About a year ago, I took a job with a publicly traded, globally recognized company. The people who hired me were clients of my former company. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse doing the thing I love most and do best. I loved my old company and was sad to leave it, but it made no sense at all to turn down the opportunity.
My pay was doubled and the benefits are amazing. For the first few months, I could not believe my luck. I was on a great team and had a great boss; all systems go. Then the guy who hired me was promoted and moved to a totally different unit of the company—and I got a new boss.
She is a nightmare.
At the beginning, she did a few things that were just weird, like gossiping about people and pitting the teammates I work with against each other. At one in-person team meeting, she was very drunk and started making fun of people on the team. She mocked the way I dress. I feel like I am back in middle school where a mean girl rules the roost.
I thought okay, well, I will just keep my head down and wait this out. I was sure the higher ups would catch on that this woman shouldn’t be managing people, would replace her with an adult, and things would go back to normal.
But recently something happened that I just cannot stomach. I had been working on a business plan for a new project that had been approved by my former boss. It was strategically aligned with company goals. I put in literally hundreds of hours of research, interviewed tons of people, and crushed it. I ran it past my old boss and he was blown away—so psyched for the team and for me. The plan was ready to roll out. I was going to lead the rollout with another colleague, and I was so excited.
After my big presentation to the team, my new boss called me into her office. I really thought I was going to get a pat on the back for all my hard work. What a surprise, then, when she told me that I was causing problems on the team because my work is too good; that I produce such good work so quickly, I am making the other people on the team—my peers—feel bad. She actually asked me to slow down and pad the timeline for the plan.
I feel like I am losing my mind. I am looking around at the team and they are all extremely hard-working and competent. I cannot for the life of me figure out what she is talking about. I came to the company because of an opportunity to shine in a high-performance culture that is devoted to excellence. Nothing in my work experience has prepared me for a boss who lowers standards and asks people to dumb down their work to make other people feel better. I told this story to my friends and they couldn’t believe it.
I’m hoping you have some insight that can help me.
Losing My Mind
Dear Losing My Mind,
No. You’re not.
When we work in a system that was humming along beautifully, and a new person joins it and turns it upside down, the tendency is doubt ourselves and question our perception of reality. That should be a good instinct, right? We always need to check in with ourselves and ask how might I be contributing to this? But if nothing else has changed, and the new person is the leader, and all of a sudden you are in a hall of mirrors and doubting your sanity, it isn’t you. Teams can survive a new person who sows chaos for a long time, but when it is the leader, all hope is lost.
When things go hopelessly awry, it is always the leader.
I will say it again: it is always the leader.
And this leader is messing with your head. Maybe she is nuts and it isn’t intentional. My guess is she isn’t, and it is intentional—but either way, it isn’t good. Maybe she wants you to slow down so she can get more money into her budget. Maybe she is threatened by you. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. It is clear that whatever is driving her is not the best interest of the company or your success.
Max De Pree said “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant and a debtor.”
This new leader is defining a reality you cannot thrive in. There is your insight.
You didn’t ask for a recommendation, but I can’t help myself: run, do not walk, away from this situation. Start applying elsewhere today. Get away from crazy town as soon as you can, because these kinds of situations are never resolved with attempts at honest conversation. You will just feel crazier and crazier and start thinking it is you.
If you want to work in a high performance environment where excellence is recognized and rewarded, you must go find someone to work for who builds and nurtures that kind of culture—and, might I add, someone who has high personal and professional standards, who does not get sloppy drunk at company events, who does not gossip about team members, and who does not mock their people. Ever. Let alone in front of the team.
I have heard some whoppers, but this one is really wild.
Save your sanity. Run.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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