The Talent Tariff

Like many places, Washington is a city teeming with competition. Politics, sports, academic credentials, social gatherings, square footage, horsepower, data storage—you name it, and somebody’s trying to outgun you. In many cases, competition can be a healthy thing, but generally speaking, it also involves a perceived win/loss status.


Recently, I spoke with someone who’s involved on the periphery of one of the presidential campaigns. Having sacrificed his time and money to participate, he wanted the experience to be worthwhile. Instead, what he’s observed has been a place where good ideas are quashed, primarily due to a fear from those more entrenched that promoting them would threaten their own position in the firmament. So innovation and ingenuity are snubbed.


Has this ever happened to you? Annoying, isn’t it? But, now I wish to turn the tables: have you ever swept someone else’s idea under the rug, afraid that it might harm your position should the Boss decide that Johnny has more to offer than you do? 


People can have genuine disagreements about what constitutes a good idea, so integrity doesn’t become an issue simply when one person declines to promote another’s initiative. But, what I have a problem with is the paranoids out there who are so afraid of someone else’s contributions that they either bury them or steal the idea and take credit for it themselves.


In more cases than not, it requires a certain amount of courage to advance the inspirations of others. The world is a competitive place and protectionism is coin of the realm—especially when there are more workers than there are jobs. It’s all too easy to understand why people feel threatened, and I appreciate the risks that can sometime accompany drawing favorable attention to a colleague’s contributions, but in the long run, it’s worth it.


Remember that film Pay It Forward? How many times in your life have you been the beneficiary of somebody helping you out when they had little to no reason for doing so? You’re grateful, right? And, in the long run, such actions prove beneficial to everyone impacted. Think of it this way: we all can recognize what’s at stake when a person supports something that isn’t in their own best interest. If we see this, we generally think better of the individual who took that altruistic stance. Should a future problem or opportunity arise, we are more inclined to give that individual the benefit of the doubt, precisely because we recall their selfless generosity. And for those who remain protectionist, well, that has its own negative repercussions.


But back to my friend and his good ideas for the campaign. He wasn’t shocked by the fact that the coordinator didn’t welcome or promote his suggestions; after all, she was an ambitious gung-ho type who had visions of World Domination of her own to advance. But, in the long run, how much more highly would her bosses have thought of her if she had had the goodwill and savvy to recognize and support this fellow’s ideas? Isn’t it possible that her bosses would have seen her in a new light—one of cultivating talent, recognizing that in a world replete with enormous egos and competitive snark, here was a woman who could recognize constructive contribution and not feel threatened? What possibilities might that have led to for her, let alone him?


The next time you’re tempted to enforce your own version of protectionism, take a minute to consider the long term benefits that you might just get out of the deal. Promotion of others isn’t a zero-sum game.


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