This is the 8th article in Jodi Duncan’s Women in Business series. Click here to catch up on previous blog posts.
“Do not think you can be brave in your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way.” -Brene Brown
I recently spent some time reflecting on previous bosses I’ve had through my career and lessons I’ve learned. When you are dubbed the “leader” in pretty much any situation, you shoulder responsibility fairly and unfairly. Welcomed and unwelcomed. Often that manifests itself as blame. It’s all part of the gig.
When I left a previous job, I recalled what my boss said to me when I quit. She said, “I have learned something from every boss I had.” And then she said, “Thanks a lot. Now I won’t reach my goals.”
I had no idea she would take my departure so personally. She thought I was leaving because she was a bad leader, and she was concerned about how that reflected on her. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, partly because of my state of mind, which basically consisted of me thinking I’d rather drive into a ditch than go back to this job.
Time allows you perspective. This was one of those lessons. I wasn’t leaving my job because of her. Nor was I leaving my job because of the culture or the company. I left for two reasons: 1) I was traveling an insane amount, which I found extremely difficult with two young children, and 2) I WAS BORED. Bored, bored, bored out of my mind.
Every job I have left was for a variety of reasons. Some complicated, some simple. It is very popular today to try to analyze and bucket why people leave jobs. Last year, the theme seemed to be “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers”. This year, there is more of a focus on “People don’t leave jobs because of their bosses, it’s the culture.” Blah, blah, blah. The truth is people leave jobs for all kinds of reasons and usually it’s multiple. Bad fit, better opportunity, more money, less stress, boredom, frustration, new challenges … the list goes on.
I’m kind of tired of us trying to peg the exodus of employees on one thing. It’s as complex and varied as personalities. As businesses, we try to figure out our faults and improve where we can.
However, regardless of what we do, some will like it and some will not. There’s no pleasing everyone. And that’s OK. But at the end of the day, we have a business to run. A healthy amount of turnover allows businesses to bring in new people with new skills and talent. I have great appreciation for that. New perspective can help companies grow. Fresh, new attitudes can permeate a company’s culture to shine a bright light on what is good about the business. New people can also infuse energy into the long-term employees.
When you are on the inside, it’s easy to forget the good things and focus on the bad. This happens to all of us. Fight against that. Take time out to think about what you appreciate about the company you work for. Maybe it’s flexible hours. Maybe it’s empowerment. Maybe it’s your social network. But along with that, what are the things that you can do to contribute to making it a better company? Sometimes that might mean moving on for your sake and the company’s.
Guard against disparaging the company and the leaders that you are leaving. Take an honest look at yourself and why it’s your time to move on. We had an employee leave us many years ago—her decision, not ours. She has continued to paint a dark picture of her experience here. Fair enough. We aren’t the right fit for everyone.
What this former employee fails to consider and tell people is that she came in late nearly every day, unkempt with wet hair and casual wear. Her work was sub-par. It was very evident to us that she did not want to be here. I get that. I respect and appreciated that she found her way to something that was a better fit for her. But guard against blaming the business or the manager. Especially publicly. The business most likely will survive. You, however, may do unsurmountable damage to yourself and future prospective jobs.
Let’s circle back to the statement “I’ve learned something from every boss I ever had.” In my first job after graduating college, I worked for one of the most intriguing women I’ve ever met. She was intelligent, a little scary, always dressed to perfection with impressive hair and make-up to complement the look. She never lost her cool and could stand up to any man in the room. She was extremely intimidating with a strong personality, great beauty and even greater stature.
As a young woman just starting my career, I was fascinated by her. She taught me many things about being a leader in a man’s world and I will forever be grateful. But one of the most difficult and important lessons she taught me was to fire people. In my six months with that company I had to fire two people. Both were women who had become my friends. It was tough to do, but I learned to be careful managing work relationships and friendships.
I also learned that sometimes being a leader just flat out sucks.
I don’t know any leaders who “enjoy” firing people. Nearly always, it turns out to be the best thing all the way around, but the act of it is heart-wrenching. Female leaders are often blamed over firings “because she didn’t like me.” Hardly. That rarely, or ever, is part of the decision. I’ve had to fire many people that I like very much. I’ve also had to fire people that I didn’t like very much. Either way, it’s hard.
I am sensitive to the challenges that leaders face. I have yet to meet an effective leader who doesn’t get a certain amount of praise and criticism. I can tell you with a good deal of certainty what type of personality flourishes under my leadership style. People who are independent thinkers, confrontational, risk-takers, assertive and like being challenged do well working with me. They are my people. I get them, they get me. I can also tell you that not everyone likes it, appreciates it, does well or understands it. And most definitely, not everyone thrives in it.
It takes different leadership styles to attract a diverse workforce. However, going back to the statement of “learning,” I hope that employees, past and present, can learn something from me and I can learn from them, which is just as important.
As I get older, I appreciate the leadership lessons I’ve learned by example, good and bad, influencing and shaping the kind of leader that I want to be. That’s a good exercise whether you are an official leader, striving to be in a leadership position, influencing others or even satisfied with where you are. Think about the things you like and don’t like. Where you can make a difference? What are the things that matter most to you?
And consider that after all of your frustration and criticism for a boss or a company you may have worked for, hindsight might allow you to see things a bit differently. My past supervisor was right – you absolutely can learn something from everyone you’ve worked for. Additionally, as leaders you can learn from every person who has left your organization. But you have to pay attention.
Being brave sometimes means taking a good, long, hard look at yourself to understand why things happen. Reflect on what you’ve learned along the way. Appreciate your experiences for what they truly are, part of the journey of whatever path you are on.