Navigating Re-Entry

oh life

Full Disclosure: I apologize if this blog post is a tad incoherent. I haven’t eaten an actual meal yet today (I know, self care fail, but some of you recent grads and those who are transitioning between jobs will definitely understand). The goal of this entry isn’t intended to be attention seeking, but is rather intended to help me unpack some of the experiences I’ve had to endure during this new phase of my life as a public servant.

The Good

I just completed my first week as a public health employee with my local government. Aside from a food security issue, it went quite well.

I spent most of the week on boarding. After being unemployed for 7 months, it was nice to have a place to go everyday with the assurance that I was back on a trajectory for getting my needs met.

The Bad

After I ran out of money a couple of months ago (I stretched and lived off of one month’s pay for about 5 months before I got ‘desperate’ for money in any real non-romanticized way.

Prior to this week I’ve had to learn a lot of lessons in humility about asking for help. For those of you who have never had to adapt to food insecurity, you should know that living through it requires more emotional labor and mental gymnastics than you could ever imagine.

Take for example: How would you go about asking a friend or family member for financial assistance? What if you had to ask for assistance at your church? …Or if it was not your first time asking for help with food or utility assistance….

How would you go about even initiating that conversation?

I have the added complication of being allergic to everything. I have a lot of autoimmune challenges will I may have (or will have) mentioned in previous posts, so it becomes easier to tell people how the money will be spent than to pick up food from a pantry and have to explain all of the things that I can’t eat without seeming entitled and picky (oddly, gluten is not one of my food allergies — I am allergic to the hormones they use in meat, I’m severely allergic to tree nuts, peanuts — which are technically legumes — and soy trigger nerve pain and inflammation due to my chronic autoimmune condition, and I get anaphylactic reactions to eggs but don’t seem to notice the reaction in ‘trace amounts’.

So, I had to emotionally detach from a lot of shame to even be able to ask for help.

The Ugly

We place so much stigma around people who ask us for help with food out on the street that even if you ARE personally the kind of person who gives people money for food without any conditions, most people don’t. Cities criminalize those who hand out food to the homeless (often citing food safety concerns even in cases where the food was prepared in a commercial kitchen).

I’ve volunteered in soup kitchens to investigate grievances homeless people have made of mistreatment where hungry people were forced to listen to hour long sermons before they were allowed to eat. I’ve seen expired food stored by food banks for redistribution and receive government contracts in which they are the only institutions allowed to provide public food assistance — IN SOME OF THE SAME CITIES where other churches who feed people food they bought from the store have been cited for violating non solicitation ordinances.

So there can be a lot of hoops to jumps to through if you’re in a city that criminalizes poverty, has a longstanding history of redlining, or that grossly underfunds intervention.

So as I’ve been scraping together odds and ends from my pantry (and the combinations are starting to get really gross to make sure that I have the nutrients I need), I’ve also been trying to navigate my new role at my job (which will eventually make it possible NOT to have to worry about how I’m going to pay for basic needs), I’ve also been trying to navigate ‘who’ it would be appropriate to borrow money from (my mom broke her foot right after she helped me with my (very low cost of) rent, and my brother helped me pay for rent and bills while I worked a temp position.

I had another friend who works as a pastor who donated $50 worth of food that I thought I’d be able to stretch for 3 weeks, but as it turns out, that was a very optimistic estimate. But there’s something about receiving church assistance that pretty much ensures that you can’t attend that church anymore AND (or) that you will be donating specifically to that church as a form of reparations for bailing you out for the rest of your employment history. So that can be a weird power dynamic to navigate.

One co-worker commented at the abnormal speed with which I finished my sun butter and expired jelly sandwich. I told her I was trying to rush so that I wouldn’t be late to my next meeting, but really I was just hungry. I’ve been stretching a batch of pancake mix for dinner all week that I’m fairly certain may not be food safe anymore now that I start to feel flu-ey after I consume it.

Given that I once contracted mumps due to a compromised immune system from attempting a global south diet of beans and rice for several weeks (because I couldn’t afford to pay for rent, bus fare to/from work, AND food with what Geek Squad paid me at the time (the wages weren’t the issue but rather that my supervisor cut my hours so that Best Buy didn’t have to pay employment benefits).

So I have had a lot of fear about running out of food for this new role, haven’t been getting the nutrients I need to process fear as rationally as I’d like, and have been trying not to call too much attention to the fact that despite my best effort to make healthy, cost-effective options (technically I’ve been an economic mastermind throughout all of this), because I didn’t want my hardship to be politicized or to compromise power dynamics with folks whom I have collegial, transactional relationships if it isn’t necessary.

The Silver Lining

So consequently, I can say that although my first week was a tad stressful, the rest of my reentry process this week was very positive.

Aside from the food thing, this week has been kind of like a ‘Cinderella Story’… except that she’s acutely (and suddenly) aware that her personal success doesn’t change the systemic issues that created real hardship for her, yet in her new role she would literally be responsible for shaping local policy that would address the root causes of those kinds of hardships for others using the public health 3.0 model which is more health equity focused.

I was proud of myself. Through it all, I managed to maintain composure but also let my direct supervisor know (in a discreet way) that I might have a few financial barriers that impact my job this week (I was worried it was going to be longer but just happened to start midway through the pay period). I tried to make sure that those who offered coffee and lunch invites understood that I wasn’t in a financial position to cover those costs for the duration.

The Irony

What was probably the most endearing part of this whole reentry process was fielding conversations about income disparities and poverty with funders and organizers WHILE I was hungry (and kinda foggy… and internally panicked). It definitely gave me a profound appreciation for how much I take for granted.

Discussing hunger as a concept or a piece of data with someone at the federal reserve who applauds work that you’re doing for being empirical rather than emotional can feel like a slap in the face when you’re nutrient deprived and at a luncheon where all of the food they served contained allergens. (That actually happened and I filled up on coffee, juice, and fruit).

You don’t realize how aware of food you become and distressing it can be to lack access when you’re surrounded by people who seem all but too enthusiastic to eat and talk about it.

Key TakeAways

One thing people don’t realize because the topic of health, poverty, and food access are so heavily politicized is that when we talk about how poverty affects different ethnicities, genders, and people with disabilities, a lot of these key metrics are not starting to also affect recent grads and young professionals who owe considerably more than they bring in.

As the job market shifts to more of a gig economy framework, because those are the most stable jobs available but don’t have any labor costs associated like workman’s comp or healthcare benefits, many young professionals and recent grads are slipping into the income demographic classified below the poverty line.

We’re starting to hear increasing amounts of stories about people who are dying because they couldn’t fundraise the cost of their treatment and meds now that the feds have defunded healthcare.

Poverty is really effing isolating. So if a friend confides in you that they are struggling, and they downplay it, they might be really embarrassed it but have shown enough courage to confide in you even though they may not know whether they can trust you to respond in the ways that they need or want.

So if you notice someone casually mention that they’re struggling financially, or if they directly ask you for help (like the guys on the street):

one way to offer to support is to ask the recipient what they specifically need (or how can you help).

It’s totally understandable if you can’t help out financially, but also keep in mind that it might be way less challenging for you to request assistance for an (anonymous) friend than for that friend on their behalf than it would be for them to advocate for themselves.

The physiological and psychological toll, shame, and stigma associated with economic insecurity can make poverty MUCH harder than it needs to be.

And any intervention on your part, no matter how small, may expand their opportunity to make healthy choices instead of desperate ones.

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Systemic changes are ahead…

Today I’m excited to announce the new MixedUp Millennial content strategy for our site rebrand.
 
Background
[Why is the project being undertaken? Describe an opportunity or problem that the project is to address.]
 
Life can be complicated and messy. Between the election, changes in my employment status, and much of the fear I need to unpack in my new role as a public servant, this platform serves as a tool to document my experiences as I make sense of the new changes I face. This resource can also help me reframe my understanding of how some of my past experiences shape my current day decisions — especially in areas that haven’t quite healed yet. 
 
Writing used to be:
  • an excellent tool to help me understand my needs better,
  • a mechanism to provide others with the space I need to empathize with them when I’m running low on patience,
  • and a resource to methodically strategize how I’d like to navigate situations and people that were toxic for me.
Because of my (long ass) job search and some of the public facing roles I’ve held which have required a degree of discretion, I’ve been struggling to share a genuine account of my fears and frustrations in writing and even with my (awesome) trauma-therapist.
 
But I’ve learned from close friends as I begin to unlock old memories and develop new perspectives, that some people have benefitted from hearing about my challenges as a millennial of color. I’ve learned a lot of difficult truths that would have saved me a lot of hardship and frustration. And some of the resources I’ve stumbled across could be useful to others who have had to navigate similar systemic barriers like the ones I’ve faced trying to remedy some of these challenges.
 
I am hoping that the level of anonymity that this platform provides will grant me with the space to sort and clarify my thoughts and feelings as I try to unlearn some of the fear I’ve accrued throughout these experiences.
 

 

Ultimately, I aspire to rise to the occasion in my new role as a public health official in my local municipal government and to simply be a better, more effective person.
 
knope
 
Goals
I would personally like to
 
Upon completion of this project, the reader will have a much clearer understanding of:
·         [how systemic poverty and cheap labor creates undue hardship and psychological duress for many Americans}
·         [possible systemic strategies for overcoming some of these challenges]
·         [how to display empathy and be an effective ally toward those who face similar challenges]
 
 
Scope
[What will be the end result of the project? Describe what phases of work will be undertaken. It’s also important to mention what activities will not be included in this project.]
[TBD]
 
However, if I learned anything (the hard way), it’s that the only long-term remedy to systemic challenges is to create systemic changes that make it easy for those interventions to succeed. 
 
Key Stakeholders
 
My Target Audience
[TBD], People closest to me
 
Project Milestones
[Identify the significant project milestones]
  1. Cleaning up previous posts (to make them more coherent)
  2. Updating & Backdating information gaps (there’s a LOT that you don’t know about)
  3. Adding new content
 
Project Budget
[Describe the main project expenses: non-recurring & monthly recurring.]
 
Good question; How much time DO I want to spend on this? [TBD]
 
Constraints, Assumptions, Risks and Dependencies
 
Constraints
[Describe here potential factors that will impact the delivery of the project]
Time, Structure, this process is not automated, some of these memories extend beyond my own personal threshold of tolerance
Assumptions
[Describe here conditions or situations that you are relying on in order to achieve project goals]
The content strategy is supposed to make it easy to redirect my attention to this space as needed
Risks and Dependencies
[What are the most significant risks? What things must happen before the project is delivered?]
The biggest risk I must be mindful of is not to violate the privacy of others when discussing my experiences, I must use discretion so as not to violate the terms of any NDA contracts I may have signed which might put me in legal jeopardy or create an ethical conflict of interest

The Poor Fit: 6 Signs That Your Job is Absolutely the Wrong One

Interesting….

The Office Blend

wrong job

We’ve all experienced this — the wrong job. It’s really nobody’s fault, but it’s dawned on you that your work life may be dangerously out of alignment.

Nothing is worse than throwing yourself into work, yet things just seem to go very, very wrong. The trick here? Identifying the problem for what it really is (in very short shrift) and acting to make changes. Poor matches do happen. So, let yourself off the hook and avoid a long-term “soul sucking” experience. Remember that “withering on the vine” is not a viable career strategy.

Here are 6 signs that you should be paying attention to:

  • You feel lost. Have you ever had the nightmare where you arrive at class, only to find that you’ve not read a single page of the book and it is final exam day? This shouldn’t be your experience with work during waking hours. If every task…

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Freedom Costs | The Opportunity Costs of being Complaint Free

emotional_rollercoaster_slide

Wow, What a roller coaster ride!  You never know how much potential a situation has to escalate until you find yourself saying absolutely nothing.

(Update & a bit of clarification from me – from the future): Now that I no longer work in this role I can fully disclose that the whistleblower retaliation I have experienced for formally filing a grievance at the directive of the Dean whom I reached out to has been not only infuriating, but is causing me to obsessively re-evaluate whether I have faith in justice and the ethics of some of the key decision-makers in this governance system.
 
I didn’t want to be a paranoid and say that I was set up, but each day I uncover more and more evidence to suggest that both the athletic department and the college legal counsel are going out of their way to make this work environment so hostile that they can get a rise out of me so they can undermine my credibility.
 
Now that I no longer work for those people, I can wholeheartedly state unapologetically, as I should have been able to say when I held myself to the standard of accountability — in which I had to conduct myself in good faith that things would work out in the end if I just remained ethical — F*CK THOSE PEOPLE.
 
F*CK EVERY SINGLE ENABLER, F*CK EVERY SINGLE ANTAGONIST, AND F*CK THE PEOPLE WHO DESTROYED MY FAITH IN THE BELIEF THAT BEING AN ETHICAL PERSON (and providing well documented, empirical evidence) WOULD BE WORTH THE FACT THAT THOSE ASSHOLES BULLIED ME TO THE POINT OF SEIZURES.
 
They destroyed my belief, for a really long time that goodness was even WORTH protecting in a toxic environment (… and we can all thank the Trump administration for helping me come back to my f*cking senses)
 
And I don’t say that to be hyperbolic.
 
In addition to the 400 pages of documentation which verified (via medical affidavit) that I had done everything I could (including keeping a mental health professional aware of what I’d been facing and how I navigated and implemented my choices) to respond ethically and appropriately to misconduct by my colleagues and the college administration, the federal government had no choice but to award me a judgment of my right to sue.
 
… and the saddest part about it, wasn’t that I walked away with nothing, or that nothing changed, or that the only person who got fired was the HR director but everyone else got to keep their jobs.
 
The most GUT WRENCHING part about it, is that even after they did it to another professor (who publicly blamed the college administration after her tumor rapidly metastasized into stage 4 cancer and asked me to file the claim 2 months before she DIED), it STILL…KEPT…HAPPENING!!!
 
F*CK THE EEOC CASE MANAGER who revictimized me by suggesting that maybe I wasn’t discriminated against, maybe I was being pushy,
 
— without even having read the medical records or documentation which specifically stated how I had gone out of the way to avoid bringing up the topic of discrimination because I anticipated that same reaction because #whitesupremacy #amirite? (I didn’t say those things then but I most certainly do now)
 
It wasn’t hard to find (and prove) that the discrimination claim was actually fabricated by the SAME DEAN who escalated the grievance (because they were so unapologetically sloppy about it. They knew they could settle out of court, but what they didn’t anticipate was that I’d decline any money and refuse to sign away my silence.
 
Besides, I’d kept everything… including the letter which only requested a meeting to clarify which person I reported to… and HIS LETTER which triggered an investigation without even meeting with me, requesting my consent, or letting the Title IX committee know they were conducting an investigation based upon discrimination until AFTER they came back with their ruling affirming the misconduct of my colleagues in the athletic department)…
 
The committee did me a solid by disclosing that they were asked to change the scope of their ruling to an investigation they never conducted by the end of that same day which was confirmed via subpoena. Go FIG.
 
…boy must that case manager’s face have been red to discover that he let his implicit bias get in the way of sound judgment (and I didn’t report him, although I should have — which is probably why I was awarded the judgment).
 
But let’s be real, we know that guy didn’t lose a single wink of sleep. There were no consequences, and he got to drop micro-aggressions on the next person who filed a claim as if abusing his role as the gatekeeper to protect employer interests was routine.
 
Because if he really cared about doing his job, ALL of the other people who were directly involved wouldn’t still up to the same old antics and they certainly still wouldn’t be there. Yet there they are.
 
And they can straight F*CK THEMSELVES!
 
To this day, I still run into people who seem excited to see me because they ‘finally got out’ as if we now belong to some tribe and surviving is some kind of sacred badge.
 
I while I may not tell those people to Kindly ‘f*ck off’ to their faces (I haven’t really even voiced the words directly until now)…
 
… it’s always VERY CLEAR by the end of any interaction I have with anyone who enabled what went down in that environment that I have NO INTENTION OF EVER forming any sort of attachment or intention to keep in touch with them.
 
I want nothing to do with that toxic institution or it’s toxic people who stood by and saw what was happening and did nothing to try and stop it save the 3 people who investigated my grievance.
 
I am, however, profoundly grateful for the courage the Title IX showed to stand up for what was right even when they were coerced by the DEAN into making a call that (by no stretch of the imagination) was criminal and illegal.
 
These 3 individuals, who clearly can’t be named due to the legal nature of the Title IX investigation, put their livelihood at risk and did what was right even though they knew there would be consequences that would negatively affect them and yet, they persisted.
 
I can’t thank them enough. (Like legally I don’t think I’m allowed to contact them), but frankly; I truly never want to see or associate with anyone involved with that institution ever again.
 
— back to my (albeit convoluted) account of how I tried to reconcile this dumpster fire at the time —

You ever see that angry stormy guy in the office, who looks like he’s one off-the cuff comment from exploding on you? Yeah, that’s the kind of energy I’ve been staving off over the past couple of weeks. And I mean, I’m not above admitting it’s been something I’ve been really wrestling with.  I spent a good portion of the first part of this period in CYA mode.  I didn’t realize how much documentation I really had in my possession but it’s actually enough to disrupt the operations of my entire department (so I’ve been trying to determine what my ethical responsibilities are) since I know that I’ll be asked to complete an exit interview when I leave the organization about my reasons for leaving.

If you were in my position, what would YOU say?

I’m actually waiting for my performance review (which should be coming up in the next month) to address a lot of these issues. This approach was recommended to me by someone who used to work in the HR department, and since things have been tense enough around the office for me to understand that it’s going to come up in my performance review, I’ve already included my intent to discuss it in my self evaluation under the portion where I’m supposed to evaluate the work I did this year as a supervisor.  And when I say I have a LOT of documentation, I mean that I literally have piles of student performance records, anytime I worried that there may be a problem escalating due to conflicting directives, client complaints, etc. I have put it into writing.  I even thought very seriously about creating a histogram outlining the staff behavioral progressions/regressions that compliment their policies and the effectiveness of the boundary constraints under which I’ve been placed. But I’ll probably save that for my memoirs or something, idk…

In the meantime, I’ve been really working on “sharpening the saw,” so to speak so that I understand what my responsibility is in terms of the energy I bring to the space, the boundaries I articulate, taking the steps I need to ask for what I need and document those efforts, going through the necessary final steps before I make a decision about whether or not to go through a formal reporting process, and to what extent, etc.

may-sharpen-the-saw

sharpen-the-saw

I’ve also had to go through a pretty strict regime of filling out job applications, scheduling play, coordinating restorative meal plans and making myself get back into my workouts (which I’d been blowing off to fill out job applications). Because let’s face it, I’m terrified that I will sabotage the very thing I am working toward (being a happier, healthy person and an effective leader), if I stop taking care of myself.

Then yesterday afternoon, we had a festival in town. I had scheduled the time off from my routine and bam, I had a great time.  The Facebook status I left at 2am read (I know, who uses Facebook anymore):

I couldn’t have prayed for a better evening; incl. randomly running into an old college buddy in the park, hanging out with an old professor he was meeting in town, having a brownie and a milkshake while swapping jokes with these really funny guys I hadn’t seen in awhile, spending time at the bluegrass festival with some of my local artisan friends, getting to see one of our vendors (and friends from one of the local businesses) fire dancing, followed by an impromptu bourbon guitardy at my place that degenerated into hilarious cat whisperer reality tv (upon the recommendation of one of my artisan friends). If today was any indication of the rest of my weekend, then I am truly blessed beyond belief.

And it worked.

I woke up this morning feeling like a whole new person. It’s amazing what a difference it can make when you go out of your way to surround yourself with the people and activities that you love.  I think right now I’m having one of those Bucky Fuller moments where I’m beginning to wonder; how would my life be different if I only surrounded myself with people who inspired me, encouraged me or made me feel valued and loved? Or if when I couldn’t help who I was around that I filtered my attention toward creating the kind of environment where I encouraged other people and made them feel valued? Then I suddenly realized, that’s what I do. It’s what up until recently I have always done.  Except with those who I didn’t feel contributed to that environment, albeit through poor ethics, lack of accountability, whatever.  Which means that I need to re-evaluate how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.

brain_stress

And I may not say anything to actively discourage them, but my body language has always just shifted to neutral, or if I feel as if I am being asked to do something with questionable ethics, I have been very direct in asking them to clarify the boundary constraints of what they are asking me to do. (e.g. The supervisor who told me not to assign tasks and to email him when his workers are off task, often forgets that he has done this, chooses not to respond under the guise of being too busy, or shrugs things off which he doesn’t believe to be important). So I’ve been pretty wound up lately because things have more or less degenerated in our office, because he, queen bee, and level 6 have opted for the de-constructivist approach to management during the time of year  when we host one of our biggest annual events, and people have begun to notice.  Sales are down, clients are dismissing our lapse in service with the transition in our staff (because half our staff grew so disengaged they just stopped coming in, or just come in whenever they feel like it).  The whole thing has just turned into one giant cluster (literally) of people partying and hanging out around my cubicle.

So cue me: I get to be hyper-vigilant guy. I’m just a huge ball of frustrated anger, sitting over in the corner judging how this whole situation is being mismanaged.  At this point I’m not even keeping data anymore, because it would literally take up more time to document than it would to put headphones in, but I can’t ignore it. And this isn’t because I’m being obsessive or anything, literally the higher I crank up my 80s power ballads so I can’t see or hear what is going on while I’m working, the more that signals to queen bee and level 6 that the behavior will go unchecked, so more people gather around our cubicle and it actually attracts quite a bit of attention from our clients and the other department who don’t know I’ve been systematically dis-empowered from being able to correct the behavior.  In all of their eyes, I’m still the one who should be accountable.

And it’s not just in this way, concurrently we had another issue arise in which I published the summer schedule, I knew we had a lot of people heading off on sabbatical this summer, so I didn’t question the scheduling gaps because I assumed that the schedule I received from upper management reflected whatever contracts were negotiated with our vendors for this period.  So when I published our events calendar, I received an email from one of our vendors asking if this meant that we wouldn’t be carrying their product anymore because upper management had never discussed the dissolution of their contract.  And it was very uncomfortable, because the vendor had been with us for a very long time, and was in a cooperative with several of our other vendors. I go to church with the rep for this particular vendor and because of the way this thing was handled, we had not only violated a business contract, but a social contract as well (and we’re in a small town where everyone including myself LOVES this rep, who brings quite a bit of social equity to our services which is one of the reasons why the contract with the vendor has lasted so long).  And even though I know that the vendors are going to hold me accountable for the decision making of the person who neglected their duty, there wasn’t much I could do within the parameters of this ethical grey area.  As frustrating as this whole situation was, I couldn’t acknowledge that the person had wronged her because of the professional ethics associated with this situation (even if it is true). In fact, the only thing that I could do within the boundary constraints I was given, was encourage the vendor to try and get in touch with the senior manager, who I knew would not be accessible and would actively avoid the conversation by saying they were too busy to make a 5 minute phone call, that could have saved us from escalating this very preventable issue. So now the other vendors are also pissed (but the senior level managers aren’t around to take the heat), so here I am, paying the consequences on their behalf.

So this is why things have been a little stormy for me.

CT Alice_Walker_James02.JPG

A wise woman by the name of Alice Walker once said, “no person is your friend who demands your silence or denies your right to grow.”

But I also know that I have a responsibility to be accountable for the energy I bring to the space, so I’ve been trying to figure out which actions I can take so that I can reassert the boundaries that I need to in order to keep the peace until I can find my next job.  I’ve got about 12 applications completed. And I’ve only applied to organizations that have been very intentional about making it clear that they only want people who value others and who share the same level of commitment that I do to ethics and creating a positive work environment.  So you can imagine I’ve been in my head a lot about what lessons from these experiences I’m going to want to take with me and what kind of energy I want to bring into my interviews.  But also, I’ve had this intense desire to really get my personal life back on track so that I can remember what it’s like to experience that, so that I can easily recognize the organizations that are genuinely good not just in mission but in practice as well.  The organization in which I work now has articulated these great values and commitments toward valuing all people, dignity in labor and so on, but there are no real mechanisms in place for reporting when senior level managers aren’t living up to that.

So our organization has lost a lot of really wonderful people who have just opted to leave and the problem still goes unreported and uncorrected.

But not being able to do ANYTHING I think has created more angst and anxiety than doing the wrong thing I think mostly because I feel as if I do NOTHING that I increase the risk of undermining my own credibility once others perceive that I am contributing to the problem by neglecting what the believe to be my responsibilities. Especially since my workspace is the most visible. So I’ve had to rock the boat a little bit and be more assertive which isn’t making things at work easier, but is allowing me to at the very least keep those boundaries.

The problem is, all of this hyper-vigilance and fear based tension is marginally effective and frankly exhausting. I’m hoping that the performance review will give me the opportunity to be direct (albeit minimally confrontational) so that I don’t have to continue doing things that I know are making my work environment increasingly hostile (e.g. pulling my supervisor aside to ask whether he has assignments for the people congregating around my desk and explaining how their presence is hindering my ability to do my work, and yes I would prefer that he provide the directive since he has already established the precedent that the workers no longer have to uphold our organizational policy if it comes from me).  Or having to ask him to resolve the issue with the vendor because he did not seem to understand the  ramifications of his judgment and the effect it had upon the other vendors because he wasn’t the one who had to be here to deal with the consequences. Yeah, it doesn’t matter how composed and professional you are, implying that someone else isn’t pulling their weight is never a fun topic, which is why I generally try to avoid it.  And of course I didn’t state it that way.  I’m much more direct and in these situations I will start with asking for what I need, and then if it’s questioned

do you happen to have task list on hand for these guys?”

…and after it’s kind of shrugged off then I get into the meat of it…

when we spoke, you asked me to do ___ and I have made it a point not to step outside of those boundaries, but the outcome of said policy has resulted in ___ behavior, so if you would like me to continue to operate within those constraints, I am going to need for you to uphold your end of what we discussed.”

…yeah, it’s kind of bitchy, if you’re not used to being in the kind of environment where you have to share accountability… but necessary if you’re in the kind of environment where expectations have yet to be clarified and norms need to be established…

At most I’m met with an eye roll and the problem is then corrected, then I try at the very least to keep things courteous to reinforce the behavior for the rest of the day.  But this is only in extreme cases.  Most of the time I’m much more cooperative than that, mostly because I empowered my workers to take ownership of the policies and to remain accountable to one another using peer influence.  I never thought I’d be witnessing the downside of peer influence. Thankfully, the regression in overall behavior hasn’t occurred significantly in anyone that I’ve directly managed. Unfortunately, many of those workers have made arrangements to transfer out or to go on sabbatical during this transitional period. I don’t blame them. Heck, if I could get away with it, I would too.

So this brings us back to my dilemma, is it more important that I ask the organization to create a better mechanism for reporting or is it more important to focus upon re-evaluating how I treat the people who are actively triggering these storm shifts.  I don’t know if you had the opportunity to check out the cat video (I can’t believe I’m saying this), but the cat whisperer has some really interesting points that I hadn’t considered.

 

This is where my motivations fall.

documentation

And although I initially viewed my documentation as an opportunity to correct and reinforce positive behaviors, the moment that I stopped doing that, I began acting solely in my own self interest (or CYA mode).

This is where I'd like to be.

This is where I’d like to be.

This is where I’d like to focus my attention. And I can’t do that if my attention is focused upon the behavior of my colleagues, which is hard, because as of late it has been rather disruptive. I’m going to have to find a way to be proactive about bringing constructive and affirmative energy into the space so that I can be a more effective and accountable leader, both personally and professionally.

So I’m not entirely sure what that entails as of late, but I certainly have some really fascinating work ahead of me, esp. if there’s a chance I can find a way to make something positive of this situation or to resolve it effectively.

The Camel’s Back

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I spent the better part of last night trying to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to have to find a new job.  Before I had just been researching and only sending resume’s to jobs on a case by case basis, most of which were kind of a stretch due the the number of years of experience they wanted because I didn’t really want to leave my job.  I just wanted this job to work well, and in a lot of ways it has.  During my tenure:

Client engagement was the highest it had been since the 1970s

We completely turned around a workforce and boosted their performance and productivity and increased our lower level leadership retention and their effectiveness (they work well together because my position doesn’t authorize me to solve their problems, my options are to either report concerns that merit attention from my direct supervisor or to involve those at the lower levels in critical thinking discussions with one another so that they can listen to and work together to understand each other’s perspective, decide what’s going to be the most effective solution for all of them and to share accountability for the decision making) and I record the outcomes.

Even my direct supervisor admitted that we were in a much better place than we were last year (since they restructured my role)

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Unfortunately (and you must forgive the duplicitous nature of these writings; they’re written to try to make sense of something I find incredibly vexing not to criticize or condemn anyone for their inexperience), my supervisor seems to believe that this progress happened under queen bee’s watch, because he implicitly trusts her  (and she does a lot of thing well) but when looking at the performance records the retention of knowledge, skills and dispositions for the workers she supervises is considerably lower because she only knows how to tell workers to complete tasks; she doesn’t clarify the standards so we have considerably more disciplinary issues under her watch (and we have evidence to support that) and my workers end up picking her workers’ slack (which has provided some great opportunities to engage my workers into the discussion about why the work they do is important and they seem to be receptive to it).

But all grumbling aside, my workers really have been happier and more productive than they’ve been in the 6 years I’ve been a part of this organization. Our clients comment to me about the differences they’ve noticed since I became involved in the oversight and training.  But now that my workers understand that their contributions and effort will not necessarily be rewarded, which was a surprise to me given our institutional mission (one of my workers upon hearing about the promotion of the ill equipped colleague angrily grumbled “yep, I should have realized; it’s all about who you know!), I’ve been wrestling with how to keep them intrinsically engaged with their work, so we’ve been talking a lot about higher ethics and the goals of our organization and how these lessons will make them more effective and equitable leaders once they transition to real jobs and are responsible for the livelihoods of others after their contracts have ended.

Ironically enough, I found myself in the position of having a similar conversation regarding ethics and expectations with my direct supervisor yesterday.  We seemed to be at an impasse because we have different expectations regarding what the standards of our department within our organization should be.  He advocated for more of a constructivist model in which we just let our newly promoted supervisors feel their way out, which I’ve adhered to but may not necessarily agree with, but admits that he doesn’t have a clue what’s going on in our organization most of the time because he’s stuck in his office trying to sort out whatever the crisis du’ jour is at the time.  I am of the school of thought that the time that we invest in training our workers on the front end pays off, because once we’ve clarified our expectations of them, it becomes easier to acknowledge and positively reinforce good performance. And as they build skills and accountability we can provide a structure for them to operate with a degree of freedom within those parameters and to equip them “as they are ready” with the training and guidance they will need to be able to diagnose and troubleshoot how to prevent some of the operational issues that arise from not having a clear sense of what your role is, or what’s expected of you.

It kind of reminds me of the following exercise:

I initiated the discussion because one of my workers lost it with me during the morning shift.  She was one of queen bee’s buddies and was pretty upset with me for putting her on cleaning detail (which is more or less her job description).  She had grown so accustomed to blowing off her shifts, or hanging out and goofing off at the desk with queen bee while others were working, that she perceived that I was treating her unfairly by asking her to complete the items on the cleaning checklist for the one room which she was assigned — something that has been asked of every worker who has been on cleaning duties.

When I asked her get started yesterday, she immediately lay into me.  I spoke with Queen Bee and your direct SUPERVISOR and they said I don’t have to do that and that the level of detail that you ask me to clean (and she made sure to reference even when it’s the bathrooms) isn’t necessary because someone just cleaned it two days ago. I don’t know whether I made a blank face or  not (more than likely it was probably any combination of these):

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What I took away from this discussion was that albeit my goals were in alignment with the overall organization, that the top leadership in my department had elected to opt out from participating in this vision, but also felt it necessary to actively discourage my participation in it.  And I suppose it makes sense. I’m the only one in the department who attends the trainings, forums, and other organizational events. I am the only member of the department active in the planning committee, so I feel liable for my workers and colleagues, because the other departments perceive the success and failings of my own department with what they believe to be my level of accountability. And the department doesn’t have the best history, which they explained in my interview as their justification for hiring me.

But every time I receive a new set of instructions or they restructure the department (it’s happened 6 times in the past 2 years), I only get bits and pieces of information about how it changes my responsibilities.  In the context of the lego exercise, the instructions I receive are as follows.  At any given point in time, I can be any of these: but let’s say that we start our way from the front-line and work our way up.

Person C

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I don’t know what the hell we’re building anymore (besides a mess).  I have two runners giving me very different sets of information.  They can’t see one another although theoretically they really should.

Runner 2 is very adept at hiding because 2 doesn’t want  runner 1, who also acts as 2’s director, to know that they don’t really understand what they are doing.  Runner number 2 fears a loss of control.

And I sincerely believe Runner Number 1 really wants me to succeed (because they really invest a lot of effort into affirming my contributions and have spent a good deal of time and resources in equipping me).

No. 1 has really been intentional about defining my success as being interconnected with the success of the entire organization. I haven’t really received any indication that Runner number 2 is looking out for my best interest even though I’d like to believe that 2 wants to be sensitive to those needs.  In fact, runner number 2 often gives me instructions that make me wonder what their idea of success looks like because it’s so far off the organizational standards for our institutional vision,  and they don’t spend enough time on the ground to really even know what parts I’m working with or what process are involved in the process of building that I feel less inclined to trust their instructions even though I know I am required to abide by them.

Thankfully, runner number one (who shares that outlook and whom I trust and trusts me) has been gracious enough to inform me that I will be responsible for building people who have good work ethic, who feel valued, who act with integrity, who treat each other with respect even when they don’t always agree and so on.  I can buy into this vision.  I may not always be able to recognize the pieces that I have to work with, but I have built people before.  I’ve seen it go well, I’ve had moments when I didn’t know what I was doing because I didn’t have anyone helping me identify the pieces before and things fell apart.  But as a general rule, I have a good understanding of how to listen, how to identify when I need to listen and when I need to speak up, and how to make decisions about what kind of feedback I need so I can ask or equip myself with that support.  So as long as I have one runner who I know is willing to do everything to support me I just try to make the best of things and do the best to stave off any fires that may get out of control when I feel signs they’re igniting.

 

Well you know, I certainly couldn't say sir...

Well you know, I certainly couldn’t say sir…

When I ask runner number 2 for operating parameters because they haven’t taken the time to articulate their needs, or to even gather feedback to ascertain that I understand what it is that they would like from me; I get nothing. This is mostly in part because they’re too busy doing damage control in their area, so I doubt they have even really taken it into consideration. And when I ask, and we finally agree upon a solution, it doesn’t get communicated where it needs to, which has generated this recipe for conflict with queen bee and company.  And God forbid I even try; even in an open and inclusive format, to make any attempt to recommend anything because even though I rank higher in the organization, in the department I no longer have the positional authority for her to feel like she has to listen to me, even if there’s a cliff on the other side of her next step.  And she walks right off the edge just about every time.  And I don’t harangue her about it.  My workers just pick up the slack and try to pick up the slack and try to re-build some sense of normalcy, so we don’t appear to seem so mismanaged or disorganized.

So I suppose my job in real world terms has devolved into the role of putting out those fires so that we can free up our supervisors to avoid scrutiny.  But in lego terms,we can prevent those fires by working to build an organization that understands the value and the process of fire prevention so we can provide a meaningful resource to our clients to use within the greater community.  Runner number 2 doesn’t like the clients or the community because they call a lot of unnecessary attention to the very serious fires number 2 is (unsuccessfully) masking.

That being said, in role C I am not being told not to build people, just to train them not to build fires. And interestingly enough, I have found that the best way to do this is integrated in the way that I build up people:

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Hey, so I notice that we have a fire here that’s getting out of hand… yeah, it sucks… well it doesn’t have to. It really just depends on how we manage it. What are some of the sensations you’re experiencing that lead you to believe you might not have a handle on controlling this fire…. well, they keep getting mad at me for not adding sticks, but I’m allergic to sticks so I have to use this shovel and it makes it really hard to control how many stick I’m putting into the fire… hmm’ have you checked with Gary to see whether he happens to have an extra set of gloves, perhaps he might be able to direct you to where you can get some… that actually makes a lot of sense, thanks for the reminder.

Yesterday when I discussed my role confusion with my direct supervisor, especially since we’d seen an increase in fires pop up since I stepped out of the role of builder and into the role of go-between or runner.  I was essentially being asked to train without giving instructions (in my job description and the departmental structure it is outlined that my role is to train them with skills, that I am liable for the work that they do in my functional area and that my role is to assist in the absence of a designated supervisor. I am also liable to the rest of the organization if I watch the fires happen but don’t intervene to try and stop it, but queen bee and my direct supervisor complain that they are too busy to be accountable for their areas so when I don’t intervene the area goes neglected and inevitably a fire pops up).

I think part of the problem is that queen bee and I work opposite shifts.  And my direct supervisor works during an overlapping shift, but really he spends most of his time working with queen bee.  Because they work the evening shift, when they come in, a lot of the work of running the facility is done mostly by the morning crew. So the perception of the need for oversight may not be as high on their end because my crew ends up doing all of the damage control and can’t do any of that stuff because that’s during the peak time for our facility when it generates the most traffic.  Queen Bee scheduled her buddies to share that shift, so for the workers who are used to working with me, during the time when we are frequented by departmental administrators, and some of our higher value clients, the expectations about what is required to remain in organizational and OSHA compliance is clearly defined and executed, not just by me but also the supervisors that I train who assign those tasks.  And since I’m literally the only point of contact representing our organization during that shift for days at a time, I can understand how these factors may have generated queen bee’s perception of competing loyalty (but I think that’s because she’s used to viewing it through the lens of a silo-ed organization because that’s the only model with which she’s been trained.

When QB’s workers have to make up shifts (that they’ve blown off to go to the tanning salon) or get caught hiding in the restroom snap-chatting and tweeting for hours at a time for days on end (they do get pretty pissed when I ask them to go back and complete a task that they’ve blatantly half-assed).  Yesterday’s eruption had to do with one particular instance in which one of QB’s social media all-stars finally got pulled from her regular cleaning duties, and asked to wipe down an area directly within eyesight of the service desk (an area that we have to keep clean because not only does it collect a lot of pathogens daily, but also an area gets a considerable amount of traffic and that we would be extremely liable for if someone were to get hurt or an infection).  She cut a lot of corners and came back to my desk five minutes later.  It takes our biggest under performer who was not scheduled to clean the area that day at least 40 minutes, so I asked her whether she had finished.  Her reply to me was: “finish what?”

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After considering it for a moment, I concluded that it was a fair question given that she hadn’t had much experience performing the duties outlined in her job description and showed her the duties for the assigned area we had outlined on the cleaning list (which are visibly displayed at the supervisor’s desk (who just happened to be out for a doctor’s appointment) with guidelines pulled from the departmental files so that they were consistent for everyone. All-Star flippantly stated that she hadn’t done them but that she also didn’t see a point to having to do it (she was looking for an excuse to duck into the bathroom to update her profiles again) and I explained to her that since we didn’t have anyone scheduled to come in and that since we were responsible for keeping the area clean considering the usage and risk of infection, that we needed to focus upon cleaning that area, since it was often neglected (which is true, we have morning crew workers in there every week working upon items from the list that under-performer blatantly neglected). The worker was pretty angry by the end of her shift.  I typically just give it enough time to blow over and then discuss it with them during their next shift so that we can establish mutual respect and ground rules for what the expectations are moving forward.

So when All-Star came in to work yesterday morning, the moment I asked her to get started she was out of the gate, “getting me told” so to speak before I could even initiate the topic. I could tell she had rehearsed it.

“Well I talked to Queen BEE and Runner no. 2 and THEY said I don’t have to because it was cleaned two days ago and I know for a fact…”

I let her air out her frustrations at the desk, mostly because I didn’t have the coverage to be able to redirect our venue to a place more appropriate for the discussion.  As I engaged in standard active listening pose, I noticed something fascinating out of the corner of my eye. Queen Bee was THERE (she wasn’t even scheduled during my shift)!  She was literally hiding in an alcove trying not to be noticed (in a neon pink shirt) watching the whole thing go down.

evidence

So I replied with the very textbook explanation (albeit firm and direct I still kept it very respectful) that any discussions that had taken place with her supervisor had not been communicated to me, that I would be happy to speak with them on the subject but in the meantime she was not being asked to do anything inconsistent with what had been asked of her peers. That her concerns for having to clean that particular area were valid, but for different reasons. And that if she had in fact spoken with Queen Bee and runner no. 2 that she must have been made aware that she was being assigned to the space because of concerns that she was cutting corners or neglecting her responsibilities altogether and hiding out in the bathroom stall. So while the intention wasn’t to initiate conflict, the assignment was given to protect her interest and to provide her with a task that we knew she was very capable of performing. That she was welcome to disagree with me if she felt uncomfortable completing a task as I understood it my responsibility to create a safe and respectful environment, but her approach, given her tone, indicated to me that she was more interested in pursuing conflict than in coming to a peaceful agreement.

Naturally she was very defensive, probably more so since she had the audience. She argued that she wasn’t hiding and I pulled out pages and pages of documentation and asked her if she knew what the forms were for (that I had collected the information and just because I chose not to address it with her did not address it with her directly did not mean that I did not notice and that it was my responsibility to report it if I noticed that it was a recurring issue), but rather that we (I wasn’t the only one of her supervisors who noticed) that when we provided her with other opportunities to give her the benefit of the doubt that it had only confirmed the concern (but while the intention was to confirm the behavior, correct it and move forward, not escalate this into a larger issue). So if there were concerns that I was treating her differently, I would not deny it, but that the deviations were based upon the merits of her performance because I believed her to be disengaged with her regular assignment, but that I wasn’t sure of the degree until she raised this issue.

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Then I added that in the absence of a supervisor that I was who would be responsible for assigning tasks, so given that we were both in this situation that her options were to either let me know what it was that she was willing to clean or that she we was welcome to clock out and come back during a time in which she felt more comfortable when she could work with queen bee.

Then she left. I wanted her to.  I don’t like power plays but I am also wise enough to know when I need to clarify a boundary so that I don’t get run all over.  I think the hardest part is that anything that deviates so much from my cooperative style of communication, makes me feel as if I’m mismanaging the situation.  It’s like handling lego bricks that I’ve never seen before. I can feel the nodes and know that they assemble to something, that they have a defined boundary and specific use, but I have no sense of whether I’m using it right even though that’s the tool I’ve been instructed to use (healthy boundaries).

I could hear her venting to Queen Bee who was still standing off in the corner (total ninja fail btw). And I could feel my entire inner being shaking.

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I went back to my work, and during moments of distraction when I could feel my mind start to wander back to that place I’d look at the post it note of a Marianne Williamson quote that I keep taped to my desktop monitor:

“Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful. And so our goal in any situation becomes inner peace.”

I didn’t feel peaceful. If anything I felt scared.  And I didn’t want to transfer that energy to anyone, even if they really did deserve it.

So the moment I got coverage I left my desk for a bit, went outside and I cried.  Then I prayed for a little while.  I prayed for peace.

Apparently the mass text had been sent out because after I got back I kept getting crazy looks from All-stars friends who had made it a point to drop in to the facility so that they could establish solidarity by snubbing me.  And I can understand their sense of loyalty and willingness to protect their friend.  But I didn’t dare challenge them with reason or try to amplify the shortcomings of their friends.  I had no interest in focusing upon all of that.  I was still pretty distraught when I spoke with Runner No. 2 about it that afternoon.

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“She was probably just upset because we had already talked to her about it.” was his reply.

“She’s the one who initiated the conversation,” I informed him.  “The conversation literally started with me asking her to get started cleaning and she leapt out of the gate telling me what it was that she did and didn’t have to do.  And from what I observed of Queen Bee hanging out in the corner, who made no effort to intervene, it sounds as if you discussed quite a few things with her that I had to hear from the worker that were not communicated to me… and she’s not a good hider.  I’m not sure what that was about, but it sounds like you all have discussed concerns about me that you’re avoiding discussing with me. ”

No. 2: Well I’m not here very much and it sounds like you and Queen Bee have very different standards (I do have a tendency to go for the win-win or at least to stay within compliance of established standards since we have so many volatility that erupts from our fuzzy boundaries).  So I don’t really know what’s going on around the building but I trust Queen Bee to tell me.

Me: But we go for long periods in which I’m the only one in the building and if we don’t have a supervisor scheduled then that creates a position in which the responsibility falls upon me, and I’ve asked for parameters for what you and queen bee want on more than one occasion and since you haven’t made a decision about what those should be, I have to go based upon the guidelines outlined by our organization.

No. 2: Well I was going to sit down this summer and try to figure out what I’m going to put into their training. I mean it’s hard, we only get 3 days and then that’s it.

Me: Well we have supervisors returning. Do you think it would be useful to have newly promoted Queen Bee involved in facilitation training and some of your strategic planning so that she can learn how to run some of those trainings? The organization kind of expects that departments conduct continuous on-going trainings since that’s kind of the goal of our institutional programs. When we had it structured, it took my staff 3 months to learn how to do their work well enough to be unsupervised, and that was just in my functional area.  You’re giving them only 3 days to learn how to operate this entire business without any supervision or senior level experience and if you don’t figure that out, the organization’s eventually going to notice.

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…but not necessarily…

And it sort of went on like this.  We agreed on the need for a lot of the same things.  For some reason he was under the impression that I didn’t and I had to clarify that.  I also explained what my front line experiences were and referenced the performance records. He suggested that when I noticed problems occurring that I should make an effort to bite my tongue and just email him to let him know that these problems were occurring, so that I wouldn’t step on Queen Bee’s toes.  And I reminded him of the pages upon pages of unread reports lying in the disheveled pile upon his desk (in addition to the emails) that provided him with all of this information before any of these situations escalated, and that I had made a special effort to bite my tongue because I didn’t want to create any perception that I had made any of my observations under bias, but that in the absence of feedback with how to proceed, I begun to rely heavily upon the performance records , institutional guidelines and my documentation for an accountability mechanism because that critical component of our working relationship had been neglected, and that the confusion about my role also fueling this confusion and relational conflict (p.10) that we were experiencing because of the way it was being managed.

What on piggly wiggly earth do I dang diggly wigglly do woo oo?!

What on piggly wiggly earth am I expected to dang diggly wigglly do woo oo?!

I kept calm as we discussed it and I know I probably sounded hypercritical.  And I did make sure to mention that I didn’t like complaining, but that this was something that I really was struggling with in my role within the department.

Meanwhile, I have other departments who have been trying to poach me from the beginning, and the improvements we’ve made during my tenure would signal disruption if I applied for a transfer which is why I’ve been trying to figure out this whole job search thing for the better part of a year now. And I’m nowhere near as bitchy or cynical as I feel like I come across in my criticisms of these colleagues. But I’ve been pretty silent for the better part of a year, and now that I’ve received affirmation from the organization that the behaviors in which I’d been actively discouraged from participating in were actually expected from the organization all along, I think I’m starting to feel angry (like genuinely angry) about it, not just at my colleagues, but also because of all of the fear based, overly cautious excuses I made for their behavior.  Hey, runner No. 2, wanna hear something?:

You’re not too busy; you’re just disorganized.  And the person that you implicitly trust the most might actually be crazy…! I’d call her a narcissist but she spends a little bit too much time focusing upon what I’m doing for that to be the case entirely.

(Do I give up my job security, benefits, etc. to go somewhere else? And if so, what indicators do I look forward before even applying that will help me trust that I’m moving into a healthier, more organized environment?) I can embrace a lack of structure if the organization has an open culture (what I’m used to) in which we can discuss observations and make suggestions in a way that people still valued and engaged to be accountable for their contributions.  And if I’m looking for the right things in the wrong place, what danger do I risk to my professional reputation if I leave without having made a genuine effort.

It’s unsettling to have the esteem of other departments and my workers, but not the colleagues in my department. But I also don’t think I can continue to take anymore of this either:

 

I can be patient to a point, but in light of the way things have escalated, I’m losing the will to stay because I can see how it’s affecting my attitude, my imprinting and my capacity for patience.

 

Shell Shocked and Ship Wrecked

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Today was a little hard. I spent today in my last professional development training of the series. Today’s topic: Bringing Out the Best in Others. In one sense, it was a wonderful affirmation of the work I’d been doing. The suggestions I made early on, the additional (albeit unnecessary) work I’d done sharpening the saw so to speak, reading professional development books, attending trainings, and consulting with mentors to make sure that I was responsible for everything I contributed. But in another, and I had this sickening realization during lunch (when my boss’s boss popped into the training to scavenge free food and asked me what I thought of the training), that at the top level of our department, he not only didn’t understand the value of improving the quality of leadership for our workers with the behavior we modeled, but that he also had no intention of trying to understand why encouraging us to equip ourselves (and workers) better would benefit our organization as a whole. Quite frankly I got a distinct impression that he wasn’t interested. He had only popped in hoping that I’d reaffirm my boss’s criticism of the professional development training; that I’d believe it was a waste of time; but frankly, it wasn’t. Our entire department should have been there.

One thing stuck out to me as I left today’s training. The facilitator, thanked us for taking the initiative to attend the training. He also made the statement in closing that albeit one of the workplace expectations for the entire organization was to act with integrity and caring toward others (which is outlined in writing on all of our orientation documents given to us in training by our human resources department), that more often than not, those who are often in most need of the training, often don’t see a need for attending. And I felt as if I’d seen many instances where that rang true in my department. Then he concluded with the following quote my performance management expert and author Ken Blanchard:

I think people lose their commitment only after they realize that good performance doesn’t make a difference.

 

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It left me with kind of a sick feeling. It’s not the first time I’ve felt it, but as a general rule I’ve learned very quickly not to repeat the kinds of experiences in which I work really hard and inevitably come to this feeling.  To lose one’s sense of purpose in the place where they cumulatively spend the hours per day is undoubtedly discouraging and often times disorienting.  For the better part of two years (11 months to be exact), I’ve had to come to grips that what I believe to be the values of my organization, and the values of the colleagues and leadership in my department just aren’t in alignment. So I’ve just been doing the best I can to model and create the conditions for a healthy environmental climate through the behavior I model and can record until I can make an ethical transition to something better suited.

But what I realized in the process of working to simply “make the best of things” that I undermine my own effectiveness as a leader and a mentor without having a consistent, routine pattern of reinforcement to demonstrate for my workers when I encourage them to work with integrity (with the understanding that they will be rewarded for their performance), if we don’t share those expectations as an organization or within a department). Which is awkward, and makes me feel as if I am merely reinforcing unhealthy behavior by continuing to stay in that environment. Typically when I can feel the toxins of resentment begin to set in, I take a step back from trying to control everything and just focus upon resting, or developing some tracking system because I think I secretly want to find out that things aren’t as bad as they seem, that they all are just a manifestation of some erroneous pattern I’ve detected in my head.  But what I hate to admit is that the amount of time I spent picking myself apart trying to identify what more I need to give, trying to fix it, is only setting a dangerous precedent and pattern of behavior that I don’t feel comfortable modeling (and would actively discourage) teaching these workers, and I’m not sure how to reconcile it, or that I can.

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What I am sure of is that I’ve exhausted more time than I care to trying to really take ownership of making improvements.  I’ve gotten some great performance feedback from my entry level workers and lower level supervisors, and we’ve had the highest level of leadership retention during our contract renewals that we’ve had in the 6 years I’ve been affiliated with our organization.  So I have the evidence I need to support that the work that I contribute matters and that it’s been a critical component of our capacity to build effective performance and other positive outcomes for the rest of our staff.  But as often as I’ve tried, and as much as I would have liked to be able to write off some of our under-performers off (which can at times include members of our leadership staff), I’m not in a position to be able to correct the areas that are most needed, if we don’t share the same vision or expectations.  But I don’t suppose it’s ever easy when you have to sit back and watch others waste the valuable talent and potential because someone else undervalued it.  And who knows, it’s very possible that I may even overvalue the merits of my contributions.  But based upon the feedback I gained from peers I met from other departments who also attended these trainings, the consensus seems to be, that I’m doing a lot of things right and in alignment with the goals of our organization.  But we all understand that it would not be wise on any of our parts to air our grievances in that specific context.  Not if we comply with the expectation to act with integrity.

So I’ve just been sitting on this information, and trying to figure out what to do in order to reconcile it so that I can make it in to work without dreading it tomorrow.  So for this afternoon, my hump day mental detox activities included a  movie, dinner, a 2 mile walk out in the sun after work, then I came home and plucked around on the guitar for awhile.  I played through the cords for Zee Avi’s Bitter Heart, John Denver’s Take me home country roads, I’ll fly away and Wayfaring Stranger (finally nailed the “f” barre chord). I may have also slipped a little bit of makers into my iced tea after dinner.  But not enough that I can’t wake up early and go for an early morning run before work.

On my walk I really tried to focus upon this really compelling meme I read from Steve Maraboli:

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I asked myself, in this situation, if I don’t want to feel like the victim here, and if I’m going to be able to re-frame this experience in a positive light during my exit interviews or to a prospective employer, then what does it mean to become the hero of my own story?

one of the answers that emerged was to separate myself from the scenario for a moment to create something of beauty. The rationalization was that this would help me remember that there are some things that I can control that have nothing to do with the transactional agreement between myself and the place where I contribute work in exchange for pay, and to connect with neglected parts of me that longed to be validated (hence why I opted for the guitar session).

Ann's_House_3

…another was to reconsider the need for scripting an internal narrative. Anyone with eyes could see that I really struggled and wrestled with the role I was in, but somehow I miraculously made it work, because I valued the relationships between my workers, vendors and clients who were much more forgiving of our organizational shortcomings because I honored those relationships by making them feel valued and appreciated (minus the outliers I’ve mentioned previously).  So if anyone gave me a hard time for walking away from all of this, and I felt the need to be defensive (which internally has been a whirlwind and has caused me a great deal of distress), that I could simply state that:

“…it seems as if you may already have an idea of what you expect me to articulate; so why don’t you tell me what you expect my answer to that question to be, and I’ll either confirm or deny those assumptions… if anything it will at the very least give you a clear picture of the kind of impressions I may have left upon you.”

and then I can just be done with it.

Any explanation I can give that wouldn’t sound like a laundry list would more than likely have to be biblical in nature at best: “I’ve done a lot of praying about it, and I feel as if God may be trying to lead me elsewhere…

I don’t need to harbor all of that other stuff.  I wouldn’t be sharing anything that wasn’t blatantly obvious and if they really do want good honest feedback about their experiences, our organization has gotten to be quite the expert at qualitative research surveys.

...at least that was my understanding of it...

…at least that was my understanding of it…