Q: I’m feeling powerless and frustrated at work. I’m responsible to help execute strategy, but the team of executives responsible for defining it can’t seem to agree. It’s hard to get things done. How can I handle this? — Olin, 48, senior director, operations
A: Don’t underestimate your ability to influence the situation.
Building up your resilience is essential to thriving in your current circumstance.
Part of this is physical. Taking steps to be healthy through food, exercise and rest will help you maintain your equilibrium.
Your emotional intelligence is the other key. Think about how well you understand yourself, as well as other people’s motivations and behaviors. Invest in your ability to make solid decisions and manage conflict.
Now step back and review the situation.
What is motivating the individuals in the executive team? Each of them will have both their public and private drivers. You may think some of these drivers are dysfunctional, but if you understand them you will be better able to manage around them.
You may also find some of their goals to be inspiring. In that case, it should be easy to align with them to get some motivation.
And, based on what you have said, you will almost certainly find competing agendas among the executives. This is where the art of managing up comes in.
When you look at your company’s goals, where does the strategy lead? What is stated vs. unstated? Where do the individuals you are working with fit in? Do some mind-mapping to sort out it all out, color-coding to find patterns, conflicts and potential alignment. Look online for guidance if you have never used the mind-mapping approach.
This analysis will equip you to effectively influence the executives and their teams as you’re working to get clarity on the work you are supposed to do.
For example, you will be able to say things like, “How do these potential actions lead to progress on Strategy A?” This is a nonconfrontational approach that will shed light on disconnects between the company goals and the direction you are receiving (and on conflicting direction you may be getting from different individuals).
Insist on working directly with the executives to understand what’s needed. If you accept only working with people on their teams, you will be more subject to hearsay direction. Also set an expectation that you will meet with the executives together so that competing directions can be worked through as a group.
To keep things moving, define tasks with timelines and owners, and get buy-in. Also be specific about issues that could delay progress or limit success.
Then stay calm and tap into your resilience skills. You will be able to make progress while building your reputation as a clear thinker who is focused on the company goals.