No Lone Rangers

lonely officeI started this piece before we were all sheltering in place. Working alone, in isolation, has taken on an entirely new meaning. Yet the need for collaboration, the need to connect with others may have become even more acute. We’ve found new ways to create the connections and work together to create the teams in which we’re able to accomplish more than any one person can do alone. 



Human beings weren’t meant to work in isolation. Not today.

Humans are meant to collaborate. None of got to where we are in our careers on our own, we all had help. No one gets there alone.

When you fall on hard times, you didn’t get there alone either. Something happened. Economic downturn, corporate restructuring, the boss’s nephew needed a job.

Lots of times organizations “go in different directions.” Reorganize, reengineer, restructure, redirect, reduce redundancies. It seems that no word that starts with “re” means something good for employees. But remember that “reward” starts with those letters. So does recognition. Nothing is black and white anymore. There are two sides to every coin, and it seems the coin is spinning on a razor’s edge and there’s nothing you can do to make sure it comes up heads. But the more people you know, the more people you have on your side increases the likelihood that you’re going to come out alright. It’s called building your network.

Your network is something you have to pay attention to only when you need it.
And you always need it.

You can’t wait until your job is at risk, or you have a problem to tap into your network. That’s too late. You need to tend your network all the time because you never know when you’re going to need it. If your job is at risk because of some corporate “re” word then the more people you have in your network who know you and the good work you do increases the likelihood that the RIF winds will pass you by. You didn’t get to some lofty position on your own, you had help. And you didn’t find yourself on the brink of elimination on your own. Someone else had something to do with that as well.

It won’t be your knowledge, your skills, or your talent that will save you. All the people in the organization have those to some degree. It’s going to be the people you know, the people who like you, trust you, and want to work with you, your collaborative skills, your network that will keep the building pass on your phone and your 401k accruing interest.

No one gets there alone.

Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.The-Lone-Ranger-and-Tonto


Try Something

david-full-frontYour first job will not be your last job, or very likely your last career. You’re going to try lots of things in your work life and as they say in Silicon Valley, fail fast. Get the false starts out of the way early. This will help you to figure out your true path. Don’t stay with a mistake just because you’ve invested months, or even years in doing it.

Take what I call the “Michelangelo approach” to your career. Allegedly, when a visitor saw the finished David sculpture they asked him, “How do you look at a block of marble and see the David?” Michelangelo was reputed to be a very snarky fellow, as many artists are, and replied, “You just chip away everything that’s not David.” Start chipping away everything that’s not you. But the only way you’ll know is if you try. So, try something. It’s better to try something and fail than to try nothing and succeed. Don’t be afraid it won’t be perfect, be afraid of being in the same indecisive place you are today a year from now.

Sam Levene said, “Learn from the mistakes of others, you don’t have time to make them all yourself.” Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, no one got where they are without help. No one does it alone. But at some point, you’re going to have to take responsibility for what you produce. Like the people who created the Declaration of Independence, make sure you create something that you’re proud to sign your name to. And remember, 56 people created and signed the Declaration of Independence. No one gets there alone.

declaration of independence

Excess Baggage

I witnessed the following exchange at the airport. A man and woman were traveling together and he was dragging a huge suitcase behind him while she had a compact little roll-along. She was playfully ribbing him about not being able to keep up with her as they strode through the terminal. He responded, perhaps not as playfully, “Hey, this is all your stuff I’m hauling in this big bag.”

Have you ever been the organized person at work who keeps a neat desk, puts everything where it belongs and gets all your work done only to be dragged down by someone else’s baggage? You carefully schedule to get all your high priority projects done and the reward is you get asked to help out your co-workers who’ve waited until the last second and created an “all hands on deck” situation.

You’d probably like to reply, “Sorry, lack of planning on your part does not constitute a crisis on my part.” Of course then you remember that “Teamwork” is one of the company’s values and you put down your bag, take off your jacket and pitch in. Do you really have a choice?

Probably not. The good news is you do have options to minimize the likelihood that this continues to happen.

  • After the crisis has passed, sit down with this LSD, Last Second Deliverer, and let them know that while you were okay with helping them on this expedition you are not looking forward to their next bad trip. Offer to help them organize their next project when it’s assigned. If they turn down your offer of help at the outset, this gives you the option to refuse their request for help at the last minute.
  • Communicate with your manager about what happened, without complaining, and let her know that while you’re happy to help out and take one for the team, it’s been a one way street lately and this is impacting your ability to meet your own objectives.
  • If this has been happening frequently with many people in the office, there may be a staffing inadequacy. Document the frequency and duration of the last minute work and overtime. If a department has been regularly logging over 140 hours (one FTE, full time equivalent) of overtime, paid or unpaid, a month, that’s a pretty strong indicator that you’re understaffed. You’ll need these numbers if you’re going to make a compelling case to add head count.

There are always going to be times when we have to pick up the slack for our colleagues. Being a team player is a good thing as long as everyone is playing by the same rules. And if you find that you are always the one carrying someone else’s excess baggage, it’s time to take a good look at your role in the office and and figure out a way to lay that burden down.