"I am not your Governor." That great line from The Walking Dead rang in my ears as I watched the latest episode, where the bad guy pretends to be reformed and then shows his true colors.
As a leader, this character takes it right out of the nastiest playbook around. His method of "teaming up" consists of murdering his enemies, then flattering and then intimidating a set of minions into doing what he wants.
A true Machiavellian.
In contrast, on this fictional survival show that has a very realistic vibe, good guy leader "Rick" doesn't like doing mean things. He will kill if he has to, but Rick established his leadership position by empowering people and working as a team.
Here's another example, because this plot line is a staple.
Remember Melrose Place? That quintessential '90s show gave us Heather Locklear in rare form as the scheming ad agency exec "Amanda" - a lying, scheming, manipulative but well-dressed ad exec who always got her way.
Meanwhile, arch-rival "Alison," who represented goodness, could only stand around and watch.
In the movies and in real life, there are people who pretend to collaborate with you, but their idea of teaming up is sociopathic.
Their mindset is: "I win-you lose."
You can tell when you're around these types, because you feel really bad afterward. It's almost as if you've been poisoned.
And the worst part of it is, you can't get away from helping them, right?
After all, we're in a service economy.
Your job ultimately depends on how well you provide information, move the project forward, and generally add value to achieve a desired result.
So how do you deal with the schemers of this world? How do you prevent them from using you, and walking away with all the credit?
Here are a couple of thoughts:
1. Practice "preventive networking." Build relationships with people in advance, so that they know who really has the expertise.
2. Trust your instincts. While it's noble to believe that people are really good at heart, remember that not everyone is as enlightened as you. Don't be afraid to discuss your concerns with a trusted colleague if someone appears to be milking you for information. (Personally I have found that most people want to collaborate in a genuine way, as long as their part is acknowledged. But the bad apples are very bad, and silently poisonous.)
3. Check your self-esteem. Some people have issues around the concept of being self-promotional, and they think that taking credit for good work means that they are "bad." Not at all. It's a simple factual statement - here's what I do, here's how it helps, how can I help you?
4. Know when to let it go. There are many times when the success of a project depends on dispersion of credit, or assignment to someone other than the person who had the original idea. This is just the way of the world. If you focus on results and support the team, people will actually appreciate you more because the truth tends to become apparent despite attempts to distort or mischaracterize it.
5. Keep a record. It is really as simple as sending yourself an email, saving documents you've worked on, notes you've scribbled, presentations you've made. If you were part of a team, being in on the meetings counts a lot! Write down what you did, what you said, how it mattered. The truth is that you are judged on the quality of the projects you've executed, so these notes can help you with your resume down the road.
At the end of the day collaboration is important. But it only works well when everybody comes to the table in good faith.
Otherwise, sure, you can get a project done. In the short-term.
In the long-term, people just don't want to get baited again. And that bad, rusty taste lingers in the mouth, of when you bit the bait and go taken, hook line and sinker.
* All opinions my own.