Blame yourself: First look inside for source of trouble

Even though I rarely report about the letters I receive from readers, I do receive many. Almost all are thoughtful and intelligent, and the mail influences what I write about. Many times I answer questions directly, but today I'm going to answer a question here.

This particular woman is a PhD hired to do research and present numbers to a company’s board of directors. The letter is longer than one sentence, but the gist is that the board was getting inaccurate numbers from a less-qualified person, so they hired a PhD to make sure the information was accurate.

The problem is that the board is frustrated by her inability to come up with a way to present numbers that the board likes. My correspondent is frustrated by the board's need to have numbers that are not exactly what she comes up with. After all, wasn't she hired to come up with the truth?

I look at the letter and say to myself, why is this her fault? She should face reality: she’s not going to make a board– or a boss– change. The people who write letters to me are generally having trouble with people who are not going to change. So there's no point in saying, "Wow, you sure do work with difficult people.” Or, worse yet, "Yes. This is a very bad situation. You should quit. That'll really teach your company a lesson.”

The best advice I can give is a way the person with the problem can solve the problem herself. In this case, she needs to recognize that she has an impossible job. There's a reason why very few PhDs are CEOs. The former is all about detail and accuracy. The latter is all about big-picture and spin. Not that both titles don't require big picture and accuracy, but very few people can focus on big picture and accuracy at the same time.

This woman is probably never going to be able to re-jigger numbers for public relations spin. My first advice would be for her to give the numbers to a public relations person before the numbers go to the board. But maybe she really wants to step up and deliver the numbers herself in a way the board wants.

In truth, people who can juggle details and the big-picture go very far in corporate life. So maybe she can do this, but then she needs to stop complaining about what the board wants and learn to deliver it. Let the board decide if it's proper.

But let's take a step back– because almost all of my "What should I do?" emails from readers are like this one. When you have a problem with how other people in the office are treating you, figure out how you can change. When you have a problem with how people want you to do your job, change your approach or change your job description, but don't blame others for what they want. This is not going to get you anywhere.

People in corporate life are promoted for their ability to take control of a problem and solve it. If you can’t take control of problems in your own job, you’re not going to persuade people you can take care of corporate problems. So on some level, you have to look at your problems like I would look at your problems: Blame yourself first.
Penelope Trunk has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's too busy to write her column, so this advice is reprinted from an earlier edition of the Hook.