Is It Wrong to Have a Personal Agenda at Work?
June 28, 2017
Mary C. Schaefer
TopicsAuthentic, Character, influence, Purpose, Self Development
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.
As always, being as honest as possible is often a good way to make sure everyone knows what to expect from one another.
Thanks for commenting, Andrea.
Right on, Mary!
The trick is to make sure your agenda is mutually beneficial to you, your sphere of influence and your organization. When it is, it’s a win for everyone.
But, when your agenda is at the expense of others, that’s a recipe for a win-lose.
Thanks Alan. Your words lead me to think about how many of us start with good intentions, and sometimes it gets out of hand. For some reason, the mad scientist character comes to mind – the one who will do anything for the purpose of proving her or his hypothesis. There have been so many movies that show us the story of a positive personal agenda gone wrong and good intentions evolved into something unhelpful or even destructive. Your points are right on! Let’s not be mad scientists. (I threw that in there because you tend to like novel analogies 😉
I love this article. It reveals the important points relevant to creating an environment that builds great teams. One question I ask of my motives when working with a team is, “Who is this good for?”
Jane, that is an AMAZING question. Thank you for sharing it!