Art of Projection

A major weapon in the hands of the corporate manager is the art of projection. In simple terms, it is the skill to extend, extrapolate and project simple facts (and non-facts!) to project the desired image, often resulting in stunningly sensational impressions.

Anyone, and everyone, who has been part of the corporate world would have seen from close quarters how a manager projects his subordinate’s ideas as his/her own. Whether it is a simple but effective change to the design of a key product of the company or a brilliant improvement in the processing of accounts payables, the ‘savvy’ manager is quick to project that he/she is the brain behind the idea.

Then there is the leader who constantly uses narratives like, “we built this company from scratch”, “my team is my family”, “all my people are owners of the business” conveying an impression of equality in ownership, power and responsibility. The reality in the organization could well be that the power, wealth and decision-making power are fully centralized with the leader while the ‘family members’ are merely required to follow orders.

The ingenuity with which certain past events are projected by corporate executives is nothing short of spectacular. Take for instance, the Vice President who tells his (unsuspecting) audience at the customers’ meeting, “I was really at the cross roads 20 years ago – having to choose between pursuing a career in corporate law in New York versus joining a startup in Phoenix. I decided to forgo the lucrative law profession with a high, six figure salary in favor of following my heart and joined the startup, living out of a garage!”. The fact would have been that he had no job and his personal friend bailed him out by letting him work in his (the friend’s) company.

Another popular variation of the projection game is coordination. The task of coordination can be quickly turned into one of skillfully inserting oneself into various situations, projects and meetings. This is obviously easier when you are at a reasonably high level in the organization structure. You could place yourself into various committees, swat teams, governing bodies, etc., with the hope (and intention!) that there would be others who can and will do the actual work. Your main focus will be on how to speak out about the status and progress of work being done (by others) in front of people who matter, such as your senior management and customers. If you do this really smartly, your own team members will also start believing that you are actually contributing!

One of the most effective ways of projecting your prowess is to answer every question that comes up during a discussion (with customers, business partners and other external entities) and pretending to be able to get anything done within your organization – usually by throwing various colleagues under the proverbial bus. Committing to unreasonable, if not downright impossible, schedules with a client, giving away free services, usually in the name of building a better relationship, and even giving away sensitive and confidential information are all variations of the theme of positioning – more like posturing – yourself and your (doubtful) importance!