Your new manager sends out a company-wide email introducing you, including some background verbiage and positive accolades. Your new colleagues seem nice and ready to help you get up and running.
You attend your first team meeting, say something about yourself, and for the next couple of weeks you meet with different people to help you “get ramped up.” You’re totally excited to dig your heels in…to begin proving yourself as the star you know you are, to contribute to your team and build a wonderful and collaborative relationship with your new manager. But, mostly, you’re excited about your new tribe… your new work family.
What happens next?
Well, there are numerous possibilities, including the following:
- The company’s leadership is aligned with their values; it’s simply an extraordinarily engaged, empowering and fulfilling culture where you have passion and purpose, your coworkers are happy, and your boss (as it turns out) is a fantastic mentor and coach!
- To a greater or lesser extent, the opposite of #1
Many of us have had the good fortune to experience possibility #1. Some, maybe more, of us have had the misfortune of experiencing possibility #2.
Several years ago, I accepted an offer and quickly regretted my decision, certainly not a unique situation. Sure, the comments on Glassdoor and the smiling Facebook photos of my soon to be manager along with our meetings and team interviews didn’t seem to produce any red flags…Then, one day that all changed.
It was maybe a month into the new job when I felt it… a slowly simmering uneasiness in my gut toward my manager. While pleasant at first, she almost never came around to our cubes to say, “Good morning.” I would see her walk in, head down, and then immediately go to her office without eye contact. I also began to notice that she never used common courtesies in emails, shooting all communications without a “Hope you had a great weekend,” or even “Good morning. That the curve of her smile could simply disappear into a scowl just as quickly as the corners could turn-up didn’t help matters… nor did the fact that she spoke negatively about others within the organization, as long as they were not in earshot.
I had only been in my new role for about six weeks, and we were three weeks away from moving into a new office, the seating chart had been distributed to the team. There were seven of us, with a double-sided row of three cubicles for six. The most senior colleague was slated for a cube in a separate area in order to have the most autonomy to focus on his sales goals. Still ramping up, I was happy to know I’d be close to the team so I could hear conversations that would help me continue to learn. I also looked forward to engaging from a relationship standpoint.
In that specific moment, my new manager lost all credibility with me.
One morning, I received a meeting invitation from my manager. I had no idea what the meeting was about and didn’t really give it much thought. Well… perhaps I should have. She scheduled the meeting to share a change to the seating arrangements at our new office. As of immediately, I would now be the one seated separately from the team. The new information hit my 13-year-old-didn’t-get-invite–to-the-party insecurities like a full-on dagger. I asked why and immediately sensed—at the core of my being—that her stammering, circuitous response was completely fabricated. In that specific moment, my new manager lost all credibility with me. That day, coupled with a series of similar events, showed me who she really was. I was shattered; all hope for this job was gone. I later learned my instincts were right! She had not told me the truth. One of the team members said something about me to her, and she was too afraid to speak with me directly or call a meeting to get clarification.
The more her behavior revealed who she really was, the more anxiety I felt.
From that day on, I became increasingly disengaged, feeling anxiety at work on a daily basis. I just couldn’t shake it. Every time I met with her, I felt fear in the pit of my stomach, my mouth would dry up, and I frequently stammered. I couldn’t believe it. I had been someone who fearlessly traveled around the country to meet with big-time executives, and yet I couldn’t talk myself out of the fear I felt at work. Every morning, I’d give myself a pep talk or listen to a Ted Talk, but I just couldn’t shake the internal buzz of stress. It would stick with me all day, Monday through Friday. The more her behavior revealed who she really was, the more anxiety I felt. I just wanted to run. My ability to perform was greatly affected, along with my entire life!
Suffice it to say, I didn’t stay long. Today, I recall this manager as “The Boss Who Stole My Job.” Like many leaders, she was out of alignment with who she claimed to be during the interview process, and—because of this unalignment—she created a negative, disparate, ambiguous work environment where people operated under duress and fear. The irony is, it’s likely she felt the exact same way but didn’t know how to be any different. Unfortunately, I later came to realize the entire organization turned a blind eye due to valuing revenue over people. They churned and burned through the people, but it didn’t matter as long as the numbers were hit.
So there’s the deal. This manager had no clue about her own behavior, nor the effect it had on her direct reports. I don’t think she acted that way on purpose. Her behavior was a result of her background and her environment…maybe even her childhood! It all somehow resulted in the practice of fear and avoidance, an inability to face potential conflict, and certainly a lack of self-awareness.
We all bring our humanness to work with us. But, without self-awareness, we are basically clueless.
The good news? Self-awareness is trainable, and more and more companies are investing in programs like mindfulness—a practical approach to self-awareness—to help their people learn and cultivate these skills so they can become better leaders.
Why does it matter?
From a personal standpoint, as my friend, Jeff Ikler shared on a recent podcast, “When there is a disconnect between how we are being and our values: our authentic self…we are standing against our true self. We suffer.
I will add, from first-hand experience, the people we lead suffer too.
Are you stealing your employee’s employment?
As much as 37 percent of employee engagement can be attributed to the boss’s leadership behavior. Disengaged employees are less productive and more likely to leave. Think about the financial impact of an unproductive employee and employee turnover, not to mention the impact on morale.
Isn’t it worth it to model and cultivate a culture of mindfully self-aware leaders who exemplify those great leadership qualities? This is more than talk. More than the core values you put on posters and in recruiting pitches! Leaders that inspire, teach, challenge, build trust to increase engagement and wellbeing lead to greater workplace fulfillment and better business outcomes!
No matter your title or role in an organization, we are ALL are responsible for what we bring to the party! When you are in a position of leadership. NEVER overlook the impact you have!
While leadership skills can be learned from books, changing behavior requires the willingness to get uncomfortable, to be honest, and vulnerable, and to practice mindfulness. You know, mindfulness! A practical and accessible approach to self-awareness that allows us to see the intricacies of our habituated patterns and witness our own selves in the moment. Purposeful change can only happen when we know what needs to be changed and with mindfulness, we can see precisely how we can change a specific pattern.
As crazy as it may sound, I’m thankful for that awful manager. Without her, I wouldn’t be what I am doing today!
Through the practice of mindfulness, I now have compassion for her, as well as a commitment to invite leaders to the practice of mindfulness.