“I’m not talking about attempts to persuade me on important strategic issues. I’m talking about puffing up his resume, spinning small achievements to make them look bigger, and downplaying problems instead of describing them accurately. Nothing was an outright falsehood. He didn’t lie outright. He just stretched the truth enough to make me uncomfortable.”
“Now an important issue has come up, he’s making definitive statements about what is and isn’t possible, and I’m not sure I can believe what he’s telling me.”
Welcome to the world of ROT, only now it’s ROT turned upside down.
ROT, you’ll recall, stands for Relationships Outlive Transactions.
The accumulating loss of goodwill can devastate an executive’s ability to win the next point, not to mention the point after that.
Winning the individual point is the transaction. It’s a moment in time. Strengthening personal relationships creates enduring strength. Wise leaders focus on this, recognizing that with a strong network of personal relationships, winning individual points when necessary becomes trivially easy. And so long as none of the victories damages these relationships, there’s no long-term loss of personal effectiveness to worry about.
My client’s CIO highlights the same principle when approached from the opposite direction. His “transactions” were his attempts to impress his boss. The relationship didn’t outlive them. Quite the opposite — it didn’t survive them.
Back in the 1960s, B.S. Tuckman researched team dynamics and concluded that high-performance teams have two defining characteristics: trust and alignment. Its members can count on each other while sharing a common purpose.
The smallest teams have two members. A manager and direct report are an example. With trust and alignment they’ll work together smoothly. Damage either one and the relationship becomes more difficult; destroy both and it’s dysfunctional.
My client’s CIO apparently confused impressing someone with relationship-building. If Tuckman is right, it’s a losing tactic. Being impressed with someone might mean you trust their abilities. It has little to do with either trusting their character, and less to do with the two of you being aligned to a common purpose.
And that’s if you succeed, which means you either didn’t stretch the truth or your audience was taken in. If you fail, it means your audience still doesn’t trust your abilities, and now they don’t trust you, either.
When someone tries to impress someone else, they’re attempting to elevate themselves compared to the person they’re trying to impress. Here’s an oddity: It can’t work.
As has been pointed out more than once in this space, a clear indicator of who is leading and who is being led is who looks to whom for approval. When someone is trying to impress you, there are only two possible outcomes, success and failure. If they succeed, you’ll act impressed … you’ll give them approval. Which means they’ve encouraged you to take the first step in being their leader.
Or else, they won’t impress you, after having made it clear they want to. Which means you can infer they want your approval. They’ve subordinated themselves to you.
Their strategy backfired.
And another thing: There’s a big difference between someone being impressed with you and you trying to impress them. For the most part, when someone tries to impress someone else, they’ll only succeed with the chumps.
Which makes any attempt to impress someone else a sign of disrespect.
Last, and most certainly least: When someone tries to impress you, what’s the subject?
Imagine I wanted to learn more about Cloud computing (hey, it could happen). So I ask a guy who’s supposed to be an expert. But instead of just talking about the Cloud in an interesting way (hey, it could happen), he spends his time, and mine, trying to impress me with how brilliant he is.
By trying to impress me he’s changed the subject, from the Cloud … which hypothetically interests me … to himself, which emphatically doesn’t.
The point of all this? No matter how you look at it, trying to impress your boss is a losing proposition, unless your boss is a loser.
Bob Lewis is a senior management and IT consultant, focusing on IT and business organizational effectiveness, strategy-to-action planning, and business/IT integration. And yes, of course, he is Digital. He can also be found on his blog, Keep the Joint Running.