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Winning At Working: Playing The Wrong Game
by Nan Russell

He was concerned with the direction a decision was leaning, Jon said on his voice mail. Could I meet him for lunch in the cafeteria before Friday's meeting to talk it through?

As peer managers involved in policy implementation, our departments would be impacted by any direction taken. Friday's meeting was with the decision makers; a discussion of pluses, minuses, timetables and resources needed for three options under consideration.

Over lunch, we discovered our alignment. Option one required mandatory overtime, organizational changes and significant resources to implement. I felt it would negatively impact the company by affecting morale, reducing productivity and impacting long-term profits. Jon concurred, expressing an even stronger viewpoint about its deficiencies and why we needed to work together to eliminate it from consideration.

By Friday, I had research, statistics and arguments against option one. Waiting in the hallway for a prior meeting to end, Jon again expressed his position and the desire to speak with one voice. What happened in that meeting took me by surprise as I heard Jon begin to debate me, advocating for the option he claimed to deplore. Yup, a flip-flop. Three weeks later, Jon was promoted to the Project Leader.

Looking back at what happened, I realize I was na´ve to maneuvering, politicking and velvet-glove punches in that early management position. I wasn't thinking about the sentiments of higher-ups as a factor in my presentation. I was thinking about providing sound input. But Jon wasn't. He quickly adjusted his course once he read the tea leaves.

I now think of Jon as a good teacher, introducing me to workplace game-playing. You see, Jon was out for Jon. He saw an opportunity and he took it, no matter that he didn't agree with the position he aligned himself with. There were more important things. For him it was to win the favor of those decision makers. But a funny thing about Jon: two promotions and four years later, he was fired.

People like Jon may win in the short-term, but in my way of thinking, they're playing the wrong game. They put their interests above the company's; their needs above the team; their end results above how they got them. To people like Jon the goal is a personal win.

But I learned in twenty years in management that people who are winning at working know that work is not a single-player game. They look at long-term impact, big picture results, and how to grow the pie bigger for everyone. Their idea of winning is becoming who they are capable of becoming, and offering their uniqueness to the world. You see, people who are winning at working view work as a life canvas, not as a game.

© 2006 Nan S. Russell. All rights reserved.

Receive a copy of 21 Winning Career Tips (a free download) at Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a columnist, writer and speaker. Visit Nan Russell may be contacted at or


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