Powerless in the Moment

I said good-bye to my boss today. He’s leaving. I’m staying.

I had no idea he was looking for another job. He says he wasn’t; that a recruiter called him out of the blue and asked if he’d consider leaving his current job. The timing was perfect because parts of our company are currently undergoing a re-org and my boss’s job is changing. He doesn’t like how it’s changing, so he talked to the recruiter and he negotiated with the recruiter, and got a really sweet deal. On one hand, I’m truly very happy for my boss. How many of us can say we got a call out of the blue and got a sweet deal that really isn’t too good to be true? But on the other hand, I’m really very sad.

I started my first “real” job when I was fifteen, selling ski apparel and accessories for a family-owned sports retailer. Before that, I had volunteered as a candy striper at a hospital. And before that, I babysat for neighbors and for my older siblings who had toddlers. I’ve been in the professional working world for more than thirty-five years, and it took this long before I finally had an opportunity to work with a decent manager.

“Joe” understands the need for work–life balance. He doesn’t feel the need to micromanage and forcing you to follow every step and rule that he does in getting a job done. Instead he can sit back and watch you make each job your own, letting you find the workflows and processes that fit your style. He doesn’t care about the means to the end. He only cares about the quality and the timeliness of a job well done. He believes in capitalizing on a person’s strengths, not trying to improve a person’s weaknesses. Not many managers can do that. And because I had to wait so long in my life before I worked for a “good” manager, I am sad because I don’t think I’ll get another.

With Joe’s departure I will now report to “Matt.” My new boss has a very dry sense of humor and he often makes sarcastic comments that leave you wondering if he is joking or if he is serious. He professes to have a “very hands off” management style, but at the same time he has extremely high standards, to the point of having unrealistic expectations. Matt once told one of my co-workers to cancel a vacation because Matt wanted a project finished earlier than scheduled. He does not have a balance with his work–life. He is not a good communicator, instead answering your questions with non-answers or with other questions.

Most of my co-workers have very little respect for Matt. Everyone held Joe in high regard, and now there is a serious void in our leadership. Joe quietly said, “Shame on the executives for letting me take on all that authority.” He’s right. He was allowed to wear too many hats because others were too lazy or unskilled or unmotivated. I was a rising star under Joe’s leadership. Now I feel as though I’ve just taken a chair on the deck of the Titanic.

Every expert will tell you change is difficult. It is the unknown, and with that comes fear and uncertainty. The trick is in learning to adapt and to find new opportunities within the new realm. An old adage comes to mind: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. And another: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

I am sad to see Joe leave. I am sad to find myself at a new starting point again, with little to show for all of my effort. I am afraid for my future, working for a poor communicator who is not respected and who doesn’t believe that home life is as important as work. And I am angry that I am once again powerless in the moment.

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