Gina started her third job out of college. She had about 4 years professional experience, and hoped this was for the long-term. She was excited to be hired in a position where she could make decisions with a small team, instead of being told what to do every day.
On her first day, she introduced herself as the new Program Manager. Her colleagues were open and friendly. At the end of the week, Gina was scheduled for a private meeting with her new boss and spent all her time gathering information and creating a game plan. She was excited and nervous. Could she bring significant value to the company? Yes! Would her boss appreciate her limited but global experience? She hoped so.
Gina knew this meeting would set the tone for their future. She was wise to know this and entered the room standing straight, making eye contact and holding her hand open for a strong handshake. Her new boss offered her a seat and began with the usual: finding your way, need anything, etc.
Then they got down to business and Gina’s boss began to paint a very different picture of the company she had just entered. She told Gina “keep your head down. If we do that, everything will work perfectly.” Basically, to Gina, it sounded like, “Just do what I say…”
The appropriate red flags were flying. You know, like with couples, it’s noted that whatever happened in the first month, that thing the couple wrote off as growing pains…yeah, that’s the thing that ends the relationship. That’s what Gina was thinking. This wasn’t going well.
However, she was prepared and moved forward with her discussion, hoping to regroup to a positive place. As Gina began with her ideas about the new program she began to feel her strength and capabilities coming through. She was back on her game. She paused for input, discussed, and then continued. It was important for her to set the tone, and she was feeling fantastic. She nailed it!
As she outlined her needs and how she expected to execute her plans, her boss stood up:
“OK, great. Thank you very much.” The meeting was over. She looked at Gina with a big smile and said, “If I’m happy, you’ll be happy.”
Gina smiled quizzically. “OK, thank you.”
She came closer, still smiling, and pointed at Gina’s shoulder, “If I’m not happy, you will be miserable.” Yes, this actually happened!!
Gina almost fell over. She practically ran out of the room and into the bathroom, hyperventilating. Clearly this woman was exhibiting some crazy power play and Gina was in her firing range.
She couldn’t have just started this behavior this morning. Oh crap!
Well, this road was going to be tougher than she thought. She had a job to do and “keeping her head down” went against everything she wanted in her job; but it was critical now as she created her plans to move forward and tread lightly.
This was a tough one. Gina hadn’t been exposed to outright abuse in the office so we began to dissect and craft tactics that would give her what she needed. She wanted to push the edges of her perceived box to build the coalitions she needed. She wanted to launch the program and attract others to her leadership. It was a tall order for this youngish professional, but Gina felt clear she could do it.
We prioritized activities with an experimental approach that would develop data points for her next move – within or outside of the company. With each one, we set out the preferred outcome.
As Seth Godin writes in his book, Tribes, people want to belong and “if you give us tools and make it easy, we’ll keep joining. Tribes make our lives better. And leading a tribe is the best life of all.”
So Gina outlined three priorities she would execute. Two worked well; the other, not so much. It took lots of her energy and focus, and demonstrated what she needed to know. Through her first year, Gina learned this was not the place for her. She had her data points, but most importantly she was uniquely prepared for her next challenge.
Godin continues to point out “the real power has everything to do with people…you only need the desire to make something happen. Generous and authentic leadership will always defeat the selfish efforts of someone doing it just because she can.”