Don't sink to their level

raise the bar

Today in this blog I want to do two things focused on helping you achieve the success you want — on YOUR terms.

1. Offer you the download of my Strategic Career Thinking webinar for free
2. Encourage you to remain true to yourself at work

So… in reverse order… (Webinar download below)

How to remain true to yourself at work

Every day, out in the world, we all face a broad range of challenges to our personal values that go from minor annoyances to major morale dilemmas and everything in between.

While work can be very uncomfortable at times (that is part of what they pay you for), it’s important to understand your values, and when something does not feel true for you, take a moment to reflect and decide how you want to respond.

Let me start with a small example:

Late for meetings

Late meetings cost the business world at large countless millions of dollars of lost productivity. It’s simply bad business. I know many people who don’t believe in being late to meetings, and they ask me, “If I go on time, I’m the only the only one there. What should I do?”

Don’t sink to their level. Go on time. Always. Set the positive example.

DO the right thing. Do the thing that is true for you. I have spent a lot of time sitting alone in meeting rooms. But in doing this I was accomplishing two things. 1. I was not degrading my self respect by falling in line with the bad behaviors of others. 2. I was sometimes able to influence others by positive example.

By the way, if you don’t expect people to be on time for meetings, don’t expect them to be on time for product launches either. Small habits reinforce or degrade your organization’s ability to execute. Be one of the people who is not contributing to the decline. More on the importance of small habits for successful execution here

Ugly, back-stabbing politics

Now a bigger, uglier example:

It always amazes me how many truly dreadful managers there are out there. On the Coaching Hour calls in my membership program, there are regularly leaders seeking advice for how to deal with an abusive or clueless or uncommunicative or solely politically driven boss. (To name but a few.)

In advance of my next webinar on Building Trust and Motivation, I’ve been getting messages from members asking, “But what can I do to build trust when my boss is working so fast to destroy it?”

…Bosses doing things like changing the game constantly, lying, bullying, not following through on commitments, demanding results with no support or resources, stealing credit, preventing employees from communicating with anyone outside the organization. (To name but a few.)

My advice — Again. don’t sink to their level.

Sadly part of your job as a leader if you are in this situation is to catch and hide the crap from your team.

You need to decide what is true for you. What is the kind of manager you want to be? Do your best to be that manager with your team, despite bad behaviors above and around you.

Insulate your team as much as possible from the bad behaviors of others. Don’t be tempted to act the same way because it seems like it’s expected in your environment.

Pressure to sink…

I actually got performance feedback as an executive once that “Patty doesn’t fight enough”. In this environment, the executive staff meetings were very nasty. The CEO liked it when his team fought. I refused to participate. For months I was losing points with the CEO.

But then something interesting happened…

After listening to the fights calmly, I was able to see a path forward. After about 45 minutes of fighting I would say something like:

“In listening to all of you, it seems while we disagree on X, what do agree on is that this outcome Y is the most important thing. Why don’t we start with Y and work backwards. For example, I think we can all agree that to enable Y, we must do Z”.

The funny thing that happened was that after about 6 months, the team would fight, I’d sit there not fighting, and then one of them would say:

“OK, Patty, I think we have fought enough now, we need you do that thing that you do, where you get us to start working on the part that we can agree on”.

But I can tell you that if I would have taken the feedback and started fighting, I would have been absolutely miserable, because that was not a way of working that was true to my own values.

When everybody else is being nasty or political, it’s easy to think that the only way to show strength and be credible is to also be nasty and political.

But being authentic will always be your strongest and most credible position.

You need to stay aware and in the game so people don’t take you down while you are not looking, but you don’t need to sink to their level and play on their negative terms. Don’t sink to their level.

Trust and Acknowledgement, often lacking…

When I was an executive or CEO, although some of my managers and board members treated me with support and were not un-kind, none of them ever went out of their way to make sure I was OK, or to proactively acknowledge my extra hard work and efforts.

But I always tried to do this for my team. I’m sure I did not have a perfect record at doing this, but I’m equally sure that I did not have a zero-record.

I would regularly say things like “This is a really hard job, how are you holding up?”, or “I’m sorry that assignment took you away from your family so much. I want you to know that I recognize that and really appreciate it. We’ll do something for you and them when it’s done”. Or “Wow, you did that much better than I ever imagined it could be done, I’m very impressed”.

After I certain point in advancing my career, no one ever said those things to me ever again.

While I accepted that that was part of the basic environment of what I signed up for to work at that level, it was never true for me to treat others that way. So I didn’t sink to the level of “expected/encouraged/tolerated executive detachment”.

I’m not sure why most big executives find acknowledgment uncomfortable or even the outright, wrong thing to do. In some ways I think it’s kind of a macho thing – I have more control over you if I don’t let you know how much I appreciate you. (heavy sigh)

In my experience it only makes you stronger as a leader to give acknowledgment and credit where it is due. For two reasons:

1. If you acknowledge people, they trust you more — which automatically gives you leadership points, not less.
2. When people feel acknowledged, they work harder and give more energy, creativity and time to the task at hand so your organization performs better.


A big part of being successful and feeling satisfied with your work is that you find a way of working that maximizes your strengths and energy, and your ability to be you truly are.

Last month I did a webinar focused on helping you think about what you really want in your life, and how you can get your career on a path to give you more of that.

I wanted to share these ideas with everyone who wants to make a positive change in their life this year, so I’m offering the important webinar at no cost in January.

Download my last webinar, “Thinking Strategically About Your Career“, free for the month of January.

This webinar is part of my Professional Development Membership program. Members get lots of wonderful career and leadership resources — and personal coaching from me.

Webinar download here.

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About Patty
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)

You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or facebook, or read her book RISE…3 Practical Steps for Advancing Your Career, Standing Out as a Leader, AND Liking Your Life.


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You can find Patty at, follow her on twitter or Facebook, or read her books RISE and MOVE.

Building Trust and Motivation
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