Leading Without Authority is an automatic classic. This is not a motivational business book in the traditional sense. It’s more of a tell-it-like-it-is guide to why some people are really hard to work with, which can be so refreshing. Read the right way, Keith Ferrazzi’s book can help deal with not just frustrating people at work, but frustrating people at home, too.
What I love about this book is the concept of co-elevation, that improvement is a group project. I can’t become a better person without having a positive effect on others. Helping others, in turn, is a form of self-improvement. Any person at any level has the power to reach out and try to solve problems in the workplace, no matter how pernicious.
Try, anyway. Usually it’s the small stuff that rankles on us more. We can sort of learn to accept larger issues - like my first job at a mortgage bank, where I knew they sometimes foreclosed on people - but daily friction with our coworkers can become nearly intolerable. That’s usually why people quit, because there is that one person (or boss) they just can’t stand any more.
Part of the reason why is that we feel like we’re expected to pretend these interpersonal issues don’t happen. Meanwhile, the person who is bothering us - and possibly everyone - may have no idea! We only know how other people perceive us if they tell us.
Ferrazzi encourages us to approach the people we’ve written off and figure out a way to work with them. Leading Without Authority has a bunch of examples of how much this oogs people out, how they’d basically do anything to avoid this type of conversation, but then how they did it and managed to make a real connection.
I have tried this and I have to say, it does usually work. There are people out there who are unapologetic jerks, and it can be funny to have a conversation with them about their methods, because they have no problem admitting their part in things. Other times, the person everyone is whispering about is totally oblivious.
One of these successes involved the guy who always came to the potluck but never brought anything. I hate nothing more than when people talk smack about someone behind their back and refuse to confront them directly. I said to him mildly, “Usually when people come to a potluck they bring something, like a bag of chips or some paper plates.” “Oh?” he said. He was from Ukraine and, guess what? This was a completely new custom to him, so how was that his fault? From that point forward, he always made sure to bring a contribution.
Start with the assumption that people are nicer than you think they are.
Another occasion that went much better than I expected: I worked at a campus with limited parking. There weren’t enough parking permits to go around, and they only lasted a year. The person in charge issued new permits, and suddenly several people found out that their permits had arbitrarily been canceled with no notice. (!) Mass outrage. I suggested that at least a form letter should go out to tell people, if not some other systemic reforms, but nobody wanted to confront this infamous Revoker of Permits. I volunteered as tribute. I emailed her, and she literally invited me to her office for tea and cookies. She had an entire collection of beautiful teapots and an oak dining table she had brought from home, complete with cloth napkins. I made my suggestions, she instantly agreed, and then we just hung out and ate cookies together for a while. Not much of an ogre.
If you ever find yourself lying awake at night, going over a bad interaction at work or just dreading going in the next day, you need this book. Maybe everybody does. Leading Without Authority is most excellent, and I can vouch that its premise even works for lowly administrative assistants.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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