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Sure, hes a little paranoid but hes also essentially correct (reminding us that paranoid people can have real enemies). Most of the problems we face as professional technologists are related to people and their personalities, biases and intellectual abilities, among other features unique to the human species.
There are so many jerks out there that its impossible to know how to survive especially if your company is jerk-prone. And there are lots of companies that are jerk-prone.
There are a couple of ways to go here. The first tried and true way is to complain incessantly about the idiots. Were well aware of this approach. Many of your colleagues have perfected this approach after years and in some case decades of honing just the right complaining twang.
The other way to go is to identify and implement a set of manipulative soft skills designed to get you what you want. Manipulative? Absolutely. Soft skills? We all know what they are, but many of us just cant master them.
Why not? Because we dont have the personalities? Because theyre too difficult to learn? No, because were not motivated to implement them.
So lets get this out of the way right now. Many of us are unwilling to kiss ass, work the troops, sandbag or play politics, not because we cant, but because we dont want to. You have to decide what you want to accomplish and the tools youd like to use to achieve the results you deem important.
Weve already dismissed the complaining tool. Now we can examine some other tools: the soft skills from the dark side.
We all know this tool. If were honest, well admit to using the tool in our personal relationships: its a rare friend or spouse that hasnt kissed ass at some point to get what they want.
But in the workplace its more complicated. On the one hand, its a tool that can make insecure managers and executives feel good about themselves and therefore about the ass kisser. But on the other hand, use of this tool means that you have to swallow truth and objectivity and fawn all over stupid, nasty idiots who clearly dont deserve any form of respect or adulation.
Can you do this? Theres a credibility issue at work here. If you compliment idiots for doing stupid things, does that make you an idiot?
Regardless, ass kissing can be very effective especially if done in private. Credibility (and other things) suffer when you kiss ass in public. Dont do it.
I knew a guy who kissed so much public ass that we used to handicap when his head would bury itself well, you know where. Consequently, no one took the guy seriously (except himself and the asses he kissed).
This tool is hard to use. Sort of like a 64-degree wedge (if you play golf). But once mastered it can be extremely effective.
The first step here is to profile the players. Whos got power? Who are the boss friends? Who will be the next VP? Whos on their way out?
Its essential that you get this right. Once youre confident about the players and their positions, map out their individual strategies. Then locate all of the intersections on the maps.
The game is played from the intersecting points on the maps of the current and projected power brokers. Make sure that you cater to them and their objectives.
You can ignore insult, if youre bold those falling from grace. But always use the profiles, maps and intersecting points to make even the simplest moves.
Good consultants know how to under-promise and over-deliver. Its a good practice. The trick is to sandbag just enough to stay out of trouble.
Make sure that you always deliver but dont under-promise so much that it looks like youre over-protecting your flanks.
Image management is the objective: you want the power players to think you deliver, get it done, can be trusted to consistently come through.
This one is really tricky but incredibly important. The skill here is to make everyone think youre leading when in fact youre leading at cross purposes.
Your project team thinks youre in their corner, leading them to victory. But the managers understand that your team is far from perfect and if it wasnt for you they might very well fail. You get the idea.
So thats the short list of evil soft skills. But just so you dont think I only value evil soft skills, there are good soft skills project/program management, negotiations, communications and, of course, good hard skills specific technology skills that are almost as important as the evil ones.
But when push comes to shove in corporate America, its better to be evil than good.
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Steve Andriole is the Thomas G. Labrecque Professor of Business at Villanova University where he conducts applied research in business technology convergence. He is also the co-founder of The Acentio Group, a new economy consortium that focuses on optimizing investments in information technology, executive education, Web 2.0, technology audits and pilot applications. He is formerly the Senior Vice President & Chief Technology Officer of Safeguard Scientifics, Inc. and the Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President for Technology Strategy at CIGNA Corporation. His career began at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency where he was the Director of Cybernetics Technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.