Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

by | Dec 27, 2015 | 0 comments

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As mentioned in this blog post, agile generally recommends a style of leadership called servant leadership, and one of the elements of servant leadership is assuming that those who you work and collaborate with do things with good intentions. Whilst it won’t always be 100% accurate, you always assume that no-one turns up to work wanting to do a bad job, or to mess other people around, or to treat other people badly.

But how do you keep on assuming someone’s good intentions when it really feels like they are messing you around or treating you badly? As happy and utopian as servant leadership is, there are all sorts of bad things that can happen to you in the workplace, and bad ways you can be treated. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t need to be advocating servant leadership and agile in the first place. Maintaining a mindset that everyone has good intentions is probably one of the hardest parts of servant leadership to manage.

One option is to do the christian thing of turning the other cheek. Now there are a number of different interpretations of that idea, and it can start to look rather different in the context in which it was first said. However, it has to be said that the nicer you are to people that attack you or do you harm, the harder it is for them to carry on doing it, at least not without looking bad themselves. To take an extreme example, if someone punches a cute little kitten, who comes out of that situation looking bad, the person doing the punching or the kitten?

However, sometimes people will just treat you badly, no matter how nice you are to them. Sometimes people will take even advantage of people being nice and exploit them all the more because of it. In times like these, the trick is to look at why these people are doing this. Chances are it’s not to do with them as a person, it’s to do with the organisational context they’re working in. If you’re in the kind of organisation that rewards those who take a ‘survival of the fittest’ approach to life, that encourages people to put their interests before those of others, to fight their way to the top, then it’s perfectly possible to believe in someone’s good intentions whilst acknowledging that they’re doing bad things. Their intentions are being shaped by their environment, they want to do the things their environment says are the right things to do, it’s just that their environment is wrong.

This is yet another of those things in agile where the context is so important. When you get a situation like this, you just have to keep bearing in mind the saying:

“Don’t hate the player, hate the game”

It’s hard to do, but it can help keep you sane, and might even start turning the situation around, either for you or even for the whole organisation that’s causing these situations to occur. However, it’s worth also being aware of the way hating the game rather than the player can help you spot warning signs of situations you need to get out of. Sometimes organisations that make people behave in certain harmful or unhealthy ways get themselves into a sort of death spiral with these behaviours. If the organisational culture rewards non-agile behaviours such as hierarchy and self-promotion with individualistic and opinion-based performance reviews, then over time it can attract and retain more and more people who are happy to play this game. At the same time, it puts off people with collaborative agile mindsets, and if any do accidentally join the organisation, they soon leave.

In situations like this, it’s sometimes best to leave the organisation than stick around and become increasingly damaged by the organisational disfunction. As the saying goes:

“Change your organisation, or change your organisation”

Remembering to hate the game, not the player can help you spot situations like this you need to get out of. For if you just hate the player or players, then you can become bogged down in the micro-details of these problems, and start to imagine that’s it’s just something to do with them, or even worse, something to do with you. If on the other hand you hate the game, then you more easily spot and acknowledge the fact that it’s the organisational disfunction that’s at the root of these problems, and can make a more rational decision about whether to try to change the organisation, or just look after yourself by getting out. It also helps you deal with people treating you badly in the meantime, reducing the hate and anger you may feel towards them, and replacing it with a sense of pity and a desire to help them, which are much easier and happier feelings to deal with.

So next time someone treats you badly or does you wrong at work, I really do hope you’ll take a minute to step back and think about what good intentions of theirs are causing this harmful behaviour, and the degree to which they are as much a victim of poor organisational culture as you are. The choice on how to react to the answers you find is then up to you, but at least your decision will be better informed.

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About The Author

Gez Smith is an agile communications coach, trainer, author and speaker, and is also the author of ‘Agile Marketing: The Incomplete Guide‘.