Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 42;   October 15, 2008: When You're the Least of the Best: II

When You're the Least of the Best: II

by

Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies" have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.
Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

From left to right, Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Pershing was commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Europe in World War I, and later general of the armies. Marshall was Chief of Staff in World War II, and later Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense. Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of the forces invading Europe in World War II, and later President of the United States. Pershing was mentor to Marshall, Marshall was mentor to Eisenhower. Both mentoring relationships were formed outside any formal mentoring program. Photo of Gen. John J. Pershing courtesy U.S. Library of Congress. Photo of Gen. George C. Marshall courtesy U.S. National Archives. Photo of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

In Part I of this short series on "newbies," we explored how it feels to be in the role, and how to be more comfortable in it. In this part, we look for ways to build relationships with your colleagues and others in the workplace.

Build rapport with peers
You probably aren't alone in being a newbie. Help others when they ask, but don't foist help on those who haven't asked for it. Learn from others how to be a leader at your own level.
Build rapport with superiors
There are no quick ways to build rapport with superiors. It takes time and it takes care. Stay out of their way, learn what you're supposed to learn, practice humility, and be a leader among your peers.
Establish credibility opportunistically
Credibility comes when two things are in place: (a) you must be expected to have answers, and (b) you have those answers. Supplying answers when you aren't expected to have them risks seeming arrogant; not supplying them when you are expected to have them risks seeming incompetent. Wait for the right opportunities, and then deliver.
Seek professional advice from the bottom up
If you have questions, ask the lowest ranking person who might have the answer, then work your way up until you get what you need. Aiming too high might be seen as currying favor. See "Currying Favor," Point Lookout for June 8, 2005, for more.
Seek personal advice elsewhere
Don't seek personal advice in the workplace. It's a bad idea for most, but for anyone of low status, such as the newbie, it's especially risky.
Find a true mentor
Wait for the right opportunities,
and then deliver
Mentoring has been fashionable for some time, but budgets for mentoring programs have been cut in many organizations. Find a mentor truly interested in your career, even if it means going outside the formal mechanism.
Learn how to handle newbies
Someday, one of your responsibilities will be developing newbies like yourself. Watch how people handle you. You now have an opportunity to see what works and what doesn't. Few people take this opportunity; most tend to focus only on the content of the work.
Learn how to connect with people in other professions
Most workplaces contain a mix of professionals. Notice how your superiors relate to people in these other professions, and learn from their successes and failures.
Learn about ethics
Most of us would benefit from additional training in professional ethics. Pay special attention to the ethical choices of those more experienced than you are. Learn from their mistakes; learn from their deftness.

Someday, you'll be where your superiors are now. Notice who is succeeding and who isn't, and try to understand why. Their trials and successes are lessons to them and to you. Go to top Top  Next issue: Extrasensory Deception: I  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

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More articles on Workplace Politics:

Scott McLellan, White House Press Secretary, 2003-2006Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?
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Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you carry all of it yourself.
Representative Sam Graves, Republican of MissouriOn the Appearance of Impropriety
Avoiding the appearance of impropriety is a frequent basis of business decisions. What does this mean, what are the consequences of such avoiding, and when is it an appropriate choice?
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If you're human, you make mistakes. A particularly expensive kind of mistake is guessing incorrectly why others do what they do. Here are some of the ways we get this wrong.
U.S. Congressman Jim Moran talks with constituents at a meeting on the federal budgetImpasses in Group Decision-Making: III
In group decision-making, impasses can develop. Some are related to the substance of the issue at hand. With some effort, we can usually resolve substantive impasses. But treating nonsubstantive impasses in the same way doesn't work. Here's why.

See also Workplace Politics and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Passing the baton in a relay raceComing January 24: Understanding Delegation
It's widely believed that managers delegate some of their own authority and responsibility to their subordinates, who then use that authority and responsibility to get their work done. That view is unfortunate. It breeds micromanagers. Available here and by RSS on January 24.
A serene mountain lakeAnd on January 31: Nine Brainstorming Demotivators: I
The quality of the output of brainstorming sessions is notoriously variable. One source of variation is the enthusiasm of contributors. Here's Part I of a set of nine phenomena that can limit contributions to brainstorm sessions. Available here and by RSS on January 31.

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Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
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