I had a coaching call the other day with Jason (not his real name)
He’s an ambitious Solution Architect but he doesn’t like how his ambition is consistently overruled by his managers.
He’s great at solving deep technical issues but he also has a broad experience in various parts of Tech World. He has both a specialist’s and a generalizer’s point of view and it’s constantly getting lost by having to fight in the trenches.
And he wants to have a say in more strategic decisions that create the technical problems he eventually fights during the day.
When he brought this up with his manager, things turned ugly
The manager tried everything: He ignored the request, he choked it through “time”, he turned it into a blame-game.
Jason, being the conflict-avoiding introvert he is, did what he knows best: wait for the problem to resolve itself.
You can guess how it turned out for him.
Then Jason has decided to take a bold step forward
No, he didn’t confront his boss.
He reached out (to me) for help. That’s the biggest transformative step a stuck professional can take.
An outsider who has been in your position could provide such insights that could take years to figure out otherwise.
Today, a lot of free avenues for reaching out is available.
Yet, not many PROs are aware that it is available to them.
(A great one amongst them is our FB Group, Tech Leaders United. What’s better than a free community where you can get answers to your issues from like-minded leaders?)
During the call, we identified the conflict of interest for the manager
Jason was furious. How could his boss be so ignorant? After all, he has been giving his all to help him look good and get promoted!
The answer is a little soul-crushing: his best interest is to keep him where he is.
Because if Jason takes up another responsibility the manager has to
- Look for another brilliant Solution Architect that does all the work, Jason, already diligently does. He has to find that person, onboard and train him/her. It is expensive.
- Position Jason as somebody who could participate in strategic decisions. This would make him look bad in his eyes of managers. He would be questioned: “Are you not sufficient to tackle them?”
- What if Jason is not successful in his responsibilities? Then he will be the person to blame for this shift with no upside in sight. He might be the one risking his career.
Jason’s story is quite common
Managers would like to keep the status quo all the time. When they aren’t empowered to dictate the strategic view, it is hard to expect them to act otherwise.
Therefore, a natural conflict occurs.
Is having a conflict a bad thing? Should we always avoid conflicts?
Avoiding the conflict is certainly has its place in the theory of the psychology of conflict management.
It is our human instinct to avoid pain. And social connotations dictate that conflicts bring pain.
However, think for a second about the times you have grown in your career: I can almost certainly state that any growth you achieved has not been painless. Pain is a natural part of growth since the day you were born.
Getting to this realization and using conflicts as avenues of growth requires a significant mind shift.
How do we solve Jason’s conflict?
After working through Jason’s personality and approach towards conflicts, we’ve come with the following steps.
Talk it openly with the manager (with a twist this time)
Jason takes a meeting with his manager. He explains his concerns and ambitions openly.
This time, he makes the action time-bound. He tells his manager that if within a week there is no solution, then he is going to look one for himself.
Reason: Nobody likes to be walked over. You don’t want to be the person who has not given the manager the chance to resolve the issue. He might still have something in his arsenal that can help you tremendously.
This step also reduces friction and puts the manager in charge.
By making the action time-bound you give him the time to think and deal with the issue.
I’ve previously written an article on how to create win-wins in negotiation. It certainly helps a lot when handling this tough conversation.
I also recommended him this great book on handling tough conversations: Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. (not affiliated, just a fan)
If the agreed timeline is not met, escalate
If previous tactics kick in: Escalate it one or two levels higher.
Reason: Your direct manager may not necessarily be in a position to resolve this conflict. Your executives are likely to look from a broader perspective and offer resolutions.
Network your way through the resolution
Connecting with the right people in the organization is crucial to identify your conflict’s stakeholders.
Look where you’d rather be in the organization. Who’s managing that team? Who can provide the best input?
Take that person for a coffee, and let him give you some advice. If (s)he sees that you are serious about applying what he says, you’ll have a champion for your cause.
If none of the steps work, consider leaving
In some cases, your conflict might be a result of something deep inside the organization.
About a month ago I laid down the 5 reasons you should consider leaving the company you work for.
One of them was, “when your career development comes to a halt”.
You can keep your job while identify and bridge the gap with your dream job. And I can certainly help with that.
Your managers’ ambitions for you and your own ambitions may often conflict. Embracing it and approaching the conflict methodically will give you an edge.
Have a conflict that you can’t talk to anybody about? Tech Leaders United is a Facebook community created for this purpose.
You can also reach out to me personally, I’ll be more than happy to welcome you.
You’ll never walk alone.