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Marshall Goldsmith Headshot

Stop Doing Business In the Dark!

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So much has changed at the workplace today. Which business practices hold? Which don't? I recently spoke with Alexandra Levit, author of Blind Spots: The 10 Business Myths You Can't Afford to Believe on Your New Path to Success. In her book, she explains the business myths that are even more dangerous and less reliable than ever given today's changing business climate and severe competition. This is a fascinating account of what works, what doesn't, and the myths we don't want to propagate! Following is my brief interview with Alexandra:

MG: What is the premise of Blind Spots?

AL: The recent recession has toppled and transformed our ideas about just about everything. Massive change is afoot and many of us are still reeling from the work-force bloodletting that began three years ago and the downfall of companies we thought we all respected.

If we take the time to examine the world that's rising out of the ashes, we see that a major paradigm shift is occurring. We have realized that money and manipulation will only go so far, and we've come 180 degrees from the backbiting and dirty politics that characterized the dog-eat-dog 1980s. Inside the business world, organizations and individuals are looking inward and seeking a return to traditional human values like honesty, trust, moderation, open communication, and one-on-one relationship building.

Those who wish to be gainfully employed for the foreseeable future must take this transformation seriously and adapt new ways of doing things. In Blind Spots, I explore the 10 biggest myths of business success that people believe to be true even though they don't work for 98 percent of all truly successful people.

If adhering to these myths didn't get you places before, it really won't today, when employers want to hire people with Puritan work ethics, people who want to do their jobs well without rocking the boat too much and who are strong representatives of the organization's culture.
If you want to get ahead in this values-driven environment, putting on blinders is not an option and you can't afford to waste time. You must throw away these myths, determine what will work in their place, and immediately put it to use. That's what I'm trying to help people do in Blind Spots.

MG: In Blind Spots, one of the myths you explore is that generating controversy can get you into trouble due to the ethical scrutiny now pervasive in the business world. What do you recommend people do keep their noses clean?

AL: Employees use all kinds of excuses for unethical behavior, including "everyone does it this way," "I'm under so much pressure," "I have to get results," and "If I don't do it, someone else will, and then he'll get ahead and I won't."

The tendency to slip up starts in academic life, and few of us are able to say that we never cheated on a test or homework assignment in school. Yet most of us escaped unscathed. In the business world, however, the stakes can be much higher, especially now that several CEOs have been carted off to jail and everyone is paying more attention. Strong professional ethics involves more than just telling the truth or avoiding activities that are morally wrong. So what if you're not certain if an action is unethical? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
  • Are there any potential legal restrictions or violations that could result from the action?
  • Does my company have a Code of Ethics (formalized rules that describe what a company expects of employees) or a policy on the action?
  • Would I like to see my action published on the front page of the New York Times?
  • Will this action reflect badly on the company or on me personally?
  • Will my action withstand open discussion with coworkers and managers and survive untarnished?

MG: One of the biggest challenges facing business world employees today is dissatisfaction with their roles, but you suggest that far too often, people incorrectly blame their unhappiness on the organization. How can business world employees take ownership of their work frustration?

AL: A key ingredient for frustration is the lack of control that a person perceives for the outcome of their work. In psychology, this is called Locus of Control, a concept that was originally developed by Julian Rotter in the mid twentieth century. One has an internal locus of control if he believes that he controls his own destiny, and he has an external locus of control if he believes that his destiny is controlled by other forces like authority figures, fate, or God.

In general, having an internal locus of control is viewed as more desirable, since these individuals tend to be more achievement-oriented. They are more persistent and work longer and harder to get what they need or want. It's better from a mental health perspective too, because when you feel that you can affect the outcome of your work, you are more satisfied and have a greater sense of accomplishment.

If you are a person who is prone to an external locus of control, this could be a major cause of your dissatisfaction at work. Fortunately, there are things that you can do to develop an internal locus of control, and I go into more detail about what these are in Blind Spots. I hope everyone will read it!