Gaming The System

If you are facing what appears to be an impossible, unworkable work environment, it’s natural to believe that the only way to make things better is to change the system. You might believe that your only option is to leave. You might wonder if a new boss would solve all of the problems.

As if ego, insecurity and agendas are new concepts.

Barack Obama believed that his ascent to the presidency was the event that would open the door. He and his intimate circle believed that finally, change was possible.

Obama’s pleas for bipartisan cooperation evaporated when his health-care plan was passed with only Democratic support. This was not change at all – it was one side of the aisle beating another.

Look what happened. The Tea Party gained steam.  Republicans girded for unequivocal opposition to everything Obama and the Democrats floated. The budget deal went to hell.

The President has changed his rhetoric, if you’ve paid the slightest bit of attention. On the campaign trail, Obama now speaks in an “us versus them” lexicon now. There isn’t much hope and change in those speeches anymore.

The lesson the President learned was this – he can’t change the system right now. He’s going to have to game it.

Let’s assume you have a job you love, or at least mostly enjoy. The work you do is fulfilling and gratifying.  Here’s your problem – you have a dreadful or incompetent boss. Maybe the company culture is toxic and intimidating.  You are working in a poisoned ecosystem.

For many millions of us, this is not only unusual, it’s the norm.

We have two instant reactions; we can quit, or we can attempt to change things.

Or you can work the system.

Don’t sigh with resignation yet – it’s not as hard as you think.

When you understand your boss’s motivations, it’s easier to stay under the radar. Are they corporate suck-ups, climbing the ladder with blind ambition? Are they incompetent and attempting to cover up their inadequacies? Are they inept at handling otherwise small crises, blowing them up, forcing the team to take its eye off the ball for a day or two?

Many times otherwise kind and sweet people torment their teams unknowingly. When you know what their motivation is, you’ll be able to feed that monster more efficiently.

Here are four savvy ways to get your boss to adopt your ideas.

Unless you are the kind of person who needs acknowledgement and praise at every turn, you can indeed advance good schemes and great ideas within the current structure – if you’re willing to understand your audience.



Consider this as well; do you honestly believe that your boss’s manager doesn’t see through some of their bullshit? We assume that our bosses manage up perfectly, that whatever they say to their superiors is considered gospel. No. Perhaps your manager’s sucking up to their managers is advantageous to them, for any number of reasons. They likely know the score. We don’t have to point it out.

Your work, your day-to-day progress, and your ideas almost always circle back to you. Your quiet confidence in your abilities, and your savvy at being sensitive to your manager’s warts (and emotional needs) makes you valuable to the boss and a great asset to your company.

You are also showing the higher-ups you can game the system and create accomplishment without making it all about you.

It’s not always our boss’s fault. We are perfectly imperfect humans as well. We have tics, tendencies and faults as well. We probably do things to our managers that drive them nuts at times. Accept that, most of the time, it’s a brief annoyance and it goes away.

Can you imagine a more complicated and bizarre work environment than the federal government? There are many people who create happiness and fulfillment by gaming the system, working the channels and bringing home a nice check in return.

Bosses are people too. Most of the time they do the things they do not because they are inherently evil – sometimes they just don’t know any better. Try to walk a mile in their shoes. Your ability to predict and solve problems for your boss will go a long way toward both of you being happier, without creating major upheaval for a company culture too big to reinvent.

Sometimes we might have to fall on our sword to fix problems. It’s like a shot at the doctor’s office – it’s a brief pinch, but it gets better. It gets better because you are competent. It gets better because you are good at what you do.

Others are watching. I bet they too know what’s really going on. They’ll admire your humility, knowing it’s not about the drama of the moment.

It’s about the road ahead.


John Scott is the career services manager, national online learning coordinator and a media instructor at the School of Multimedia Communications, Academy of Art University, San Francisco. He also counsels clients and groups on the art of reinvention. His debut book Broken Glass and Barbed Wire will be released soon. Follow John on Twitter @johnscottsf.








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