I usually say to friends that I’m contented with my professional and personal decisions because they let me have a peaceful sleep at nights. It’s true! Most of the things I’ve done I have not regretted and under similar circumstances I would most probably do the same, especially if it had to do with my values and principles.
But there are a couple of things I have regretted and I thought it would be helpful to share with other people so that they do not make the same mistakes.
Some fifteen years ago, I had the opportunity to attend a very revealing training course while working for a well known multinational technology organization. The trainer was a famous American coach who except from “teaching” us things for a whole week, he exposed us to various “game-playing” assignments so that he could understand our character. During the last day of the training, he gave a present to each one of us: a stone with a personalized statement – piece of advice written on it. The following message was written on my black stone: “Give them time to get it”. “Oops”, I thought. “Am I going too fast to be understood?” So I started giving time… nearly to everybody. And that’s how the first mistake took place.
Mistake No1: Show tolerance to “never-changers”
“Giving time” to people that were not willing to make any changes is exactly what I have regretted most during my professional career. I have repeatedly made the mistake to keep in the teams I managed people that had already proved their reluctance to be authentic team players. I gave them time based on a totally unjustified anticipation that they would alter their behavior given my constructive and consistent support to them. But I was wrong, entirely wrong. The truth is that expressions of character might change (temporarily), the character itself rarely changes – at least I did not have the chance to have a similar experience up to now. If you are coward and selfish, if you are not assertive and prefer gossips and “back-knifes”, if you promise “yes” and you do “no”, if you consistently say lies, if you prefer blaming behind and flattering in front, if you do believe that this life attitude is the one you wish to have, then … the game is over from the very beginning. One should not spend a lifetime waiting for the “apocalypses” to happen.
It was not before years passed that I realized how wrong I had been. I insisted and insisted that the “good” would beat the “evil” at the end. No, it wouldn’t. In some cases it never would. When I realized, I took the tough decision to dismiss some of such people following mainly the facts and some little hints of my instinct. I then refused to listen to voices “he’s good; let’s give him another chance”. But I made the mistake to keep some others, to give them time. For this latter decision I feel devastatingly responsible. I harmed both the organization I was managing and the people who cooperated with the “non-changers”.
Mistake No2: Be overly kind when giving feedback
In most of my professional life, I tried to give feedback in a gentle way, in a way that would not offend the person opposite me. Why did I do so? Mainly due to my – then – belief that people should be given the chance to improve, to proceed further, to be told what they should change and then be given the time to do so. This – being kind and not giving feedback in an entirely assertive way – did not always work. The message was getting lost! It was my fault again. It seemed that some of my colleagues did not understand – or did not want to understand. Even if people would get upset, I would have helped them more disclosing the mere truth in plain wording. As the years passed, and my self-awareness was being built stronger and stronger I became more and more assertive. I gave frank feedback no matter how hard it might be heard. The funny thing is that I was more assertive to people “above” me rather than to people “below” me (hierarchy-wise). Strangely enough, I often felt like “protecting” my subordinates in a way.
My mistake was that I did not differentiate my treatment toward different people. I was not fair. I treated all of them in the same “flat” (kind) way. I believed that people had an inherent will to learn, to get improved. I shouldn’t believe that. This was the second hard lesson I learned. I changed my attitude after I had dozens of bitter-taste failures to “pass the message”.
Mistake No3: Give help repeatedly to those not appreciating
I grew up in a family where the famous Greek proverb “Do good and throw it in the coast” was accompanying my father’s every second phrase. Yes, it’s a great feeling to help people around. Yes, you shouldn’t expect anything in return. But, although you would enjoy knowing that the other person appreciated your effort, at least, you do not expect to receive back hate and revenge. I personally love sharing and helping people around me. I get great satisfaction out of this. I do it because it makes me feel happy and useful. It so happened that I faultily “saved” some people from getting into serious trouble for more than a couple of times – some they know (and do not recognize), some they don’t and they never will.
Instead of receiving a plain “thank you” or a considerate smile, I even had the misfortune to experience “bad rumors” and a real war “behind my back” from people I had consistently benefited. They never showed the least of gratitude to me. So, I thought that I should set a limit and never offer my help to ungrateful people for a second time.
I do not have any hard feelings for those people. I do not want to exchange hatred; I want to exchange love and friendship, so I decided to forgive them. And forget them, too. BUT on the other hand, I have decided to pick more cautiously where I allocate my time and effort. Hopefully, this will result to a more productive contribution from my side since I will not be the reason for awful people to survive on the expense of the good-quality ones.
After the hard experiences, my Decalogue – overall conclusion (both in life and in profession) is the following:
- Be good to those that deserve it
- Be good at the right portion
- Help those who accept to be helped
- Be strict and fair, assertive and human, selective and watchful
- Set concrete limits to your tolerance
- Give clear messages even if that hurts
- Make decisions for the benefit of the many
- Leave out those not willing to get in
- Give a second chance only to those who appreciated the first one but failed to deliver
- Check your trust instinct twice
Appropriate timing is of utmost importance in applying the 10 points of above Decalogue. A delayed decision is always a bad decision!