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).

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…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…

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