Q: Can nice designers be good leaders?

Monish SubherwalBlogLeave a Comment

Being a UX Design leader and growing yourself is challenging, but is even harder at times when you have to deal with:

  • difficult coworkers or managers
  • a political work climate
  • A-type personalities
  • passive-aggressive and indirect behavior
  • people who aren’t very transparent
  • etc. etc.

People and their own agendas can get into the way. Politics as usual.

What’s a straight forward, honest person to do?

There’s an ancient Indian philosopher and military strategist (consider him the Indian Machiavelli), Chanakya, who once said,

“Do not be very upright in your dealings for you would see by going to the forest that straight trees are cut down while crooked ones are left standing.”

Wow. Jaded words.

The quote leaves a big debatable question: Is it possible to be an honest, nice person and still get ahead despite work politics?  My take is:  yes.  It is possible. In fact, I have 5 core principles I live by, that makes me believe this is true.

Read on and find out what they are…

Principle 1.  You can’t control anything except yourself

I’ve been laid off after doing very well, I’ve had projects I’ve worked on for months get de-scoped once they were built, I’ve had managers leave and been told what I worked on under that manager wasn’t worthwhile at all.

Drama and change in the workplace is ongoing, but you can’t control it. So focus on the one thing you do have control over: yourself.

Develop yourself and keep learning. That’s the only thing you can control.

Which leads to my next principle…

Principle 2.  Cream Rises to the Top

When you focus on developing yourself – you don’t spend energy proving you’re better than everyone.  Nor do you need to spend energy “faking” that you are awesome (this is called “looking good” – I wrote an article on this bad habit).

You’ll start developing a learners attitude, a growth mindset.  With this proper attitude, you are setting yourself up for success.

By not focusing on “getting ahead”, but rather, being a person of value, you inevitably will get noticed and get ahead.   If you are good at what you do – eventually people will discover it.  Why cut corners?

Which brings me to the next principle…

Principle 3.  People don’t like “Whipped Cream on Poop”! 😉

While some people advocate a “fake it, til you make it” philosophy (cutting corners),  I do not.

People figure out who is good at what they do.  And they also figure out who is NOT good at what they do.  Titles and positions don’t mean much after a while if you aren’t producing results.

Over time, people may be fooled by a person’s high ranking position or charming charisma (“whipped cream”), but eventually they do “smell’ the incompetence or mean personality (poop) that is hidden.  It may take some time, but people are not stupid.

You may see some people who get ahead and wonder “how did they get ahead?!”  Don’t worry – if they aren’t the right person for the job and/or have a horrible mean personality, they’ll eventually be found out.  It doesn’t take long for smart people to move past the “whipped cream”.

Which brings me to my next principle…

Principle 4.  If you make yourself a target, you’re gonna get hit

At times, you may find people who are conniving at work. They find ways to give others a hard time. Some people make others look BAD so they can look GOOD. Others refuse to play at all and block your initiatives. Some openly discourage your work – attempting to diminish your reputation or authority.

My mindset regarding this people is this: if you make yourself a target, you’re gonna eventually get hit.

People who hurt other people will suffer the repercussions at some point or another. It may not be today or this year – but it will happen eventually.

Yes, my philosophy is very karmic in nature.

To me, when I see these things happening – I try to observe and not judge. That eliminates the upset emotions and victimization feelings.

I believe that person will get whats coming to them – if not at this company, then at another one. Oftentimes, this is hard to believe. But you have to see the long term impact of people’s actions and sometimes that involves you staying out of it.

Which brings me to my next principle…

Principle 5.  If you aren’t good at politics, don’t play them.

I had told my manager one time, I am not very good at corporate politics – can you share with me what is going on? He smiled at me and told me this: if you aren’t good at politics, it’s simple: don’t play them.

And I love that advice. People think they need to be mean and be indirect just like others.  You don’t.

Don’t get sucked into playing other people’s games. A coach once said to me, “you’re always winning the game you’re playing.” How true! So don’t play one that involves politics. Play the game of being nice and helpful to others regardless of how they are behaving.

What do you think? Can nice people get ahead with the ideas I’ve shared?

People like to think that nice people CAN’T get ahead, but that’s their own viewpoint.

Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments area below.

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