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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Times You Should Be Selfish at Work

The recent spate of bad news (and bad behavior) in the financial industry is loaded with stories of arrogant, nasty people who knowingly profited at the expense of others during the run-up to the financial crisis.

Consider the notorious leadership at Lehman Brothers Holdings. Even though managers were warned repeatedly of the risks of their dicey loan practices and impending doom, they chose to respond with arrogance, believing Lehman was an impenetrable fortress. But by September 2008, that fortress had crumbled. Retirement accounts were in tatters, while Lehman leaders profited, gaining hundreds of millions of dollars. The only thing they cared about, it seemed, was Lehman.

You certainly don’t want to hold these managers up as role models or adopt most of the characteristics they exhibited.

Surprisingly, however, there are situations at work in which it can benefit you—and the people around you—to be arrogant and self-serving. Here are three.

1. Get Arrogant About Your Time

Research shows two out of three professionals feel overwhelmed at work. For too many, the solution is simply to work more—and work on more things.

Longer hours and multi-tasking won’t solve this problem. Instead, it would benefit you to be more arrogant about your time.

To start, look at your “yes” habit. If you say yes to everything others ask of you, you’re valuing their priorities over yours and teaching them not to respect your time. So, start learning to say no to the things that don’t deserve your time.

Second, stick to the time limits you’ve committed to. Have you ever been in a meeting or on a call and seen the clock creeping past the scheduled end time? That shouldn’t be OK with you. Hold others accountable to respecting your time. When the time you’ve allotted is up, excuse yourself and leave. By doing so, you’ll teach others that you respect your own time—and expect them to respect it, as well.

Finally, make others tell you why they want your time. The great thing about technology is that we can share things like calendars. The bad thing about technology is it presents our time as share-ware, available to all for any reason. It’s not!

When others schedule meetings with me, I want to know ahead of time what the purpose, agenda, and intended outcome of the meeting is. Only when I clearly see those things and vet the priority of a meeting will I agree to it.

Your time is a finite, non-replenishing resource. You don’t give your money away without expecting something in return. Why would you do the same with your time?

2. Get Arrogant About Your Priorities

Have you ever been busy, busy, busy all day—then left work thinking, “Oy, I didn’t get any work on the big project done.” Then, you start negotiating with yourself to stay late tomorrow or head in to the office on the weekend.

Each day, you’re overwhelmed with the amount of stuff constantly flying at you: email, texts, instant messages, and more. The thing is, by letting this stream of information capture your attention, you lose sight of your most important work—the key priorities you need to achieve in your job in order to be successful.

When that happens, it’s time to get some arrogance on.

Start with some simple productivity techniques. Don’t look at social media or email until you’ve done work on your biggest priority first thing in the day. Use the early hours (or whatever your most productive time of the day is) to focus on priority work—and when you do, turn off all your incoming notifications. And before you start any task, ask yourself, “Is this going to help me make progress on my top three priorities today?” If the answer is no, shuffle the plan.

If someone approaches you with a request, avoid saying you don’t have time for it (no one wants to hear how busy you are). Instead, say, “That’s not a critical priority for me right now.” With a simple shift, you’ve claimed ownership of your work.

When you’re focused on your most important work, you’ll leave work feeling much more productive every day.

3. Get Arrogant About Making Your Boss Successful

When my client Casey told me about some issues she was having with her boss, I’ll admit—she had some legitimate gripes about his behavior. But she had clearly forgotten one super important concept: Her boss hired her because he believed she could make him more successful. She just had to adopt that same sense of pride.

It’s a vital point to remember in any workplace. No matter the quality of your boss-subordinate relationship, you were hired as an agent in the pursuit of your manager’s success. So instead of carping about your boss (no matter how annoying he may be), start asking him what you can do to make him more successful this week, this month, or this quarter.

Yes, that requires some arrogance. Taking on the responsibility for your boss’ success can feel a little pretentious (essentially, you’re saying, “Without me, you wouldn’t succeed”)—but it will benefit you both in big ways.

Trust me, your boss will love your newfound self-importance on his or her behalf and the resulting success that comes from it—and so will you.

There aren’t very many times you want to assume an air of arrogance as you pursue your career goals. But in these three areas, you’d be well advised to start spinning a sense of self-importance and setting some clear boundaries.

Photo of woman putting hand out courtesy of Shutterstock.