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Seven ways to be a stand-up guy at work

Author’s note: This essay stems from a request by a commenter in a discussion on Hacker News.

1. Try to make your boss look good. No matter how mistaken you think he (or she) is, once he has made a decision, your job is to support him as best you can, subject always to the fundamental constraints of ethics and integrity.

2. Presume ignorance or inattention, not malice (although the presumption is rebuttable). Chances are that that people aren’t intentionally trying to [tick] you off. This is a variation on Heinlein’s Razor. In the same vein, keep in mind that the ignorant one might just be you.

3. Be loyal up, down, and sideways (again subject always to the fundamental constraints). Loyalty means, among other things, patience, courtesy, and respect for everyone, especially when they’re not there.

4. Two serviceable rules of thumb for happiness: First, face the facts—live in the real world, not the world of your fantasies. Second, seek the best for others as you do for yourself, if only because it can be advantageous. (See here for an elaboration.)

5. Be humble and modest in your dealings with everyone, or at least try to fake it with sincerity.

(It can help to remember this: Assuming for the sake of argument that a Supreme Being exists, the odds are that it’s not you.)

6. Be proactive. It’s not a sin not to be sure about what to do; when in doubt, take your best shot at formulating both a Plan A and a Plan B, then ask your boss for guidance. He might tweak one of your plans, and/or he might point out something you hadn’t thought of.

But use your judgment—while your boss might want you to go through the learning experience of figuring things out for yourself, he also might not want you to spend a lot of time doing so before asking for help. (You could ask him about that, perhaps.)

Consulting with peers sometimes helps, which is one reason it’s a good idea to stay on good terms with them.

7. Don’t take criticism personally, no matter how harsh it is. Sure, you might have screwed up. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure as a human being. You played the hand you were dealt and juggled competing priorities as best you knew how at that time. Life is a movie that’s still being filmed—seize the chance to edit the script of your remaining scenes.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • David Healey 2011-08-06, 17:41

    Good advice, if more people followed it, we would have stronger firms and happier people.

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