts during appraisals. Hence you can’t keep having a go at things and keep failing at the cost of your organization’s resources and time. When you’ve tried and not succeeded, it’s a good idea to seek help, learn and move on. The why-it-didn’t-happen-right-the-first-time thought can be parked for introspection at a later date. The right help will set you on the track to succeed. Help doesn’t wait around your desk. When you’ve realized the need for help, you need to seek! Ideally, your mentors, gurus and allies are the ones who should be made aware that you need help. You’ll need to fire an SOS so that they know you are in need. Also, help also doesn’t have a permanent chair of its own in office. In fact, help chooses its own chair in a given situation. The face of the help keeps changing, depending on the need of the hour and can be sitting anywhere within or outside your office. Focus on the quality of help coming from an individual and not on things like experience, designation or function. It can come from anywhere. But you need to make a wise choice when accepting help, for it will expose your vulnerable side. In desperate need for help, do not let others get a chance to grid their own axe. You never know who exploits an opportunity at your cost. Weighting options is the only rule you can follow. And remember, help only helps those who can be helpful in return, in future. So ensure you’re seen as helpful yourself. Remember the faces who helped you, as on their bad day you should be doing your bit as well. Do not fail to remember those who didn’t help. That list can’t be ignored either. Seeking help, so long as it doesn’t become a habit, is good!