Last Updated Jun 21, 2011 5:42 PM EDT
I learned a very important lesson early in my career. Your boss, clients, investors, or constituents need to see that you care. When things go badly, they want someone who jumps to action. They want to feel that you care more deeply about the problem than they do. They want someone to get upset, and maybe even swear a little. About a week ago, Sarah Palin did just this. She criticized one of President Obama's policies by Tweeting "File this under WTF,'" which is an acronym for "what the (expletive)." Don't tell me you care, show me.
Patience, kindness, levelheadedness, and understanding are wonderful qualities to embody at work. These are critical characteristics that help boost creativity and productivity and that provide a good foundation for managing and leading a team. But if you always operate in Mr. Nice Guy mode, you'll be less effective at your job, and maybe even out of a job. Don't tell me you care, show me.
Several years ago, a colleague and good friend of mine was fired. He was responsible for managing a firm that was installing a new phone and computer system at our company. There were significant delays and issues throughout the process. My friend was level-headed and rational throughout the two month installation, until he was canned. After he was terminated, his boss told me he didn't have what it took to get the job done and that he didn't seem to care about the project. The reality was that my friend had all the skills needed and cared deeply about the project. He worked 70+ hour weeks and lost sleep over integration problems. But my friend failed to grasp a fundamental truth; perception trumps reality. Upper management saw him as ineffectual and passive, when what they wanted was someone to fight for the project and the company. Don't tell me you care, show me.
When you're too rational, too understanding, and too controlled, all we see is apathy. Just ask President Obama. He's been criticized for his even-temper in the face of a financial crisis, sky-high unemployment, and billion dollar Wall Street bonuses. Then there was the giant Gulf of Mexico oil spill. A foreign company was responsible for spewing millions of gallons of oil into our waters, and the public saw a detached president. The juxtaposition of the underwater cam and a seemingly dispassionate president was too much. People were livid and they wanted a president who was equally livid. Feeling the heat, President Obama told Matt Lauer on the Today Show he had been talking to experts so he could find out "whose ass to kick." Even though it was delivered in a dispassionate and calculated manner, it was a good start. Don't tell me you care, show me.
So what does all of this have to do with you and your career? Everything. When the stakes are high, don't be afraid to make a scene and to show people you care. Raise your voice. Get upset. Slam a phone headset or two. Don't make this a daily occurrence or you'll just be identified as the crazy guy on the eighth floor. When something goes wrong, try to work it out calmly. If that doesn't work, go a little crazy and fight like your job depends on it, because it just might.
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