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Careers: Regulate Your Inner-Elephant

Glenn M. made a great point in response to my recent post about hiring rock star candidates. Being a rock star doesn’t mean you haven’t, or won’t, fail. In fact, as he pointed out, many of the most successful leaders in corporate America have failed, and sometimes failed big time before rising to the C-suite and beyond. Even the great Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, was unceremoniously let go after lackluster results in the 80s.

Glenn M. made a great point in response to my recent post about hiring rock star candidates. Being a rock star doesn’t mean you haven’t, or won’t, fail. In fact, as he pointed out, many of the most successful leaders in corporate America have failed, and sometimes failed big time before rising to the C-suite and beyond. Even the great Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, was unceremoniously let go after lackluster results in the 80s. There are an infinite number of reasons why people fail on the job, but for this week’s entry and because it’s impossible to cover them all, I thought I’d focus on two common career killers for new employees with a little help and inspiration from Stanley Bing.

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I know most of you are familiar with Bing and the Bing Blog. If you’re not, I encourage you to check him out. His site contains some great stuff (my favorite of which is the section on crazy bosses). He is also the author of the bestselling book Throwing the Elephant in which he calls upon ancient Zen philosophy to address the topic of managing up. But let’s not worry about throwing the elephant yet, instead, let’s focus on managing in; regulating your inner-elephant. Because, after all, when we start a new job, we’re going to make an impact on the organization in one way or another; that’s what makes us elephants. Which ones should you avoid behaving like if you want to start off on the right foot?

Mammoth Destructus. Many of you have either been, worked next to, or under, this species. This elephant is by far the most dangerous and typically leaves a path of devastation in its wake. You know the scenario. New employee joins a team and wants to make a name for his or herself but, instead of hanging back for a minute to get a feel for the politics of the organization, he or she just comes in with both barrels blazing. And once the damage is done, it can take years to reverse the damage.

I know we’re all anxious to make a great first impression and to climb the ranks, but the way you handle yourself the first week, first month, and first year on the job will often make or break you. People often have strong emotional attachments to projects they once owned, loyalty to the colleague you’re replacing, or can be just resistant to change. Before making sweeping changes, get to know your colleagues, the history of how and why things are done the way they are.

Elephantus Comparitus. Although never seen in the wild, this species constantly reminds fellow employees of the way things were done at a previous organization.
“When I was at (insert company here)”
“and that reminds me, when I was at…”
“You know, at…, we had all of the answers.”
Well guess what? You aren’t there anymore. And if you keep it up, you won’t be at your current job for long.

It’s great to come in as a new employee and share lessons learned from a previous job or company, but if you take things too far, people will shut down. If there’s one thing a herd of elephants doesn’t want to hear, it’s how great your old watering hole was. I’ve been guilty of this on more than one occasion. And in the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that I went through a period as a Mammoth Destructus. Luckily, my colleagues were very patient with me and I found my way before I became extinct. Always be aware of your blind spots–the things others know about you that you don’t know about yourself. If you notice colleagues cringing following your hour-long litany of “helpful” recommendations or rolling their eyes when you bring up a previous employer, take their not-so-subtle hint.

Elephants, by their very nature, have an impact on their team and on their organization; some positive, some negative. Do you want to be an Elephantus Effectivus, someone who successfully navigates office politics, assimilates into the culture, gains the trust of colleagues, and, as a result, is able to secure buy-in for projects and ideas? OR are you going to risk career extinction by behaving like the elephants above?

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Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).

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About the author

Shawn Graham partners with small businesses to create, implement, and manage performance-driven marketing strategies. His knowledge base includes media relations, business development, customer engagement, web marketing, and strategic planning

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