Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – those within your organization who unintentionally or intentionally try to undermine your work and the work of your division for their career enhancement. We have all experienced it. Few, if any of us, discuss it.
Today, I’d like to introduce you to the self-appointed communications expert. You may have met him or her or maybe you’ve not yet met. Eventually, you will.
My story begins with a well-intentioned colleague and former communications professional. In my first week I heard the following phrase that I would often hear repeated: “I am the communications expert”. This was repeated, loudly, at every opportunity. Now you and I can psychoanalyze away on the “whys” and “wherefore’s” of this behavior but I am no psychology expert.
The lesson here is to learn how to ensure your self-appointed expert does not derail the work of your department.
First, take whatever the expert says or does with a grain of salt. Do not let it get under your skin. Stay focused on your long-term strategy and on the work produced by your division.
Second, ensure your CEO understands what your vision, strategy and ideas are clearly and simply. The “expert” will use many different tactics, convincing the CEO that she or he can only trust the expert, sending emails to leadership providing communications advice that may be counter to your advice. This is where having champions will help you. Cultivate champions throughout the organization who are senior enough to have a voice at the table and can advocate against any such attempts at undermining you and your team. They will also be more aware of what is happening behind closed doors than you and can keep you informed.
Third, if you feel comfortable, take the “expert” to lunch and have a discussion with them on where you stand, why you came to the organization, what you hope to achieve. Let them know that you would like to work with them to help advance their goals within the organization and externally. There are two benefits with this approach – it will help improve your relationship and it will enable the “expert” to see what skills you and the team have. It may shine some light on their perceptions and provide you with some insight into that individual’s situation. As they say, keep your enemies close.
Fourth, if the CEO allows the “expert” to seize the conversation on communications and the strategy, it’s time to have the talk. Don’t become the scapegoat for the larger internal and leadership issues your organization may be facing. There could be trust issues, a long-standing business relationship that is being protected or other issues you are not aware of. At this point, it’s time to put all your cards on the table and be prepared to walk if that is the case. You deserve to be with an organization that respects your experience and talent.
No one wins in the battle of who is or is not the communications expert in your organization. You were hired for the role. It’s you. If you are not empowered to execute on your work, no one wins – not you, and definitely not the organization. Your job is to ensure that everyone internally and externally recognizes the work of your division and its role in enhancing the overall image and reputation of your organization’s brand.
Stay focused on your long-term strategy. Do not let the self-styled expert derail you mentally or emotionally.
Ensure that your CEO has a clear understanding of your long-term strategy and vision at all times.
Cultivate champions at the senior level. They can support your work and help minimize any negative impact from the “expert”.
Don’t become the scapegoat for an organization that is either toxic, mismanaged or crippling along with internal damage. Go where you and your talents are appreciated and fostered.
Always try to mentor those that are younger than you in their careers. Sometimes the recipient is open to it, sometimes they are not, but your job as a leader is to at least try. Never try to do the opposite – we cannot see the future and that younger colleague may end up being your boss one-day.