Who In The Hell Are “They”?

Posted 06.02.2010

Strawman I don’t mean to be rude with the title question of this post, but I’ve learned over the last four or five years of coaching that it’s a great question to ask yourself. Here’s why. 

How many times have you been in a conversation with a group of colleagues that goes something like this?

Wow, they totally don’t get it. They are so far removed from reality that they really just don’t know what’s going on. They should be doing something to change the situation but they don’t even know where to start. You know, what else? For the most part, they’re all like that.

Admit it. You’ve been in those conversations. Here’s how it usually plays out. A bunch of corporate directors are sitting around talking about the corporate vice presidents and how they don’t get it. Or a bunch of GS-15’s are hanging out talking about the SES leaders in their agency and how they don’t get it. I know those conversations go on because when I speak to leaders at any level, I usually ask them if they’ve been in conversations like that. As soon as I ask the question, there are a lot of embarrassed, sheepish expressions spreading throughout the room. Almost everybody’s done it. I used to do it myself on a semi-regular basis when I was a corporate executive.

There is always something “they’re” doing that you can complain about or criticize.

But, before you go any further, stop and ask yourself, “Who in the hell are they?”  They may be closer than you think.

The next time one of those “they” conversations begins, stop and ask yourself this question, “How likely is it that the people below my level in the organization are having conversations about the directors or the GS-15’s or whatever level I’m at and how ‘they’ don’t get it?” 

This just in.  It’s pretty damn likely.

So, who in the hell are they?  For a lot of people in your organization, it’s you and your peers. 

Sort of changes your perspective doesn’t it? When you think about yourself as being a member of “them”, how does it change the way you view yourself as a leader? What have “they” been doing that really annoys you?  Any chance you’ve been doing the same thing, just in a different direction? If the people you’re charged with leading were regularly complaining about what “they’re” doing, what would you want them to do? Would you want them to come to you with their analysis or solutions for the problems they’re seeing? Any chance that the “they’s” you’ve been complaining about want the same thing from you? What are the risks of doing that?  Do the potential rewards outweigh the risks? Are you confident that your cost/benefit analysis on the risks of stepping up is accurate? What’s the opportunity cost of not stepping up?

Just asking.