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  • Writer's pictureAstutely Obtuse Staff Writer

Quick Takes | Responding to Your Questions

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

Alright fine! We’re taking your suggestions/questions and responding to them. Freakin’ happy?

I’m a product owner who has had my role slowly chipped away until I am now only responsible for communicating the status of work to the business. I would love to see an article that deals with responding to a VP of the PMO who is slowly destroying the project team.

Oof, that is a rough place to be in. Without any further detail into your situation, it’s difficult to directly address why your responsibilities are being slowly eroded. I can say that there is a growing problem among many project teams of a consolidation of power. What this typically looks like is someone slowly getting their hands into a little bit of everything, and then pushing people out. So, if you, as a PO, are responsible for the design and strategic implementation of future work, and suddenly someone else is stepping in and saying that they will handle the strategic portion of the work, and then they say that they will also handle the communication with executives, and then it’s handling the direct communication of issues and requests… eventually, your job becomes a glorified stenographer, repeating what was said in the standup that morning.

It's something I saw in a previous organization, and after leaving it just got worse. Unfortunately, I’m here to tell you that there is no fixing it. Frequently the one who is trying to consolidate that power is doing so because they have someone with more power supporting their actions. My suggestion, polish and update your resume.

- Cap'n Monkey

I feel like there is some nuance that is lost in your post. The work you did as a PO has to still be done by someone, or so I would think. If the work is now being handled by a manager, then there is an issue of over-management. If the work is being handled by a different member of the project team then you might ask your manager if there is something you are doing wrong. Depending on how they respond you might reach out to a recruiter and start looking for a new job as a PO somewhere else.

- Mike

Hi, this is a fantastic question and one that I think a lot of people are experiencing. There have been a few studies that have suggested that working in a dispersed (remote) team environment has pushed managers to be more commanding/dictatorial/directing. That is, they are less supportive of the team, and much more controlling and directing of the team. This could be the case if it has occurred since your organization began working from home as a result of the pandemic.

There is also the possibility that there have been challenges to your leadership team by higher management. Managers can be pushed to a point where we begin seeing traits related to the “dark triad.” Notably, we see aspects of Machiavellianism (self-centered behavior, manipulation/exploitation, and a loss of morals), and psychopathy (unemotional responses, antisocial-behavior, callous behavior towards team members). Personally, I believe that it’s related to something that most people have to a certain degree (the third part of the triad), narcissism. To some extent, everyone is going to demonstrate pride and egotism, even if it’s very mild. As they are stressed and put under significant pressure from their leaders, the underlying narcissism begets Machiavellianism and psychopathy. From a psychology standpoint, there are a lot of things underlying the issue you are having. If you have a good enough relationship with your manager, talk to them and ask why you have been given fewer responsibilities. If you don’t, then it’s probably best to look for another position within your company, or look for something somewhere else. So sorry to hear you are going through this (much love!)

- Christina

Hay Mike, I have a question for you. I’ve painted myself into a pickle. I had been applying for a PM position at the company I work for (architectural design firm) for years. I finally got the job because they liked how I took initiative to make sure everyone was always the best they could be. I’ve now been in the PM position for almost two years and have become responsible for the growth and mentorship of every single person on the active project team, and frequently for ongoing mentorship of members I worked with before. I’m exhausted at this point. I’m putting in 80 hours a week because I feel like I can’t tell my team that I can’t continue to mentor them all the time. As a former pastor, how did you handle mentoring the church staff and pastors, plus people within the parish?

Fuuuuuuuuuuuccccckkkkkkkkkkkk……. Thaaaaaaaatttttttt.

- Mike

Just kidding, I have more to say. In a previous article, I wrote about the difference between servant leadership and steward leadership. It’s something that has always interested me because we consider being a servant to be bad, but when it comes to leadership it’s good, that seems wrong to me. I spend a bit of time on LinkedIn, and something I’ve seen a rise in is the people posting the inspirational “be a good leader and you’ll change the world” type shit. I will tell you, that mentality will burn you out very quickly.

The first thing is first, understand that you are responsible for providing a safe work environment for those under you, but are in no way responsible for their well-being. A good leader will take this into consideration, but only (and I stress ONLY!) once you have ensured that you are in a safe environment and are managing your well-being.

The second thing is (and I’m cribbing quite a bit from the Cap'n's response, sorry Cap'), be lazy, embrace the laziness, love the laziness, it will help you, I promise. As a senior pastor, the first thing I did was pair the staff with others. The underlying reason was that iron sharpens iron, but only if the iron is strong, right? Rusted, busted-up iron isn’t going to sharpen a damn thing. Likewise, being burned out means you’ve rusted. Pairing people off provided me with a break, and allowed the other pastors to continue to grow and strengthen themselves and others, which was what I really wanted to see.

Good luck and take care of yourself.

- Mike

Christina, what got you interested in I/O Psychology? What school would you recommend one go to, to get a degree in I/O Psych? What kind of jobs can one get with an MA in I/O Psych?

Hello, my inquisitive friend! I got into I/O psychology as a result of a really bad job. The restaurant I worked at was terrible. The owner was terrible, the other kitchen staff was mostly terrible, the waitstaff abused the heck out of everyone, it was absolutely the worst. I worked the brunch shift on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Every single Saturday, at exactly 1:15 the former owner, an 80+-year-old gentleman would come in and order a plain hamburger with mustard, and a grilled chicken thigh with raw broccoli (we didn’t serve either of these things). The story behind it goes back to when he owned the restaurant. Every day, he and his wife would have the same meal when they had some downtime. A plain hamburger with mustard, a grilled chicken thigh, and raw broccoli. When I served him, he never touched the thigh, since that was his wife’s meal. She had passed a number of years earlier, but he kept the tradition alive. He would tell me stories of his and his wife’s adventures, what the restaurant used to be like, and how much he missed her. I stayed, because of one customer.

I thought it was kind of weird, so I started looking into why I would stay in a miserable job, just because I liked one customer. I stumbled on I/O psychology and various case studies that explained why I would put up with that. I fell in love with it.

As far as schools, I would do a search and look at recommended programs. I highly recommend USC or a program at a University of California campus, but I’m also very biased. One of my professors obtained her graduate degree from Harvard and she said that it wasn’t worth it; that the breadth of what you learn at a state school was so much greater than what she learned at Harvard, so take that as you will.

As far as jobs go, management, HR, and various leadership roles would all be possible options. However, I will let you in on the greatest secret in business: very few people are going to care what your degree is in, only that you have a degree. Channel your inner BSer, and argue how your degree will benefit the company you apply for.

Also, keep in mind that you can’t call yourself a psychologist unless you have a board certification in many (if not all) states.

- Christina

Christina, what the fuck does je vous souhaite la sante, le bonheur, et la prosperite mean? Why do you include so much stuff in French? Why do you always start with compliments?

Aw, I’m sad you didn’t try Google translate or anything.

Je vous souhaite la santé, le bonheur, et la prospérité means I wish you (plural) health, happiness, and prosperity. It’s one of the earliest things I remember as a girl learning French. There was a movie where a character said that as a form of toast, and I absolutely loved the message.

I lived and trained as a chef in France for several years. I love it. I have nothing but amazing memories of my time in Paris, Marseille, and Montpellier. I have made a lot of amazing friends in France, many of whom I have kept in contact with. There is so much of my heart that has stayed in France, and it tends to spill out when I am talking to people.

As far as starting with compliments go, what’s wrong with telling people how amazing they are? A while back, I was in an awful place emotionally. Strangely, what pulled me out of it was a YouTuber, who signed off all of her videos with “I love you whether you are new or old.” Call it a parasocial relationship, but there was something about it that reached me, in a way that others at the time didn’t. I realized that sometimes you just need to hear someone tell you that you’re amazing and appreciated, even if that someone is a personality on a website you kill time on. If I can find a way to reassure someone who is down on themselves by telling them that they are loved, then I’ll do that all day, every day.

- Christina

Ay-yo Pastor Mike! What one thing do you feel you learned in seminary that has made you successful in business?

I took a theological survey course. The idea behind it is to gain a basic understanding of the tenets of Christianity. My professor for the course was amazing. The one thing that I learned was that a lot of what we believe as being foundational and biblical is nowhere to be found in the bible. The professor stressed that this didn’t negate these tenets in any way. In fact, it teaches us that we are always open to new revelations. At the time, I found it enlightening and kinda beautiful (in a strange way).

In business, it’s very easy to lose the details in the big picture. Those in the C-suite love to quote the latest greatest book from some entrepreneur on how things are supposed to be run. These books might be right, but if we are doing something that isn’t directly quoted from the book a bad thing. Does it suddenly negate everything from that inspirational work? Not at all. It means that you are growing, open to revelations, and getting better.

Theological survey wasn’t just about learning the tenets of Christianity, it was about taking apart those tenets and determining why they are tenets; where did they come from; why do we still do them. Likewise, in business, you should always be looking at the principles of your business. Figure out why things are done the way they are; why did this even become a thing; if you should update this to align it with new revelations.

- Mike


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