Peer Rivalry In The Pursuit of Success

Vicki Wright Hamilton sitting in chair holding cash smiling
It was an already dreary afternoon when my mentee, Renee, called in an upset and troubled state. I asked her what was wrong and she told me about a situation where she felt her job was at stake. In her professional role, Renee delivers the implementation of software applications and oversees a team of five people. Her peers within each business group are also her internal customers, and their workflow entails receiving detailed information from them regarding projects, requirements and other critical information.

It is worth noting that had Renee moved up into this role about three months prior from within the organization, and had been promised an “on the job mentor.” This mentor would work with her and show her the ropes, as part of a departmental initiative to develop and nurture internal talent. (What a great concept and opportunity!) When Renee started the job, she enthusiastically reached out to her mentor to set up some time to put an effective plan together. She wanted to be proactive, so she met with me first to discuss a framework for this plan.

I can’t tell you how much work she put into the plan. She researched past departmental successes, challenges, and opportunities; she interviewed colleagues to understand multiple perspectives on the current business issues; she explored process and procedures and thoroughly committed herself to preparing for her mentor. She wanted to make the most of her mentor’s time, recognizing that their time together was an “extra” responsibility. I will tell you – I was impressed and knew her mentor, Sarah, would be too.

When Renee attempted to schedule their first meeting, Sarah explained that she was slammed with work. She said that they could communicate by occasional email, but they would not be able to sit down for a formal meeting for at least two months. Renee was disappointed, but she understood that Sarah had a full plate and decided to continue building her plan on her own until they could meet. During this time, Renee worked very hard to understand as much as possible about how the business worked, and how she could be a strong leader for her team. They moved forward, but Renee was hungry for her mentor’s guidance as to how she could make a positive impact and help each of her team members to excel.

Two months later, Renee and Sarah met to discuss her framework and plans. Sarah was amazed at the amount of preparation Renee had put into this meeting, telling Renee that she never expected her to have accomplished so much in such a short time. Renee responded that she respected Sarah’s time and effort, and wanted to make the most of their time together. As colleagues, Sarah’s team provided vital information and deliverables to Renee’s team to move projects forward, and when severe delays started occurring, Renee discussed it with Sarah to make sure that she was following the proper processes. Their conversation was productive, and after the meeting, Renee was excited. She felt she had found an excellent working relationship and mentorship with Sarah and a great opportunity.

A few months later, Sarah’s team still had not corrected the delays. Several conversations between Renee and Sarah had not improved the process, and Renee began to wonder if there was a problem she wasn’t aware of. She asked Sarah if anything if there was something she could do differently, and the response was a consistent “no.” Renee was approaching a major project milestone, and because of the delays in getting information confirmed, she was forced to “guestimate” a lot of what was needed. She was concerned about the risks and outcome, so she asked her manager for assistance. But she was cautious because she knew that Sarah was considered a “high potential” employee who was well liked and respected by her manager and other senior leaders.

On a dreary afternoon, Renee called me; we discussed how she could overcome this potentially damaging obstacle. When she described the approach she had taken so far, it seemed that Renee consistently took the “high road” working with Sarah to get things accomplished. As she thought through the experience, Renee had a realization. Her manager was planning some future restructuring of the team, and Sarah learned that Renee was being considered for a role that she wanted. Renee’s methodical approach and business skills had impressed management, and Sarah wanted the job, so she was sabotaging Renee by delaying deliverables critical to her success. In fact, Sarah had taken credit for things that Renee and her team had accomplished by saying she had mentored Renee to get results.

I am sorry to tell you, Sarah accomplished what she set out to do. She won the new job, and Renee stayed in her role. She was able to gain a few additional responsibilities, in fact, her team grew by two people, but she still lost out on the new opportunity for which she had prepared. So what did this experience teach Renee? Fortunately, Renee is philosophical, strategic as well as a hard worker, and here’s what she said that she learned:

Everything happens for a reason. Renee wasn’t going to be bitter – she knows that wouldn’t be productive. Instead, she decided to continue to work her plan and continue to learn more about the department and organization.

Everyone is not your champion. Peers, managers, and even mentors can work for or against you. Does this mean that you should never trust or support them? Not according to Renee. She believes (as I do) that you’ll go further in your career when you help others grow and develop, regardless of whether or not they support you.

Politics exist in every team/department and company. Office politics can make people do things to be recognized. Everyone, from administrative assistant to CEO, has a need to be known for their work. Sometimes (and often more than occasionally) ethical boundaries get crossed when people try to engineer the kind of recognition they believe they deserve. Renee understood this.

Excellent communication with your boss is vital. Though it did not result in the promotion, Renee’s open discussion with her manager did help protect her because he knew the day-to-day quality of her work. She used an “AAI with the Power of I” template that could work well for anyone. In meetings with her manager, she presents her Accomplishments, Actions, and Issues. She uses the power of “I” to show that she takes full responsibility for a situation with remarks such as “I must not understand,” or “I might be mistaken.”

You need champions in all parts of the company. For others to know what you are contributing, you should let others “carry your glass of water success.” Colleagues will be able to speak about you and your accomplishments if you connect with them, and keep them updated on your progress.

Renee continues on her career path, working her action plan and doing exceptionally well. I am happy to say; she is doing it without stepping on anyone or taking credit for other’s efforts. In other words, she is true to herself in the pursuit of success, and I applaud her!

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