Who Do You Work For?

You might be wondering why Austin Powers' bathroom scene is relevant to this week's blog post? A, because I'm in a silly mood, and B, because we're talking about bosses and clients, aka, the people we work for. And let's face it, if there's a mismatch in values or personality on the team, blood can BOIL, and you end up feeling like Austin. 

But what's cool is that we have more control over how we react to these circumstances than we think we do... Here's a story to illustrate.

I was a proud new manager on "Rufus'" team, a corporate finance senior manager known for yelling as a mode of getting things done. This didn't worry me too much because I typically found ways to get along with anyone (wise last words). And though I was excited about my promotion, I was working through a few insecurities:

  1. This was a very fast paced environment, lots of pressure and I had a lot to learn about my new role. I always felt behind. 
  2. The manager level and above was male dominated, so there were very few women to look up to - I hadn't yet created my authentic voice in the organization
  3. I worried that because I had spent my entire career at one company (6 years at that point), I wouldn't be able to find a similar salaried job anywhere else (FYI - Finances were extremely important to me). 
  4. While I was great at handling bumps in the road related to deadlines, I was learning how to handle emotional conflicts - they scared me. 

When Rufus assigned me four proposals and two employees to help me get it all done, I knew working for him wasn't going to be fun. I mentioned that it would be tough, but we'd make it happen (I people pleased, just a little).

But when Rufus called me to take on a 5th proposal with my same team, I calmly voiced my concern about our team's bandwidth. I knew I was stretched thin and I could see my employees were too. We were working a lot of overtime and I knew that if one of us got sick, backfilling would be complicated and could jeopardize the integrity of our submission. I felt my concern was legitimate.

Suddenly, the volume and tone of Rufus' voice changed; it was like he became possessed with rage. He started yelling: "You are too vocal. You need be quiet. And to stop worrying about things, like employee wellbeing, that aren't my responsibility. I went through the trenches to get to my level, gave up nights, weekends, time with my family, canceled vacations, etc... etc.... And you will do the same. You are out of line." 

I don't even remember what I responded to him in that moment. I think I was in shock. My rational brain knew he was wrong for saying all of it, but given the fragile state of mind I started in, imposter syndrome hijacked any rational thoughts that may have tried to calm me down. I became super anxious; I felt alone, unsupported and overwhelmed by the shit ton of work I had to finish. 

My dad called to say hi that afternoon and I burst into tears explaining the whole story to him. My dad is not the kind of guy to agree with everything I say (even if I'm in tears); he'll play devil's advocate when he feels appropriate, but his immediate "&*#@ Rufus!" felt validating. The stuck, overwhelmed feeling went away once we started talking through a plan of attack. 

Long story short, after another unsuccessful conversation with Rufus, I was able to leverage my strong relationship with Rufus' boss, "Bob," to transfer to another team (something I didn't think was possible, but my Dad encouraged me to ask for anyways). Thankfully Bob saw a good reason for it, especially when Rufus denied everything he had said to me.

I look back on this situation and realize it taught me a lot!

  1. Do not let anyone compromise your personal values or worth, no matter what you're being paid. It sounds so basic and intuitive, but for many people, it can be a fine line, and sometimes takes outside perspective to really see how much BS you're dealing with. Voice what you need in order to improve the situation (this can be more difficult with a client vs. a boss, but respect needs to be mutual in both relationships. If it doesn't happen...
  2. There is always another option! We live in a giant world of possibility, but in the heat of the moment, it's very difficult to see outside a narrow tunnel. It's incredibly helpful to have someone outside of our minds to listen, validate and help us strategize. I was lucky to have my dad's help, but if that's not possible for you, I'd recommend reaching out to a mentor, coach or trusted friend to brainstorm with. 
  3. As humans we get to choose how we want to react to any situation. But it takes self-awareness and practice. I recently heard this quote by Victor Frankl that helps visualize what this looks like, "Between stimulus (Rufus yelling) and response (Liz's spinning thoughts) there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom". Try it!

I hope you've never worked for a Rufus, but if you have, how did you handle the situation? Did you get out of there? Or if you couldn't leave, did you reframe your mindset so that it didn't effect you as deeply?

Remember Austin's face the next time you feel stressed, and hopefully that will at least diffuse the situation a bit:).  

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