Protect yourself from scene stealer

Dear Joan:

I am relatively new to my position (1-year) and I work in a high tech industry. I have a peer who works with me on a variety of projects (he's been here two years) and here is where the problem comes in.                   

He is a scene stealer-always using big, buzz words to "wow" the higher ups and making sure he gets credit for things. The problem is that he doesn't have very good follow- through on projects and in actuality, is more talk than action. He is very political and this drives me crazy. I end up doing some of his work and when I have to pick up the pieces I become furious. He just goes on his smiling way, kissing up to all the executives.  

I hesitate to talk to our manager because I am afraid I'll look like "sour grapes." In the meantime, my attitude toward my co-worker is getting very cool. Can I take any action without hurting my standing with my boss and the people in the company I do projects for?  

Political animals tend to show their stripes over time and I will bet your co-worker will eventually be found out. You may not even be aware of how much your boss and clients already know. Most people are wary of people who snow them with $25 dollar words when ten cent ones will do. The irony is that the harder he tries to impress them the phonier he'll look.

Often, people who are trying this hard are secretly very worried that they're not measuring up. These impostors either don't have what it really takes to perform or are operating under the assumption that it is only who you know, not what you know that counts. They spend more time strategizing than acting and can get very threatened when they feel someone has discovered their game. Your co-worker may even stoop to dirty politics if he feels it could help him advance. In other words, be careful.  

By the same token, don't let him dump all over you and then steal the credit. The trick will be to remain objective and cool about how to get the credit that is due you.  

One way to do this is continue to perform exceptionally well for your clients. If you are doing things for them that they aren't even aware of, make sure you mention what you are doing or keep them updated by memo, with a copy to your boss. Don't be shy about passing on compliments you receive to your boss.  

If you find that you are picking up the pieces your co-worker doesn't complete, you are helping to cause the problem. You are making it easier for him to slack off. Smoke him out by being "too busy" with your own half of the project to bail him out.  

Make sure you're protected by being crystal clear about who is supposed to do what before beginning a project. It wouldn't hurt to summarize this in a memo to your client, upfront. This will force him to complete his share or be discovered.  

Writing memos about what you both have agreed to do and updates about your progress may seem like an unnecessary nuisance but it will not only give you credit in a subtle way but will make you feel that you are taking constructive action to protect yourself. It will also give you a positive way to manage your resentment.  

If this problem persists, you may also want to ask your boss some "naive" questions. Questions such as, "I'm not clear about who is supposed to be doing this part of the project. I thought I was only supposed to do the research, not write the report. Did I get that mixed up?" This will give your manager an opportunity to intervene and you won't look like a "tattle-tale."  

It may be difficult for you to be a team player with your co-worker. Keep in mind that there may be times when you should help him out. The flip side is that you shouldn't hesitate to ask him for help if you should need it.  

Don't bad mouth him to your boss and be careful who you complain to about him. Above all, don't try to find ways to make him look bad to your clients. Clients don't want to know about any personal problems you're having. They only care about results. You will look unprofessional and petty if you try to get them involved and the credibility of your entire unit will suffer.  

In the end, excellent performance, assertive management of your projects and professionalism will speak the truth for you. 

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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