Work and Life Quests
Recently, our organization brought someone new on board.  In our first meeting, I felt an immediate kinship with him.  Though we just met, each time we talk, it’s like we’ve known each other for years.  Sometimes it’s like that – an effortless connection or affinity with someone new.

When he asked me for insight to the politics and people of the organization, I was happy to oblige.  But first, I had to explain to him the way I “see” people.

I evaluate two things – intent and alignment – when I want to engage, pitch, and otherwise work with others.  When evaluating intent, the question I try to answer is “does the person mean well?”  For alignment, it’s “are we coming at this [issue/opportunity] from the same perspective?”

In my younger years, I only considered intent.  As I got older, I realized that too often I mistook a lack of alignment with poor intent.  Now, I try to start from an assumption that people mean well, but we may have a different point of reference.  Instead of seeing those differences as merely a frustration, now I realize they may be a very good thing indeed.

By considering someone’s intent and alignment, I can determine which of four different “types” an individual is likely to be.

Type 1 – Advocates (Effortless)

Individuals that come from a place of good intentions and are aligned to your way of thinking are a joy to work and interact with.  They are some of the easiest to recognize and welcome into your life.  With Advocates, you can discuss any topic – including the ones that are usually off-limits – and walk away friends regardless of what side of the argument you were on.  Your natural affinity allows you to challenge and argue, ultimately coming to a common understanding or solution with little headache.

As you journey through life and work, maintaining connections with Advocates is critical.  Don’t take them for granted, even though your affinity and like-mindedness means you could probably go years and then pick up the phone as if you talked yesterday.  They are rare and valuable enough to make an effort, even when the relationship feels effortless.


Type 2 – Challengers (Worth the Effort)

Some of the most important, yet often frustrating, individuals in our universe are the Challengers.  These are the folks that have good intentions, but they just don’t come at things the same way we do.  It would be easy to dismiss them as being Blockers and walk away, but that would be a tragedy to anyone looking for successful outcomes.

It has been proven that diverse teams are more successful than homogeneous ones.  A bunch of Advocates would probably come to agreement on an issue faster and easier than any other group, even if they didn’t originally agree.  However, by adding Challengers to the mix, the diverse perspectives they bring to the table can help address gaps or reveal considerations the rest of the group would be blind to.

By actively looking for individuals that have good intent, but are not like-minded, we can achieve true breakthroughs and innovation.  This is a critical group to engage for well-rounded solutions.  And a well-rounded life.  Keep in mind that, from their perspective, YOU’RE the Challenger!


Type 3 – Underminers (Be Wary)

Underminers are probably the most concerning group of the four.  They can have all the characteristics of an Advocate, but ultimately, they are not interested in much more than themselves.  They will align themselves with the solutions, projects and ideas that have leadership support and say all the right things.  When it comes to actually getting things done, however, don’t expect much.  And if something looks like it might go wrong, they’ll be the first ones to bail out, leaving you holding the bag.

Give people the benefit of the doubt and start from the assumption that if you are aligned, the individual is likely also coming from a good place and will be an Advocate.  However, don’t ignore the warning signs.  If you start to get the sense that your values are not aligned, and this person might be an Underminer, watch your back.  Underminers are usually politically savvy and put on a good show that might fool senior leaders.  Outright conflict is best avoided.  Instead, begin to distance yourself as much as possible, and if all else fails, document, document, document.


Type 4 – Blockers (Don’t Bother)

I’m naive enough to believe that everyone starts out wanting provide a positive contribution and do the right thing.  I’m also realistic enough to recognize that some folks take the easy road.  The road that means openly putting their own interests first, moving up at the expense of others.  That will leave ethics at the door if they are inconvenient or stand in the way of getting ahead.

Luckily, these individuals are becoming more and more rare.  Those that come from an obvious place of bad intention, with values that are out of whack, can do a lot of damage to an organization.  In today’s environment, not only are these individuals being purged, sometimes their departure from an organization includes stiff penalties and jail time.  Just look at the Enron executives who put themselves ahead of their people.

Before assuming someone is a Blocker, stop to think if they are generally trying to do the right thing.  They could very well be a Challenger that you simply cannot come to agreement with.  That’s okay.  If, however, you find that this individual is a Blocker, run, do not walk to the nearest exit.


My Findings

In the last two decades, I have found that the majority of people I meet and work with mean well, though most of them do not approach problems and opportunities with the same mindset I do.  I do my best to embrace their perspectives, even when their points of view might push my buttons.  Though rarer to find, I also keep my eyes open to those that are purely motivated by self-interest, whether obvious about it or not.

It was with joy that I shared my perspectives with our organization’s newest member.  So far, it seems like everyone has good intentions, with the best interests of our customers at heart.  Do we consistently agree?  Absolutely not.  We have too much diversity of thought and experience to make any discussion an easy one.  However, the combination is critical to achieving the bold objectives we’re pursuing.  I look forward to all of us making the – likely eventful – journey together.


I’d be interested in your feedback.  Do you find that most people have good intentions and mean well?  Do you look for individuals that align with your thought processes, or intentionally seek out those that challenge you to think differently?  I’d love for you to share your comments below.