If you’re reading Techstory, you care about your work. You worked hard to get where you are—advanced degrees, challenging interviews, or other credentials. You don’t just show up and do what you’re told.
You didn’t just choose any old project to work on. You chose something you care about.
If you’re like most people who care about what they do, you probably focused on the project but not the people you’ll work with, especially the managers you report to.
That’s a mistake.
I’ve taught and coached hundreds of professionals and students. My online leadership and entrepreneurship courses at SpodekAcademy.com cover what universities don’t, but that matter in the working world.
Most people find what they like or dislike most about a job is the people, especially their managers. Your managers determine how much work you do, what reward you get for it, your recognition, and many such intangibles. Intangible as they are, they affect how you feel.
Today’s post is about one of the most concise yet most meaningful sayings about the workplace I’ve heard:
People join good projects and leave bad management.
My goal in this post is to help raise awareness about a problem and describe solutions. More importantly, I’ll give advice for
- Job searches
- How to enjoy your time at work
You likely spend a quarter to a third of your waking time at work. You might as well enjoy it.
Most importantly, it tells you where to find emotional reward at work — other people, especially your managers — and that it’s different from where people expect when they look for work — the project. Of course the project matters. If you want long-term meaning at work you can’t find it working on a project against your values. But no amount of meaning and value can overcome working relationships you don’t like. “Bad” doesn’t have to mean bad for everyone, just that they don’t match you.
Leaving a job and blaming management, only to search for a new job based on its project, only continues the cycle you created yourself. At best you can hope to get lucky with future managers.
On the other hand, if you learn how to create working relationships you like, you can find emotional reward at most jobs where the project doesn’t collide with your values too much. You’ll know how to create a working environment you like.
I’m confident that if you put me in any project with a goal I liked, no matter how much I disliked the management, I could find ways to enjoy my time there. That lack of misery wouldn’t just help me enjoy my time there, it would help me enjoy my time off the job and would take pressure off me to find another job desperately. Then I could take time to find a better next job for me.
Some people are in situations where they can’t choose their work or affect their working relationships — wage slavery, for example, or the like. This post does not cover such situations.
People generally look for jobs based on the reputation of the company they’ll work for and projects they’ll work on—what the job description and company web site say—as if their emotional systems responded to these things.
Before the interview, they act as if they’ll take the job if the company offers it and they have no better options — as if they could know how they’d feel working at the company without asking what it’s like. In other words, the act desperate.
They don’t realize that no matter what the reputation, size, or anything else about the company, they’ll spend their time working with other people. And not with people in general. With specific individuals with specific personalities in specific teams in a specific environment with a specific culture. Those people determine what they do, evaluate their performance, help them finish their tasks, decide when they can take vacations, decide if they deserve raises, hire other people, fire people, and so on.
That is, other people play a major role in your environment at work. If there are managers and policies you won’t like, they’re usually there before you start, if only you look before applying.
Few people do. They’re too busy evaluating the project, or at best properties about the company they can glean from reading about it on the web, missing out on thinking of important questions to ask their interviewers about the people, culture, and management.
Actually, they’re usually more busy trying to show themselves off, not realizing how desperate it makes them look, and how experienced asking more about the company and its management makes them look.
Job interviews generally consist of an interviewer asking questions of the person applying — a one-way evaluation. Both presume that the applicant will accept any offer, maybe after some negotiation.
Yet often toward the end of the interview, the interviewer will ask if the interviewee has any questions. Many interviewees then try to show off how much they know about the company.
What a wasted opportunity!
They could use this time to learn about the people, team, and management they’ll work with — what “people join good projects and leave bad management” suggests will determine whether they’ll like working there or not.
People could, but rarely do, ask
- What’s the company culture like?
- Do you like working here? Why or why not?
- What’s my manager like?
- Why did the last person leave this position?
- What are the other people in the team like?
- What’s the turnover here?
Do these questions sound too probing? Get used to them. Senior people know to ask them. Do you want to sound experienced? You’ll see their importance the more you get that people leave bad management.
How to get used to asking such questions?
First, experience being the best teacher, you can practice at interviews at companies you aren’t that interested in joining. You might surprise yourself to learn that interviewers appreciate what they’ll often see as more serious interest and experienced consideration.
Second, remember that nobody benefits from high turnover, which leaving bad management leads to. You don’t have to find yourself trapped working with that many managers before realizing you’ll help everyone by figuring out how to avoid such problems. You can introduce questions above with remarks like “I like to make sure we have a great fit and foresee how I’ll fit if I can learn about the working environment. Do you mind if I ask a few questions about the people?”
When effective and experienced leaders and executives consider working somewhere they talk to many people in their teams and find out answers to such questions. Acting like a leader motivates people to treat you like a leader. Acting meek, accepting anything they give you motivates people to give you anything.
Enjoying your time at work
Eventually you start working somewhere. No matter how much you prepare and select a job with people you like working with, conflicts arise. People have different values.
Many people view work as a place to do penance — like you’re not supposed to like it so why try. As best I can tell, they seem to regard people who enjoy work as lucky or as if they were born with a gene to enjoy work.
“If only I were so lucky to be born with that temperament or to fall into such a well-matched job!“, I can imagine them thinking. “Poor me. I can’t do anything about my lamentable situation. I can only suffer through it so I can pay my bills.”
As if enjoying your work was more difficult than enjoying your time anyplace else.
People who enjoy their work don’t have special genes or luck. Even those who start companies aren’t guaranteed cultures they love — except through their own doing.
They make their jobs likable and enjoyable with skill. The most important skills for making your job environment awesome are social skills, like the simple ones I write about in my social skills series, though they’re just a start. People leave bad management.
People who know how to create great working relationships — skills anyone can learn — can create great working environments.
What makes an environment you like depends on you. You can take what they give you without acting on it or For some people that means working hard together. For some it means collaborating a lot. For some it means getting to know each other personally deeply. For some it means keeping things lighthearted.
One thing I guarantee will not lead to enjoying your workplace — resigning to disliking it, believing yourself unable to do anything about it, and complaining to each other about your lamentable situation. Such behavior and beliefs is the opposite of “Don’t look for blame but take responsibility for improving things to the extent you can” — one of my mottoes.
- Understand the importance of relationships at work to your emotional reward
- Understand the limited importance of projects to your emotional reward
- Learn social skills
Don’t expect project skills to improve how you feel about your job.
(Disclaimer: This is a guest post submitted on Techstory by the mentioned authors. All the contents and images in the article have been provided to Techstory by the authors of the article. Techstory is not responsible or liable for any content in this article.)
About The Author:
Joshua Spodek, bestselling author of Leadership Step by Step, is an Adjunct Professor at NYU, leadership coach and workshop leader for Columbia Business School, columnist for Inc., and founder of Spodek Academy.
He has led seminars in leadership, entrepreneurship, creativity, and sales at Harvard, Princeton, MIT, INSEAD, and in private corporations. He holds five Ivy League degrees, including a PhD in Astrophysics and an MBA, and studied under a Nobel Prize winner. He helped build an X-ray observational satellite for NASA, co-founded and led as CEO or COO several ventures, and holds six patents.