A couple of weeks ago a friend of mine, a mentor actually, posted an uncharacteristically political news item on Facebook: Harper’s communication unit bigfoots Parks Canada news conference
Since when did “bigfoot” become a transitive verb? Apparently, since 1980 when it came to be used by journalists to describe someone who steals a big story from a lower ranking colleague. So what happened? In a nutshell, the Privy Council removed the name of the federal agency responsible for national parks from a public event announcing the creation of one – replacing it with the term “Harper Government” instead.
Now, I am not naive enough to believe that the manipulation of public events for political gain is somehow unusual. But to take credit for work you didn’t do? Well, it seems disingenuous at best.
So why am I bringing this up with Mother Sugar? We don’t normally talk politics here but we do talk about what we hope for and expect from life, from each other, and ourselves. And, I have to say, though I feel a bit naive admitting it, I expect more.
These people are supposed to represent me, my values, my interests, even my identity abroad. I find national politics exhausting at the best of times but I am not so jaded as to think it does not matter. Every government must maintain their public reputation. But how good is that reputation if transparency threatens it?
I am no longer surprised when publicly funded scientists are not permitted to release their findings without government approval. Or when the Parliamentary Budget Officer is required to oversee government expenditures but only insofar as he is “discreet” about his findings. Or when the government spends 21 million dollars on an advertising campaign to tell me the Economic Action Plan is working then closes an internationally significant freshwater research facility to save 2 million dollars. They claimed they were seeking a new operator for the facility, but it appears they were doing no such thing.
In my workplace, I do not have the luxury of manipulating information in this way to serve my interests. My reputation is based upon whether I achieve deliverables. No one listens to me because of my job title. If I want to be taken seriously, I have to prove I am worth listening to. That means having good ideas, stating them clearly, and being respectful even if I think a colleague can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees. I have to take responsibility for the consequences of my decisions even when that draws attention to my mistakes. And I can’t take sole credit for any success that involves the work of many, not if I ever expect their help again, which I regularly need. I get paid relatively well for the work that I do, but if I hope to have influence in my workplace, I must work for it. Some days, it is the toughest part of my job and I am regularly unsuccessful. I think that’s why I take it so personally when people in positions of power (who get paid a lot more than I do) behave in ways that I simply cannot. Not if I hope to have integrity anyway.
When I think back on the people I’ve worked for, I have rarely reported to someone of genuine influence who did not consider relationships to be the primary currency of transaction in the workplace. They did not seek to be liked. They made unpopular decisions yet always sought to understand and be understood. They gave credit where credit was due. They demanded much from themselves and others but always in the service of a larger goal, and they rallied others around this mission. Public profile was a product of a job well done, and not an end goal. Even if their job titles or pay scales gave them the power to manipulate information or people, they understood that the ends do not always justify the means.
As I watch my political leaders manipulate and obfuscate in order to achieve political ends, I’ll admit. I’m disappointed. I am also disturbed because it also seems to work. We have a majority government and relatively high approval ratings. In politics appearances are reality and you get fired if people don’t like you. Am I being unrealistic to expect politicians to be held to such a high standard when the contexts in which we work are, admittedly, rather different?
To what extent does being successful in politics – or in life for that matter – require pulling political strings? When does strategy become manipulation? When am I a myth-maker working in service of a higher good… and when am I just Bigfoot?