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Crafty and creative

How Lina Echeverria manages geniuses

by on
in Office Politics,Workplace Communication

If you rely on brainpower to get ahead, you’d better have a boss like Lina Echeverria. As a technology director at Corning Inc., she runs a group of 45 glass researchers, including 25 Ph.D. scientists, for this $5 billion company.

WS: You manage creative folks who are paid to think and invent. To what extent do these types of employees need to play office politics?

Echeverria: Some of them play office politics, but that’s not necessarily negative or detrimental to their careers. In any large organization like ours, you need savvy to eliminate barriers, request help and create an efficient network so that you’re not isolated. I encourage my employees to play this type of politics.

WS: But can’t politics be destructive?

Echeverria: If my employees play office politics just to move up, that tells me they lack confidence that their work will stand on its own. They’re acting out of insecurity. So I bring them a sense of understanding of their role. I help them see how their level of influence can be expanded both vertically and horizontally at the company. Remove the insecurity and you reduce the need for the wrong kind of office politics.

WS: If you’re brilliant but bashful, how can you get ahead? Should you assume that your great ideas will speak for themselves and get you promoted?

Echeverria: No! You must let the world know you’re the best. Participate in professional societies, present your work internally [to senior executives], publish articles in journals. And get your boss involved. I tell my employees, “I’m your PR agent.”

WS: What do you think is the smartest way a creative employee can impress the boss?

Echeverria: Performance, performance, performance are the three rules of moving up. A consistent performance not only proves your value, but it gives you a margin of error for those times when you don’t deliver.

WS: How do you handle pressure from above, like when the boss gives you an unreasonably tough deadline?

Echeverria: You rely on your past performance to develop the credibility to say openly, “Yes, this is doable” or “There’s no way we can do this.” I’ve been in both places. You don’t want to try to fool anybody. You just draw upon your experience.

WS: Do you think that a really smart employee will advance faster than a hard worker who’s not as sharp?

Echeverria: It depends on the person’s attitude. Those who have a driving force to accomplish something generate the energy to overcome barriers. When confronted with problems, these people think, “This can be done and I know how to do it” or “This is important and I will open the door to get it done” or “I’ve got to do this.” They know the path they must take, and they take it. They don’t really spend a lot of time judging with their minds; they call upon their intuitive light that leads them to action. That’s what generates the best performance.

WS: But what happens if you’re driven to do something that won’t advance your career?

Echeverria: Don’t worry too much about that. If you only think in terms of “I have to make my mark,” your energy will go into the seeking of reward, not into the making of something that’ll generate that reward.

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