Ep035: Workplace Poker – how to handle backstabbers and promote yourself positively (without being like Donald Trump) with Dan Rust

TalentGrow Show episode 35 Workplace Poker with Dan Rust and host Halelly Azulay

What’s wrong with just doing great work and minding your own business? Do we really have to engage in the ‘game under the game’ happening every day in every job and every workplace? Yes, in his interview on the TalentGrow Show, Dan Rust says you *must* actively play the game because otherwise, you’re just getting played. He describes what he means by Workplace Poker – the title of his latest book – and gives super specific, very actionable and granular advice. You’ll learn how to effectively handle backstabbers and how to promote yourself and increase your success and career growth in a positive way that doesn’t involve acting like a pompous Donald Trump or tooting your own horn. You’ll emerge with tons of ideas for ways you can boost your career success right away, so give this episode a listen now!

Tweet: You are playing workplace poker, like it or not. So play to win! @danrust #TalentGrowShow #podcast @halellyazulay http://ctt.ec/dpM02+

You are playing workplace poker, like it or not.
So play to win! {Click to tweet this now!}

What you'll learn:

  • What’s ‘Workplace Poke’? (2:22)
  • What did Dan do in parallel track to his ‘job’? (4:00)
  • What’s the ‘game’, and why are you can’t really opt out of it? (and how Halelly used to fall into this thinking trap) (5:45)
  • Why you need to have a more ‘hands-on’ approach to playing the workplace poker game (9:20)
  • What separates the approach of the best, most successful leaders in terms of how they navigate the ‘game’? (12:00)
  • What are the things that great career navigators notice that others miss? (13:14)
  • What’s similar between dealing with workplace poker and your workout routine at the gym?? (13:54)
  • What’s the connection between Jane Goodall and her chimpanzee studies and great career navigators (14:29)
  • How should you respond to backstabbers and others who wrong you at work? (14:45)
  • What’s Level I, Level II, and Level III thinking, and why you should practice using Level II and III thinking to ace at workplace poker? (16:30)
  • What does Halelly ask about what to do about someone killing your baby?! And why Dan suggests that you HUG your backstabber? (18:58)
  • What should you do if hugging doesn’t work? Dan gives granular suggestions you can use (21:27)
  • “Maybe there’s no I in team, but there’s also no TEAM in ___________ ?” (what is this sentence that makes Halelly giggle? (24:30)
  • What’s the one area that women leaders struggle with more because of their natural inclination? (25:00)
  • Why is it not enough to just do good work to get ahead? (26:15)
  • How can you promote yourself and get the word out about your great work without it being ‘icky’? Dan shares specific tips you can put into action easily (26:30)
  • How does Donald Trump get into this podcast? And why his techniques are probably not so good for the rest of us… (26:40)
  • What can you do at every meeting to promote your value without tooting your own horn? (Dan shares a specific example you can leverage) (27:35)
  • What’s the ‘power of the white board’ and how can you leverage it for career success? (And what’s the caution Dan issues about this tool?) (28:50)
  • What should you do when you’re preparing for your performance review to help ensure your success is captured? (31:20)
  • What’s a smart strategy to implement in the fourth quarter of every year to help your career success? (32:35)
  • Why does Halelly connect Dan’s advice to the book, The Startup of You (which is a really great book) (34:10)
  • Who is the best person to take care of you? (34:50)
  • What’s Dan’s suggestion for one thing you can do today to upgrade your own workplace poker success? (35:40)
  • What are some of the telltale signs that something is going on that’s not so good for your ‘game’ and put you in a better place to be proactive rather than reactive to deal with it? (37:02)
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About Dan Rust

Dan Rust is the founder of Frontline Learning, an international publisher of corporate training resources. His award-winning keynote speeches and workshops focus on employee engagement, productivity and career management. For more than 20 years Dan has been writing and speaking on a variety of career management topics. His blog at workplacepoker.com focuses on ideas, skills and practical strategies to help you accelerate your career trajectory. His corporate training clients have included GE, Apple, Starbucks, Saudi Aramco and Disney Interactive. Massachusetts.



Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey hey! Welcome back to the TalentGrow Show. This is Halelly Azulay, I’m your leadership development strategist and this time I join with an author and consultant Dan Rust, who talks about his latest book called Workplace Poker. You have probably seen it, you’ve probably heard of it, but there’s a lot of gameplay and strategy that goes on in today’s workplace. In fact, it’s probably always gone on in every workplace. And some people engage in it productively. Some people engage in it malevolently, and some people take the ostrich approach. They stick their head in the sand and pretend it’s not there. But here’s the thing – just like with the ostrich, we can still see you! Your butt is in the air! So you can’t really ignore this game. So I hope that you’ll listen to this episode for some super specific and very, very actionable advice for how you can deal with some of the bad things that might happen like backstabbers and such, and also ways for you to positively boost your success by promoting yourself in not an icky and sticky kind of way. I love how granular Dan gets in his advice, and I hope that you enjoy this episode. Thanks for tuning in, and here we go – episode 35.

I’m here with Dan Rust, the founder of Front Line Learning, an international publisher of corporate training resources. Dan’s award-winning keynote speeches and workshops focus on employee engagement, productivity and career management, and for more than 20 years Dan has been writing and speaking on a variety of career management topics. I am excited to have Dan with us to talk about his latest book, Workplace Poker. Are you playing the game or just getting played? Dan, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.

Dan: Oh, thank you so much. It’s great to be here.

Halelly: Excellent, and I’m really glad that you came on. Because your topic is a hot one, let me tell you. Everybody thinks about, well, let me clarify – we say workplace poker, what do we mean? And I know that you’re talking about the workplace politics game, right?

Dan: Essentially. The human dynamics in the workplace, which includes politics – both negative and positive – and all those other human things that happen under the surface at work and in a leadership role.

Halelly: Tell us a little bit about your professional journey?

Dan: I will, and I’ll keep it brief, but it is relevant, because the thing that’s important to know about me is I’m a working guy like almost everybody else. While I do keynote speeches and I do presentations, and I write books and I write articles, I have a regular day job and I always have, and I always want to. I don't really want to be one of those people that is kind of disconnected from reality and is just going about giving interesting speeches on theory. So I have a boss like everybody else. I have performance reviews like everybody else. My first serious job was in the U.S. Navy – I was an engineer on a U.S. submarine, and that was many years ago, but from there I transitioned into the corporate world and in a training and development role, and for more than 20 years, I have been working as a training developer and online learning developer, a skill assessment creator, as well as managing a team of trainers and other developers. And so day in and day out, I live in the real world, and the whole area of writing and speaking, it was just a natural extension. It wasn’t honestly part of any particular plan, it was just that I saw things, I had thoughts. Whenever I shared them either in print or in public speaking, they seemed to resonate well with people, and so it just kind of had a life of its own.

Halelly: Cool. So you developed that sort of as a parallel track to doing your work? You developed the voice and you built some kind of a platform to share about your insights and your learnings with others, even though that wasn’t really your job.

Dan: And the natural, I guess, match was that I would facilitate a workshop on sales training or customer service or team building or leadership or productivity skills, and spent a lot of time focused on that arena of a career of success, building up greater competencies. But over and over again, when we’d have informal discussions with people about their careers, either during the breaks or after the program, the discussions often times went to the other factors. I had someone ask me, “You know, I keep working on my skills. I keep getting better and better from a competency standpoint, but my career is flat lined. Or it got derailed. I had a promotion and was leading a team and suddenly things got derailed because things didn’t go well with a couple of people.” And I began to see that as much as competency is important, in terms of a true leadership career that continues to accelerate throughout one’s career, that’s only half of the game. And that other half, the game under the game as I call it in the book Workplace Poker, is pretty fascinating. It can also be frustrating. If you don’t play it well, and I’ve had many people say to me, “I don’t play politics. I’m almost disdainfully saying … and I don’t want any of my people playing politics. I just want them keeping their heads down and doing their job.” And my perspective is this – because you work with human beings, you can’t not play the game. It’s happening whether you like it or not. It’s almost like metaphorically, sitting at a poker table with your chips on the line, every single round, and you just sitting back and saying, “Well, the cards are being dealt, but I’m not going to play.” You can’t not play. You’re opting out is in fact part of the game and unfortunately, it’s typically a way to lose by just refusing to even engage.

And the other, I guess, shift I try to help people make is to not only engage in that game, but to understand that there’s a very positive ethical way to play the game. And to play it better than some of the folks who maybe aren’t as ethical and aren’t as positive. But you know this – if you’ve got a backstabber in your work environment, someone who wanted your job or is afraid you’re going to get the next promotion they want. You can’t just ignore them. You have to have a proactive way to acknowledge what’s happening and lay a foundation for your own career so that when the time comes, this person isn’t going to derail you or sideline you.

Halelly: So this is great. I can hear in what you’re describing that you have to take a much more hands-on and proactive approach to something that is going to go on whether you do or not. And I think that’s a huge distinction. I also learned this the hard way – I also used to think that if I just did a great job, and I minded my own business, and I didn’t pay mind to other people and the games they play that ultimately the meritocracy will take care of me, and relationships, which is really part of what you’re describing and interactions and communication, all of those things are happening all around you and you can’t not … like what is that old saying? You cannot not communicate. You can’t opt out. You’re in it!

Dan: And whatever environment you’re in – I’ve had people say to me, “Well, this is a good old boys network here, so I’m kind of on the outs or I’m not like them and so I’m not part of the inside team and so that’s putting either a glass ceiling or some kind of limitation on my career.” And my answer to them is always, “Okay, well then what do you want to do about that?” Because it’s so easy to sit back and say, “I have been wronged, or the situation isn’t fair,” and then almost grovel in that frustration where you end up feeling good in a perverse way. You feel good about yourself because you’ve been wronged, but it doesn’t do your career any good. So what I typically ask is, “Let’s talk about, number one, how you got yourself into this situation?” Because inevitably, whatever situation we’re in at work, that’s a situation we created. We chose that job. Even if you say to me, “Well, but I really needed it. And I needed the work and I didn’t know what they were like before I went to work here, or I didn’t know what the leadership culture was like,” well, okay, so why was that? Why weren’t you more discerning? Why didn’t you do more research? In the end if you peel the layers away, it can be hard thinking, but in the end, you always find that you created the situation that you’re in, and there’s almost always a way to work that situation positively. Even if you’re not part of the natural network, even if everyone else has been there much longer and you’ve been kind of sidelined, there’s almost always a way and then when there’s not, you still have choices. You can choose to stay for good reasons. You can choose to leave for good reasons. But I think what happens with many people is because they lack the awareness of what’s really going on, they end up with limited choices, because they don’t really see the game that’s being played.

Halelly: So you’re helping people be more fully aware of what’s going on, and then be much more active in changing it, right? In creating the kind of environment they want. So there’s so much I want to follow up with you on, and I know we don’t have enough time to talk about everything that’s in your book – which is why everybody should pick up a copy – but two things you mentioned, or two things I think are important for us to try and cover here. One is that idea of responding to people that are doing the wrong thing. So like you mentioned backstabbers. I really would love to talk a little more about what is an actionable kind of solution you suggest? And then the other one I want to try to pursue is maybe more of a positive and future-oriented one about how people can be more self promotional or kind of help themselves be seen, and be known for all the good stuff that they’re doing, without feeling super cheesy about it. So let’s take the first one. So okay, you’re doing the right things and then there’s bad guys.

Dan: So what I’ve seen with the very best leaders, the leaders who have high trajectory careers and manage to somehow navigate really rough waters where everyone isn’t always friendly or aligned with them, is they know that there are other people who either want their job or want the next job, and they get that. I mean, you think about most corporate structures – as you move up the ladder, there are fewer and fewer opportunities, but there are not fewer and fewer qualified people. As you move up, the truth is, there often times are multiple people who could do the job well, so how do you get selected as the one amongst several that could do the job well? Inherently it sets up a competitive aspect to a career as well as the cooperative aspect of working well with others.

And what I’ve seen with great leaders who navigate that career is they, number one, they slow down a bit when it comes to observing and thinking about the people around them. They don’t get caught up in the day-to-day intense activity where they’re so busy with every project, every assignment, every email, every this, every that that they don’t take the time to notice. Now, they may do or not do something about it, but with great career navigators, they notice even the little things – who shows up at meetings? Who shows up on time? Who shows up late? Who makes comments? Who doesn’t make comments? And because they notice these things, and it actually doesn’t take any more energy. It feels like a little bit – I’ve had some feedback from some folks who have said, “I’m tired enough just doing my job. Now you’re saying on conference calls I have to listen to what’s being said and not being said? I have to listen for the undertone as well as the overtone. In meetings I have to watch body language as well as all this stuff.” And what I say to them is, it’s a lot like starting a new exercise routine, or exercising a new set of muscles, where initially it feels tiring, but over time, you build up new muscle strength and then it actually energizes you.

So don’t feel like it’s actually adding more work. Over time it actually becomes just a natural part of the way you are so that you develop a radar, essentially. A human radar wherever you are, and then that radar leads to the next big difference I’ve seen with great career trajectory leaders. They don’t take things personally when they’ve either been wronged or when let’s say they have someone they know is complaining about them behind their back, or some other way backstabbing them. Rather than judge it, rather than get caught up in the emotion of it, they observe all of that behavior almost like Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees back in the 70s. In the book Workplace Poker, I actually used her as an example, where she in her journals observed plenty of really lovely chimpanzee behavior, and she observed some really horrendous behavior. Chimpanzees killing each other, stealing each other’s babies, killing each other’s babies – all kinds of horrendous things. And she simply observed. Because her goal wasn’t to judge. It was to understand what the life of that group of chimpanzees was like. And the same is true in a human environment. I’m not saying you can ever completely get away from judging others, because we al have values that we bring to the table, but to the degree that you can step back emotionally and observe the backstabbing as just part of the human game as opposed to getting mad about it, you’re much more likely to play well if you’ve set that emotion aside. And I’m amazed at some of the leaders I talk to who have truly been wronged. I mean, they’ve had people conniving for their job or talking about them behind their back or working to orchestrate things, and instead of getting angry or frustrated, they simply acknowledge, “That’s part of the human game. I know what’s going on, or I have a better sense of what’s going on because of my radar,” and then by setting the emotion aside, it allows them to move to the third area which is what I call level two or level three thinking. And what I mean by that is most people will react to a backstabbing situation or something else – whatever it might be – and they’ll react with level one thinking, which is basically, “This happened and I’m going to react.” Whereas a great leader plays a two or three or four-phase chess game where he says, “They’re going to do this. I’m going to do this. What will be the likely outcome of that? And then what’s my response to that? And what’s that outcome? And what’s my response to that?” They’re thinking three or four stages as opposed to just one stage in terms of their activity. And again, like I said before, initially it sounds exhausting. Seriously, I can’t just take the backstabber around the corner and let her know –

Halelly: Beat the hell out of her?

Dan: Yeah! “I know what you’re doing and yadda, yadda, if it happens again, here’s going to be the price to pay.” I can’t just do that? I have to play this game? It sounds exhausting at first. But it’s exhausting only because you don’t know how and as you get better at it, it actually in the end, it actually is not only that exhausting, it’s energizing and even if it’s not energizing, the thing is, it’s career saving. Because those are the situations that can derail a career and as you move up the leadership ladder, the price to pay for a derailment gets higher and higher, and particularly in today’s world. We all know this – no matter what the job numbers tell us, no matter what the economic reports tell us about the economy recovering – whenever I use that word I have to do air quotes, right now even as we speak – as we talk about a recovery. What we all know is that the market for well-paying white-collar jobs, particularly leadership role jobs, is tight. Every time a good role like that opens up, there is a battle for the best jobs. And the time to do battle isn’t when the job’s available. It’s in the six or 18 months prior, when you’re laying the foundation for winning whatever that battle might be.

Halelly: Okay, so I want to get more concrete. So for example, now you’ve developed the muscle, you’re watching what this person is doing, and they’re stealing your baby and they’re about to kill it. Because I’m pretty sure Jane Goodall didn’t have her babies in there, otherwise she might have been a little bit less dispassionate, right?

Dan: Yes. So let’s say you just know a situation is going to occur and you have thought your way through this two or three stages through it, in terms of what your activity is going to be. Then at that point, once you’ve sort of laid that foundation, then you do have to take action. But I often times say the first action should be to hug your backstabber – not literally, but metaphorically – try hugging your backstabber, because number one, it’s not what they’re expecting. What they’re expecting is to fight. They’re expecting … but if instead you get closer to them, if instead you spend more time with them, what many of us instinctively do when we know someone is talking about us behind our back or they’re doing other things, we avoid them, we spend less time with them, whereas I would just say instead in meetings where that person happens to be in the same meeting, make a point to sit next to them. Make a point to, at the luncheon or the company picnic, go to their table as opposed to avoiding it. Make a point to engage with them and let other people see that you’re engaging with them in a very positive way. Nothing makes a backstabber look smaller than when you are clearly taking the high road. Even if people think, “Wow, he doesn’t know that that person is talking about him behind his back, obviously, because he’s so engaged and friendly and is obviously respecting that person’s opinions. In fact in meetings he’s asking that person for their perspective or opinion.” It makes the backstabber looks smaller and smaller to people, and it’s a way of playing the game without risking yourself. Because everything you’re doing is purely above and positive.

What I’ve found is if you get into the mud with backstabbers, often times they’re just better at that game than normal people. And it’s hard to win if you get into the mudslinging. So instead, I at first try hugging them. And if that doesn’t work, then you have to move into the harder game of actually battling. And if that’s occurring, you have to ensure that you understand the true dynamics around you. Like who your allies really are. And it’s not simply who will tell you that they’re your ally. In fact, you can’t even really ask people. In many cases you just have to gauge to what degree are they aligned with you or not, or you have to know who is really aligned with people in power. And every leader also has a boss. I mean, rarely do you have even CEOs, they report to a board of directors. So whoever the next stage of power resides with, you have to make sure that you are connecting and aligning with them, and make sure that your activities or your response to your backstabber is in alignment with that person wants you to do.

I’ll give you a specific example – I had a guy come to me. We talked our way through this, and he was going to employ kind of a hug your backstabber methodology, but he said every time I invite this guy to a meeting or every time even in meetings, when I solicit his opinion, he’s not really engaging, and it’s pretty clear that there’s this abrasion between us, and staff is noticing it. So what do I do? I said the first thing I would do now is I would go to your boss and let your boss know all of the positive things that you are doing to minimize the abrasion. Let your boss know how you are completely taking the high road in trying to make this work, and then ask your boss to reach out to his boss and have a conversation without throwing you under the bus – your boss has to agree that there’s sensitivity here – but let both your boss and his boss know the high road that you’re taking to try and make this work. That basically lays the foundation for winning the game, no matter what this guy tries to do. But it’s not going to happen if you don’t lay that foundation with your boss and then have your boss approach his, assuming there’s a level of openness there with the person that you’re reporting to.

And you know, even when I verbalize it like this, I know it sounds a little yucky. But here’s the thing – yeah, it is a little yucky. It’s a shame that we have to do it. But if you don’t, then the good guys don’t win. Here’s the thing, because the backstabber doesn’t mind. He doesn’t feel yucky to him, he’s going to do whatever he feels he needs to do to try and win the game. So sometimes you have to toughen up a bit and understand even though we’re all told the modern work environment is all about team, you see the posters that say, “There’s no I in team,” well, yeah, that’s true. But there’s also no team in promotion, usually. In the end, when it comes to promotions, we pick a person and we give it to that person. So there is a competitive as well as a cooperative aspect to any leadership career. And I think that’s the one area – and feel free, I know I’m just sort of talking here, so feel free to interrupt me – but the one area that I think when I deal with women specifically, and women leaders, it’s an area where they struggle a lot because I think they are more naturally built to cooperate than to compete. And naturally built to assume good will with others than bad will. And then when they do suddenly discover that someone is working against them, it just feels wrong. Which it probably is wrong. But whether it feels wrong or not, you have to be willing to dig in and compete. Otherwise, someone is going to steamroll you.

Halelly: Wow. Well, we start a whole other 30-minute podcast right there when we start talking about the gender differences, both in terms of nature and nurture, I’m sure, leads to differences that people to experience. We won’t, and we’re unfortunately actually almost out of time. So I know that I’ve asked you and I feel like I promised this to the listeners, so give us a couple of good nuggets about what are some positive things you can do? Let’s just sort of put the backstabbers aside. But in general, people who feel like, “If I just do good work, it’s good enough,” and I know that you advocate and I advocate that you have to do some good PR for yourself and make sure that people know about the good stuff that you’re doing. And some people feel like that’s just, you know, very icky.

Dan: Yeah! And one of the great experiences in writing the book Workplace Poker was interviewing leaders who were really good self promoters, but not in that Donald Trump-ish sort of way, not in that boastful, yucky, cheesy sort of way. And please, don’t assume anything politically, I’m just using him as an example.

Halelly: He’s a good example of a lot of things!

Dan: We all know what I mean when I say Trump-ish self-promotion. And I would say to any of your listeners, if any of you are also a billionaire New York real estate mogul, then it probably would work. So you could use his techniques if you are in fact that. Because I think it works for his environment. But for the typical corporate environment, if you had a Donald Trump working down the hallway in cubicle nine and his manner was boastful and always promoting himself and always arguing, it would just … it just doesn’t work. So instead, what I learned from many of these leaders is that they very actively self promote, but in really subtle ways. And I’ll give you some specific examples. One guy said to me, in every meeting – he was a mid-level manager/leader, and very much interested in advancing his career – he said in every meeting, I make sure that there’s a reason for me to be there. Meaning I never just sit there anonymously. He said I won’t take over the meeting. I won’t toot my own horn, but I’m always looking for the opportunity to either ask a discerning question or to make a statement or even sometimes to summarize thoughts. Because what often times happens in business meetings where planning is going on, there’s a lot of stuff happening. And then suddenly, the person who says, “You know, I’m hearing all of this, and if I could summarize what we seem to be saying, here is what I’m hearing,” that person does the summarizing, often times people go, “Wow. Profound!” When in fact all that person did was kind of collect up and synthesize what everyone else is saying. But you have to give them credit because there’s a value in synthesizing all of those thoughts.

What I also heard is that the power of the white board. One leaders said, “You know, whenever I have an opportunity, I will step up to the white board and try to describe or graphically represent what it is that we’re talking about or the challenges that we’re addressing, or the bullet points that we’re trying to all keep in our mind. The reason that I do it is just because it’s a good practice, it helps everyone kind of get on the same page in terms of what we’re talking about.” But he also said there is a power in that dry erase marker. He said it’s weird, you pick that thing up and you stand up and you go to the front of the room and you write something down and everyone is focused on you. And of course he said what you write has to be good – I mean, if you’re going to create like a drawing that represents the ideas, it has to make sense. And he said a lot of people are uncomfortable with that. They’re uncomfortable with that innate leadership role of stand and deliver. Stand and summarize. It’s a subtle thing, and of course you also don’t want to get the reputation of, “Oh my God, there’s Dan again with the dry marker. Every meeting he’s got to be up there.” You can’t do it so much that it becomes a shtick.

And someone else said to me even on conference calls, or webinars, that she always makes certain that she contributes, even if it’s a topic where she’s not necessarily a subject matter expert or she’s just there to observe. She always makes some level of contribution because she doesn’t want to be anonymous. She wants to be consistently viewed as a valued contributor in every environment, and she said to me, “Look, if we spend 45 minutes together in a meeting and all I do is sit and take notes, why am I really there?” You need to create even just a little bit of value in every single meeting, every single encounter, every single engagement. And that helped me understand a leader’s sensitivity to that, that in every one of these environments to a small degree, they’re putting on the show and they need to make sure the show is a good one. They’re not just assuming that they can kind of go reactive in any of these environments.

And then I think in terms of self promotion strategies, there does come a time when it comes to things like performance reviews or other formal reviews when you show up for that, or when you’re preparing for that, the truth is, most leaders don’t do a great job with performance reviews. And so if you’re a mid-level leader and you are meeting with your more senior level leader, the thing to do is to prepare. And to bring your case, bring your portfolio. Bring your summary of the things that you’ve done, and bring evidence, not just a verbalized story, but truly bring evidence for the last 12 months. Here are the eight projects, and I want to do a quick review of the metrics on those eight projects. Do the work that you hope your leader would be doing, but often times they don’t. And in many ways you’re setting an example for them to potentially be better when they do this in the future. But what you’re also doing is you’re helping them synthesize their own thinking. If it’s January of next year, don’t assume that they remember the good thing you did in March of the previous year or February of the previous year. You’ve got to bring that all to the table.

And then the last thing, because I know we’re quickly running out of time. This was just a great idea that a guy shared with me. He said, “When I’m planning out my year, I always pick one no-fail, high profile project for the fourth quarter. Because I know people have a short memory, and I don’t want my boss having to try and remember back three quarters or four quarters to all the good things that I’ve done. So I always find a project that I know I can engage with in the fourth quarter. It has to be something that’s going to be important – has to be high profile – and it has to be somewhat no-fail, because I want to make sure that in January or February when we’re doing performance reviews, he or she remembers you just wrapped up this neat thing, this interesting thing, this somewhat innovative or whatever is important to the business,” and I thought that is so smart! You’re starting the year already with a performance review strategy for the fourth quarter. It to me was brilliant. And then he gave me some examples, and it’s not hard to do. You just have to stop for a moment and think through what your plan is, for the coming year.

Halelly: Wow, I love it. Great! I think this is really helpful, because you’re helping to break down some of the kind of thinking that people need to engage in that, I mean, again, I know for myself it used to be very foreign and it took me a long time for that to drop, for me to just get it. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with the book The Startup of You –

Dan: Of course!

Halelly: It keeps popping up in my head. The idea if you treat yourself like a startup, if you think about how do business people do this? I mean, how do products, fans do this? They don’t just sit there and hope people remember them. They’re constantly singing their own praises, creating opportunities to add value, but in a visible way. And then tracking that to help others remember it. And be visible.

Dan: And they’re thinking through – what is my unique value proposition? What is unique about me? And then how do I reinforce that again and again so that my brand gets communicated throughout the organization? Absolutely.

Halelly: And you take ownership of it, rather than leaving it in other people’s hands. Some people feel uncomfortable with that, but it really, I mean, who better to take care of you than you?

Dan: No one else is going to. You really are the expert on you, and you’re really the only person who really cares about your brand, in an employment situation.

Halelly: Yeah, good. I love it. It’s a very, very empowering message. So we are out of time. I always have the guests say one specific action that is really something that people can take right away that you think is going to be key in ratcheting up their success and leadership or in their career success. What would be one thing that they can do?

Dan: Okay, I would just say if I was going to recommend any one thing today, now, I would say in this afternoon’s meeting or today’s conference call, wherever you are, slow down just a bit. And ask yourself what’s really going on under the surface with all of these folks? That ever so slight slow down has a huge amount of value. You’ll be amazed at what you end up seeing and discerning because you just took that moment to say, “All right, in addition to all these bullet points that we have to get through, I’m just going to pay attention to what’s really going on with folks.” It’s amazing what you will see.

Halelly: Great. And do you recommend that people journal about it, that they should track it in some way like in a written form? Or just sort of observe?

Dan: For some people it’s helpful. For me personally it’s helpful. Now, if you’re going to collect your observations that are somewhat perhaps critical of others, keep your journal tight or close to your vest! But I’ve found for some people, in terms of observing human dynamics, that just adds too much to the workload. So for those people, I’ve just said to them, “Look, you’ll get a lot out of just taking the time to observe. Your brain will remember. You’ll develop a baseline observation of all of these individuals over time and then you’ll recognize when that baseline changes. When suddenly the person who is always very chatty is no longer sharing, or when suddenly someone’s tone shifts. Boy, you know, she always had a certain tone in meetings and now there’s been a shift. And it’ll help you start to first ask the question what’s going on, and then discern hopefully what’s really happening with that particular person.

Halelly: Okay, all right. Good! Dan, I really appreciate your time on the TalentGrow Show today, and I know that listeners are probably eager to learn a lot more about this very, very intriguing and probably fear-inducing concept of the game that’s being played under the game. I’m going to link to everything in the show notes, and so how can people learn more about you and stay in touch?

Dan: The website workplacepoker.com is the place to go with lots more information. The book itself is available everywhere books are sold including Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com, so the book is easily available. You don’t have to know poker or play poker. Workplace Poker is truly just a metaphor for the game. So what’s been great for me is to hear comments from so many women who have said, “Finally, a positive way, an ethical way to play the game that we all know is going on. It’s just that it’s always seemed so distasteful. Who wants to play that?” So it’s been really great to get feedback like that.

Halelly: Cool. Very good, and I’m sure you’re adding so much value to people and helping them break it down and play it masterfully. Thank you Dan, and I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with us. I hope that everybody continues to learn from you and all of the resources you’ve shared in your book.

Dan: You’re so very welcome. Thank you for this.

Halelly: All right. Take care.

Now that’s what I’m talking about – very specific, very actionable. I hope that you feel empowered and have some ideas and that you’ll take action on them. Because of course having ideas is one thing, but taking action is the only way to lead to skill development and improvement in your results. And I’m really glad that you listened to this episode and I hope you’ll leave comments and come check out the show notes page where we have links for how you can keep in touch with Dan, how you can get a copy of his great book Workplace Poker, and all of the other things that we mentioned. That’s at www.talentgrow.com/podcast/episode35. And if you haven’t already downloaded the free tool that I’ve created just for listeners of the show, then what are you waiting for? Go ahead and grab it. It’s completely free. All you have to do is just click on the link that’s provided on the show notes page and on my podcast page. You just fill in your email information which helps you also get my amazing weekly newsletter, and I’ll send you a link to that free 10 mistakes that leaders make and how to avoid them guide. And I think that it’ll help you avoid those really common mistakes that I see everyday in my work with leaders as I’m trying to develop them to be the kind of leaders people want to follow. And I know that’s what I want for you. And if you have some other people that you know could benefit from this information and can learn from it, please, please share this podcast with them so that they can also learn from all of the great guests that we have on.

Thanks for tuning in. I appreciate you. I’m Halelly Azulay and I’m your leadership development strategist, and until the next time, make today great!

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com.

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