Stop Depending on Other People!

When I was in third grade, my teacher took the twenty-two kids in my class to wilderness camp.  My friends and I stood in a circle and held hands.  Someone had to stand in the middle blindfolded, and then fall backwards.  She had to trust that the people in the circle would catch her and she wouldn’t get seriously injured.

At eight years old, we were already being taught to depend on other people.

In the business world, I don’t necessarily believe this is the best idea.  Think about it – there are already numerous circumstances about your job that you can’t control, like your company’s financial health, your boss’ state of mind, and whether or not your department has layoffs.  So when it comes to your daily responsibilities, I feel that you should keep the power in your own hands whenever possible.  Here are some recommendations in that vein.

Set Your Own Direction and Pace

Don’t sit in your cube or office and wait for your busy manager to tell you what you should be working on.  Schedule weekly meetings in which you present ideas that peak your interest and benefit the organization.

Once you’ve agreed on a direction, create the action plan, workflow, and timeline yourself.  Make it easy for your manager to sign off so that you don’t have to spend time chasing her down for approvals at every stage.

If others need to be involved, try to retain oversight responsibility.  This means that even if your colleagues aren’t as excited about the project as you are, you can still make things happen.  Because your likelihood of getting promoted depends on your results, you must always be in a position to improve them.

You might spot a problem that doesn’t fit perfectly within your scope of responsibilities. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit back and wait for someone else to fix it.  Managers appreciate initiative in their employees, and this could present an opportunity to develop new and valuable skills as well as showcase your ability to make critical contributions.

Outline a Protocol for Non-Compliant Colleagues

No matter how hard you try to be self-sufficient, there will be times when your progress is impeded by someone else dropping the ball.  Fortunately, there are productive ways to deal with unresponsive colleagues that still allow you to maintain control.  Ideally, you should plan your response before you are actually faced with such a situation.

The first step is to include a read receipt on all e-mail messages to a co-worker who has let you down in the past.  That way, at least you know he is in the loop.  In your communications, make it clear why he’ll benefit from getting you what you need.  If that doesn’t work, stop by his office and assertively remind him about the project.  Ask what you can do on your end to help him move forward.   Take care not to be overly confrontational or aggressive, as that will put him on the defensive and make him less likely to comply.

Your final step, which should be used only as a last resort, is to ask your manager for advice on what to do next.  Hopefully, she will either intervene on your behalf, or give you permission to keep the project moving without your co-worker’s input.

You Should Still Be a Team Player

Lest you think I’m a total control freak, let me temper my points by saying that moderation is always a good thing. You should generally play well with others and be as helpful as you can on team projects.  If you have an area of expertise, share it freely, and always follow through on your commitments.   Just don’t rely singularly on others to get things done, because you may be waiting a long time.

Alexandra Levit

Alexandra Levit’s goal is to help people find meaningful jobs - quickly and simply - and to succeed beyond measure once they get there. Follow her @alevit.

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