I know who “they” are. So do you. We all do. They did this. They won't let us do that.
They are “them.” The overpowering, unresponsive blank wall utterly insensitive to our struggle to function, to get redress, to express ourselves. They do brutal things without a second thought, and have no interest at all in recognizing our worth . . . or even our humanity.
But have you ever had the uncomfortable sensation of discovering that YOU are “they?” No one ever calls you that to your face, but sometimes you find out from a third party that some person or persons referred to you that way. Maybe you hear that there were nods of approval among people you thought believed in you.
Something you did or said was seen as the brainless/heartless kind of thing that the system/bureaucracy/dictatorship routinely does. Not a good thing.
Hey, I’m not “they.” These folks know me. They know I’m not like that. It’s a shock to discover that they don’t.
Being one of “they/them” is part of the job definition for managers. For project managers, it frequently has the additional burden of the conviction on the part of your “team members” that you are ignorant or unskilled in their areas of specialty.
Why should they take you seriously? What of value could they possibly look for that you could provide? What could convince them that they need you? They’ve seen a lot of people like you, and those people have been more of an obstacle, an annoyance, a butt of jokes – than a person to look up to for guidance, support and leadership.
In years of talking with people and working with people in project management, I have run into this fundamental stopper all too often.
Interestingly, both sides, in effect, agree. The working end of the spectrum uses the concept and – routinely – the term “they.” The other end, more often than not, tends to act out the attitude. The senior partners focus their concern on outcomes rather than the real human beings who bring the outcomes about.
The bosses too often have their own “they.” That “they” is the faceless mass of opposing working staff people who don’t understand the important needs of the organization, cannot be trusted to do their work faithfully and are basically incompetent – often laughably so.
And don’t you believe that both “theys” don’t know how they are caricatured by the other side. They know very well. For sure, it doesn’t make for vigorous teamwork in the workplace.
So here you are, a project manager. Instantly, upon your designation to lead this challenging effort, you are draped in the mantle. You are “they.”
What do you do?
You manage. The true believers of the cliché have rarely seen a real manager in the astounding process of good management. They have been conditioned to see overstressed, underempowered bureaucrats desperately flailing to survive.
Show ‘em. Manage. Do your homework. Get the information. Create the fundamentals, Build the relationships. Challenge power to do its share. Identify the problems. Emplace the solutions. Most of all, build the relationships.
Invite people into an exciting adventure in which their investment of commitment will be rewarded with honor and attention. Open opportunity for their knowledge and hard work to produce meaningful results.
Do your job.
Then, in a remarkably satisfying way, there is no “they.”
No more “theys.” Just “US.”