On Leadership

Note from Issa: This is a reblog of a post I published roughly two years ago, with reference to a very difficult work environment I was tangled up in at the time. Today I post this piece en homage to my marvelous current manager, who hired me into my lovely current company just over a year and a half ago. He’s just let me know that he’ll be leaving in four months to explore other climes. He’s one of the best I’ve ever known, and I’ll miss him. Here’s to you, MG.

(The Mary Tyler Moore Show photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

A few weeks ago, I started penning a blog entry in my typical pithy style to ramp up for my mid-year review with my manager, a Vice President at my organization and a subject of my occasional venting on this forum over the past several months.  I was expecting a filleting, and I wasn’t disappointed.  However, as I continued to think about how to translate this experience into memoir, the humor faded away, and what I found underneath was a serious-as-a-heart-attack issue that I want to explore here.  That issue is the mishandling of precious human capability and goodwill within the corporate hierarchy.

Like a toddler with a staple gun, the power of management in the hands of those unready to wield it can have a stinging, piercing and damaging effect on an individual with all the skill and earnestness in the world, squelching the good and creating complex-sized issues from the bad.  And it only takes one. A crying shame of this situation is that just one terrible management experience can have a professional effect on an employee that is negative enough to permanently douse a talent that could be extraordinary if put in the proper hands.  The tragically poetic piece Is that because these workers are indeed so conscientious, the thought of flying the coop to regain themselves and claim their growth is a thought they simply would not entertain.  And so, for the good of a company that is not good to them, they sacrifice themselves, both personally as well as professionally.

I am reflected in this pool.  My experience over the last six months has been humiliating, depressing, maddening, ego-shattering and sometimes just lonely.  In contrast to developing as an executive and growing as a professional through my new role, I am at a standstill, and have perhaps even moved down a few notches.  It has been, in all ways, a detriment to my career.

Most of the leadership literature I’ve been researching of late suggests in common a few key anchor points to excellent leadership.  Those are enablement, value, communication of strategy, and respect.  Whether wrapped in motivational terminology or captured within other management concepts or teachings, the mantra across many of these tomes of advice is the same—make someone feel heard, empowered, wanted, appreciated and informed and you have a long-term ally.  Surely, everyone wants to be treated this way.  So why do so many fall down?  I want to share with you how this absence has affected me.

In prior roles I have been both a valuable contributor whose skills and perspectives made a difference, and a caring manager who, though perhaps too permissive, was highly valued as a coach and thought partner. I have worked hard and sometimes become frustrated and overspent, but always understood that what I did was important to my colleagues.  

I took a new job roughly nine months ago, having been recruited out of a role with another company that I enjoyed but in which it was difficult strike a good work/life balance, simply due to where the company was financially and structurally.  More money, a wider role, a time to shut off the BlackBerry every night.  Almost too good to be true?  Not just almost. Two months into my job I began to be bothered by the terse, accusatory communications style my boss used over e-mail.  I had thus far received little feedback of any benefit to my existence at this company, which is important to any new employee, but I definitely knew what I hadn’t done well.  Five months in, I was looking at recruiters.  Six months in, I began taking St. John’s Wort to combat the blues that we’re beginning to set in and the Monday Morning Dread that had taken root.  Seven months in, I bought a homeopathic anti-anxiety spray to help me when I needed it at work.  Eight months in, I hired a therapist to help me work through the depressive-anxiety chip that had made a comfy home on my shoulder.  In all this time, despite earnest effort, I had no inkling that my presence here had been of any value whatsoever, and my manager’s tone of criticism, when combined with that lack of value, pitched me into a sinkhole of depression and self-doubt.  And now I feel trapped.

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