Workplace principles

Over past five years, I have had the fortune of working at a variety of organizations with different businesses, leadership styles and cultures, both on-site and remote.

Here are two main principles that I have learned and adopted :

  • Permission vs Advice - When we ask a superior if we could do a specific thing or take on a project, we are implicitly putting the onus of taking the ownership of the said idea, project or change on that person. Instead of owning something and proactively holding ourselves accounting for both success and failure of the said thing, we are making someone else’s life harder. When I ask for a permission to do something, I am also implicitly asking my team or superiors to decide if my idea is good enough for us to pursue. This reflects lack of confidence in my own ideas and also lack of research on whether the new idea aligns well with the goals, projects and priorities of the teams, products, or the company. If the new thing that you are suggesting sounds risky or too radical, they will feel the need to play it safe. They will do a quick cost-benefit analysis in their heads. They are likely to think “If this new project that I approve of goes south, I will be held accountable for not identifying the right hurdles and fire-fighting the obstacles. I already have a lot on my plate right now.” Asking for advice seems to be a very effective way of getting things done. When I say “Here’s what I think we should do, what are your thoughts on it?” or “Hey, I want to do this instead of that, I’m looking to get your advice on it.” I have learned that communicating about a new idea or project with such mindset almost always gets a positive reaction, deepens relationships, and avoids wastage of time. When you ask for advice, you are implicitly signaling a couple things. Firstly, you are taking ownership of whatever it is you what to do. This puts the other person in a situation to be able to appreciate your initiative. Secondly, since you are making yourself responsible for the consequences, the other person will feel comfortable giving honest feedback.If the idea is just terrible, no harm is done in shutting it down. If the idea is great, you earn buy-in and get them to participate in your success. Thirdly, by asking for advice, you are inviting constructive criticism. This helps deepen trust in your relationship. You are letting them know that their opinion matters. There is a big difference between doing something without asking for permission and becoming a reckless loose cannon. There is a big distinction between figuring out where you could add value and where you are doing something just for the sake of starting something and getting some exposure in the organization.

  • Influence vs Authority - When you have authority with a fancy title, people need to work with you, respect your position, and, for the most part, agree with you. When you have influence, people want to work with you, voluntarily respect you, and have honest conversations with you. When it comes to authority, people do what they need to do regardless of whether they like doing it or not. When it comes to influence, people do only what they want to do because they don’t need to do it.Can influence and authority overlap? Yes. Thats a killer combination. I think influential people are very likely to end up with authority. But, just because you have authority, it doesn’t mean you will be influential. Being influential does not mean being able to get others to do whatever it is you want them to do without having an official title. Being influential, in my mind, means being impactful. You are influential when people want to be around you, talk with you about their work, want your help on projects, respect your opinions, and encourage others to work with you. Being impactful means thoughtfully adding value to conversations, projects, products, teams, departments and the overall organization. Each instance of value-add might be tiny. But, if done persistently, the impact accumulates.