Ken was thrilled to be named lead for the HumongoCorp job. But thrill turned to chill as he scanned the email from HumongoCorp's CIO, Margo: Oscar would be leading their side of the effort. Trouble was, Oscar wasn't qualified to lead a project of this scale — he wasn't even qualified to lead a dog on a walk.
When no path seems safe,
take two steps: find more options
and then favor those options
that offer the most choicesKen was certain that Oscar would be a problem for the project, but if he objected to Oscar, he risked offending Margo by questioning her judgment, and he might even lose the account. If he kept quiet, and if Oscar bungled the assignment, he risked disaster, and Ken might later be dinged for withholding his reservations about Oscar.
To Ken, all options seemed risky. You've probably been there yourself now and then. When no path seems safe, what can you do? Two steps: find more options and then favor those options that offer the most choices. Generating more options is easier if you look at every option you have and ask, "How can I change this to avoid what I'm afraid might happen?"
Ken's options were either to accept Oscar and pray, or to express his reservations to Margo. To find more options, Ken faced what he most feared: that Oscar's participation could sink the project. He wanted to talk to Margo about this risk in a way that she could accept as a genuine expression of concern. So he decided to explain his reservations to Margo, and to ask her how soon she could replace Oscar.
This gave Margo a chance to replace Oscar on Ken's verbal request — Ken's preferred outcome. If she declined to replace him, he would say something like, "OK, I understand, and I hope you understand that I have to put my recommendations into writing. Look them over, and if you change your mind, let me know. Meanwhile, you have my word that I'll do my best to make this work." This step presents Margo with a problem of her own. If the project stumbles, and Ken's recommendation is in writing, Margo might have to answer either "Why didn't you replace Oscar?" or "Why did you replace Oscar?" If Margo quietly replaces Oscar very early, on Ken's verbal recommendation, these questions are less likely to arise. So above all, she doesn't want a written request from Ken. Ken had expanded his options by looking at the downside, modifying his approach to limit his risk and expand both his and Margo's choices.
Here's some homework. Perhaps the way your boss manages you creates real stress for you. You feel unappreciated, even abused. Your choices now are to continue to experience stress, or quit and look for a job. How can you expand your choices? Top Next Issue
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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