Is It Wrong to Have a Personal Agenda at Work?

I remember chairing a project meeting several years ago. My teammates got on a riff about not wanting to work with a particular person because that person had their own personal agenda. Perish the thought.

I let them go on for a while. Then I said, "I don't know if you realize it, but I have my own personal agenda too. In fact, it runs everything I do." The room became silent.

How a personal agenda can work against you.

My team went on to discuss what having a "personal agenda" meant and how we interpret it in a negative way.

The term "personal agenda" can be shorthand for the person who:

  • Throws others under the bus in order to advance
  • Flatters the boss insincerely to get what they want
  • Embellishes their abilities to get an assignment
  • Claims credit for a team accomplishment when others did the work
  • Signs up for a project expecting to look good (or get close to higher-ups)

Those are just a few examples we came up with in thinking about how we disdain a personal agenda. When someone goes after their goals and it doesn’t look like what we would do, we can be skeptical and judgmental.

Is it such a bad thing?

Even if the term personal agenda has come to have a negative connotation, let's consider:

  • Is it wrong? Not always. Yet acting on your personal agenda may come across as being self-centered and self-serving.
  • Is it wrong for your agenda to be different than others? This can allow for some valuable, different perspectives to surface.
  • Is it wrong to drive your own personal agenda at work? Organizations need people with a variety of motivations.

No matter what our reasons for our own personal agenda, we have to be aware of how it affects the organization and our ability to collaborate with or lead others.

The fallout of having a personal agenda

When my teammates recovered from my revelation we talked about when a personal agenda works. It can work for you, the organization, and others. Your agenda can coincide with organization goals. What if it's part of what it takes to get your job done?

My agenda is to make the workplace a better place for everyone to work. I happened to be in HR then. There was an obvious fit. Yet, you’ve got to keep an eye on yourself. Make sure your personal agenda works for others too.

Caution! Personal agenda ahead

Around that same time, one of my project team members warned me about another team member. She said all he wanted to do was get in my good graces, make a name for himself, and use me to do so.

I already knew that. I also knew he had the skills to get a particular job done. I was going to let him do it. No harm, no foul.

I didn’t mind being used. I also knew I would give him credit for what he did, but nothing more. If I had been a more mature leader at that time I would have used my Dale Carnegie Human Relations training. Give him a reputation to live up to. For instance, I could have emphasized when he did act like a team player.

I'm fortunate that my corporate job happened to pay me to pursue my personal agenda. At the same time, self-reflection and seeking feedback is important when you face a moment like I did. Do I tell them or don’t I? My team’s reaction made me examine my own motives and decide if I was being the person I aspired to be.

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