Do you really want to wrestle a pig?
It is interesting how sometimes the signs in the universe all seem to converge and lead you down a certain path. Today was such a day. As you know, I have committed this week to sharing with you my inspirational quotes that have helped guide my career and provide some words of wisdom. So, here is the quote I wanted to share with you today:“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig, you get dirty; and besides, the pig likes it”. George Barnard Shaw.
There are many times during my career that I have had to invoke this quote and use it to restrain myself from making a bad situation worse. Let’s face it – a lot of what we do as leaders is deal with conflicts and challenging people. You have to know when to fight, how to fight, when to negotiate and when to simply walk away. We need a spectrum of skills and behaviors to deal with people on a project team.
Today brought some closure to a drama that started last week. It so happened that I had the opportunity to invoke this very quote, to help one of my friends. The situation was this. This friend, who happens to be a respected program manager (let’s call him Bob) had gotten into a ‘war’ of sorts with one of the leads on the project team (let’s call her Sue). Bob had been expecting Sue to provide a status update at the program meeting. Sue had been blowing off Bob at every opportunity – and sure enough, she was unprepared that day. Not only that, she started questionning the validity of the program meeting and openly implied that Bob was incompetent to run the meetings, saying something like “This meeting is a waste of time. We never get anything done.” Bot retaliated and said “Well the reason we don’t get things moving is people like you are not prepared. We end up going over the same group.” Needless to say, the meeting went downhill from there, with Bob and Sue sparring openly in front of everyone and Sue slamming the door and leaving the meeting. When Bob met me, he was feeling low and I had to draw the story out of him. Basically, he felt he lost control over the meeting by stooping down to fight with Sue in an open forum. He felt he had lost his power as a leader – and in some sense he had. He was embarrassed. He knew this is exactly what Sue wanted and she won the duel by drawing him down to her level. Bob and I spoke about the entire drama. Of course, I had to bring out the quote – and he laughed and said it was quite apt in the circumstance. Today, Bob spoke to Sue privately about the incident and had an open discussion about what is going on and how they can work together. There is no magical resolution as yet – but at least they are talking. That is a first step in making things work. From my personal experience, I have become friends with many of the ‘pigs I have wrestled with’. I think you get more accomplished that way.
So, the moral of this story is don’t wrestle with pigs – there is simply no way you will come out clean from that experience! If you do encounter a ‘pig’, then make it your friend. They are intelligent, and can be trained :-).