Making Everyone Else Wrong Does Not Make You Right (or Successful) in Business and at Work

In recent memory, I believe the rapper Kanye West perfectly illustrates the very slippery slope of making everyone else wrong in a misguided attempt to make yourself right (and theoretically, successful) in business and at work.

Here’s how MTV reported the incident the day after the 2009 MTV Video Awards:

“This year, Kanye West picked the beginning of the Video Music Awards to deliver one of his famous rants.

The rapper stormed the stage just after the first award, for Best Female Video, was presented to Taylor Swift. He cut the teen singer off, grabbing the mic and protesting in support of Beyoncé. 

“I’m sorry, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time,” he proclaimed as B looked on from the crowd, stunned.

During the 2007 VMAs in Las Vegas, West delivered another rant and lost his temper after he was displeased with his performance being set inside a hotel suite rather than on the show’s main stage.

‘Ye’s rants are usually in support of his own work. He memorably took the stage at the American Music Awards in 2004, declaring he was robbed of the Best New Artist nod.

His protest against Swift, however, was not well received. West stood briefly on the stage after his comments as the crowd was silent. Audience members then began to clap in support of Swift after West left the stage.

According to reports from inside the house, once cameras cut away from the action, West flipped off the crowd and returned to his seat. Wale then said to the crowd, “You can’t blame a man for speaking his mind.” His words were met with boos, and Wale then said, “Kanye, I tried.” During the next commercial break, Pink walked by the rapper and appeared to shake her head in disgust before security escorted her away. West remained steadfast amidst the commotion as he kissed his girlfriend Amber Rose.”  

West was also seen openly drinking from a bottle of scotch on the red carpet before the event.  Swift, to her credit, displayed resiliency in the face of such public adversity to perform live as part of the MTV awards program right after West’s outburst.

Later in the MTV awards program, Beyoncé, also to her credit, used her discretionary spotlight power to invite Taylor Swift back up to the stage to bask in the glow of her award, uninterrupted.

West’s spontaneous rant and subsequent reputational fallout is the extreme end of this cautionary-tale spectrum.  However, there are milder, yet just as insidious and reputationally-risky examples of making everyone else wrong to make yourself right in business and at work:

  • Repeatedly and publicly correcting your colleagues in front of a large group;
  • Publicly criticizing the performance of your colleagues, especially in contrast to your own (self-perceived) superior performance;
  • Reprimanding your subordinates in front of their peers;
  • Blaming your subordinates for failures / mistakes (rather than taking responsibility for the failures / mistakes of your team, as their leader);
  • Saving feedback for your subordinates’ annual performance reviews, rather than giving them contemporaneous feedback to give them an opportunity to improve and grow professionally;
  • Complaining about your colleagues to your organization’s leadership (instead of dealing directly with your colleagues yourself);
  • Complaining about your customers (or managers or colleagues) in social media;
  • Publicly questioning the competency of your colleagues (while lifting up your own competency).

Making others wrong to make yourself right in business and at work is not only a risky reputational proposition, it is also the same abusive assertion of power as workplace harassment or bullying, with its accompanying lower level of emotional intelligence.  The goal is the same:  to diminish the power of others in order to give yourself (the illusion) of positional power. For that reason, the net result of making others wrong is consistently a lose-lose proposition.

What if that same energy were used to continue to discover the authentic intersection of talent, passion and market value in ourselves and in our colleagues, rather than wasting energy, time and talent making others wrong in business and at work?

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