On Leadership

Whether or not this pans out, something extraordinary has happened….

I sat in a room yesterday being interviewed for a position for which three weeks ago, I don’t think I’d have had the cojones to apply.

Three weeks ago I was questioning if I even want to stay in this sector. I was questioning if I needed to make what I’m making, and figuring out how significantly I could reduce my cost of living so that I could get out of an unhealthy work environment.

Three weeks ago, I went prepared to a conference for my profession. Having already made the decision that I need to find my next job, I had some business cards printed with my personal contact info and my LinkedIn profile address. I went knowing that I had to network. For reals, this time. Not just find the one person in the room that I was comfortable with and spend the whole time talking to them – but to jump around, meet a lot of people, and let the world know that I exist.

I also attended a two-day leadership workshop in advance of the conference. I’d mistakenly assumed it was going to be a workshop to teach leadership skills, but instead it was a horizon-broadening two day conversation about the qualities and characteristics of leadership, what the role of leadership is – not only within an organizational structure – but in the profession as a whole.

I learned something really important during that workshop: I am a leader.

Now, I’ve known some of this already. Perhaps I’d not have used the word “leader,” and opted for “influencer” or “person whose opinions are sought.” I always said I never wanted to be the boss, but I wanted to be the person that the boss would turn to for advice.

That, in and of itself, is a form of leadership. What I was shying away from or hesitant to accept was the responsibility for that leadership. I didn’t want to be the person who pushed the button. I wanted to be the person that said, “here are three potential buttons. Push one.”

I didn’t believe that I was qualified to be the button-pusher. I thought I still had way too much to learn.

But I think I’ve come to understand now that a leader isn’t someone who knows all the answers. A leader is someone who asks questions. And, a leader is someone who knows how to ask those questions (and the followup questions) of the people who can help determine the answers.

A leader is a convener – someone who can bring together the right team of people who have the capacity to achieve a goal. A good leader is someone who has the respect and support of that team.

I didn’t say loyalty. Loyalty is different. Loyalty has positive connotations, but I think loyalty can also lead someone down the wrong path. If a leader has loyalty to the mission, then their team will likely be safe in having continued loyalty to their leader. But if a team comes to realize that, as much as they respect and support or appreciate their leader, that the mission or goal is compromised – they should speak up. I think sometimes “loyalty” to a person can be detrimental to the cause (whether it be a tangible cause like “manufacturing of widget” or an intangible one like “be happy.”) Mostly because people are fallible. People are sometimes driven by altruism, but at some point greed and self-preservation can kick in and you don’t even see it coming.

Another thing I think I’ve come to realize is that that the person who pushes that button has never been solely responsible for the win or the fallout. The credit for the wins is shared by all. And the opportunity to learn from and overcome the fallout is equally shared by all.

The type of leader I am is the type that shares credit where credit is due. It was important to me when I was part of the team – and now that I’m in the leadership position at work, it’s important to me that I give my team that same due.

So, three weeks ago – I went through all of that. It’s been percolating since. But here’s what else happened.

During one of the lunchtime networking sessions, I sat at a table with one of our vendors. I explained my work sistuation and he suggested I give him my contact info. In his job, he is frequently presented with the information that his former contact at an organizaiton has either moved on or is planning to move on – and he might be able to put me in contact with the right people at the right time the next time that happens. I happily passed him one of my bright black and yellow business cards.

The following week, he copied me on an email to a recruiter friend of his that he’d met along the way. “I met this incredible person at the conference and she is discretely looking for her next move.”

I followed up with a thank you to the vendor and a message of introduction to the recruiter. The recruiter responded, asking for my resume.

I sent that over.

Two phone calls and four days later, I’m sitting is his office during a pre-interview to determine if i’m the right fit for a C-Level position in an established and well-funded organization. At the end of our interview, they seemed pretty certain that I would be a great fit for the job – and had these parting words to say:

“The only thing you lack is enough confidence to see that you have ALREADY been doing this job for the past three years. The title is throwing you off – don’t worry about the job title. It means nothing. It is about the work – and you’re more than qualified to do this work.”

Four days after that, I’m driving downtown to meet with the current CEO of the organization and some of her colleagues. That was yesterday.

By the end of that interview, they assured me I would be contacted soon for a followup – to come in and more formally meet the rest of the staff and perhaps some of the Board.

The possibility of getting this job is, right now, a VERY real possibility.

Whether or not this pans out, something extraordinary has happened.

I have embraced myself as a leader.

And, as such – I want to give the credit everywhere it’s due.

I called the recruiters and thanked them profusely for the pep-talk and the opportunity. I sent a handwritten thank you note to the woman who ran the leadership workshop in advance of the conference. I have sent an email to the vendor that put me in touch with this recruiter letting him know how grateful I am (and if I get this job, I’m sending his entire office a fruit basket).

And you.

Yeah. You.

All of this started about three years ago when I was a heartbroken, mourning mess of a woman – and I started writing.

You read what I had to say and you were supportive. You remembered me from one post to the next and some of you started to see the change in me before I did. The confidence I had to sit in front of the CEO of a $10M organization and ask her just as many questions as she asked me during the course of a 2+ hour interview….that all started here.

So thank you.

If I get this job – fantastic. The work will be hard and my time will be limited for a while as I acclimate to a very different professional climate. If I don’t? I’ll get the next one.

I have no doubt of it.

Submission and control: an introspective essay about the inverse proportionality of job satisfaction and my craving to submit

Introspective. I guess if I had to whittle myself down to a short list of words, introspective would be one of them. The first step is to acknowledge what I want. The next is often to uncover why I want it.

This is reminding me of a frequent phrase that kids so often hear growing up from their parents (or parental figures). “Because I said so.”

That was rarely a satisfactory answer for me growing up. I mean, I was a more-or-less well-behaved child, so I’d do what was asked of me (as long as it wasn’t clean your room or do your homework, because fuck that noise), but if I felt that something they wanted me to do was unjust or unfair or unnecessary, I’d ask why, and when the answer was “because I said so,” it felt….I don’t know, like I was operating in the dark. What if the goal for said task could more easily be achieved by other means?

Example: Parents telling me to take my shoes to my room while I’m in the middle of watching a TV show before the days of DVR and being able to pause live television.

I’d negotiate. “I’ll do it after the show.”

“No, now.”

“Okay, but during commercials.”

“No, now.”

“Why now?”

“Because I said so.”

That was really aggravating, because I would miss out on something I was enjoying for a task that didn’t really seem to have any specific reason to have to be done “right now.” The goal was to have my shoes end up in my bedroom. What was the difference between that happening during a time that was inconvenient to me versus ten minutes later when I wouldn’t miss any of my show?

Suppose they had told me, “Because we’re showing the house to a realtor and they are arriving in a few minutes.” Well, then. Now there’s a prioritized reason for my shoes going back to my room right away. Except, if the goal was for the shoes not to be on the floor when the realtor arrived, another option might have been to put them on.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m usually pretty goal-oriented vs task oriented. Tell me what the goal is and I will get us there. That’s how I am in most things, including work. Tell me how much you need me to raise and I’ll put together the plan to raise that much. But the goal needs to be reasonable. Suggest a fundraising goal that is double what I achieved last year without any additional resources, and you bet your ass I’m going to ask “why!?” Likely also, “Are you out of your mind?” because I don’t appreciate being set up for failure.

But there’s not so much “why” involved when a D/s dynamic pops up in my relationship. That’s when I get much more task-oriented. The difference there is that my goal is to please, and this is done by completing tasks. There is a lot less “why” involved when the answer is “because he wants me to.”

If you’ve known me for any significant amount of time, then you know that the cycle of dissatisfaction with my job is…well, cyclical. I’ll amend that to say – it’s not so much the job, but the environment of it. The leadership here is inconsistent, more than a little bipolar, and it makes me feel off-kilter. Within my department we have a secret motto: “Stop asking why,” because so much that happens here doesn’t make sense, and we know that the things we’re tasked with are counterproductive. When we start asking why, we start getting frustrated.

I have a real problem with being in a non-consensual D/s dynamic with my workplace. As a department head, I should be part of the team that helps us reach our goals. To do so, I want answers to “why” and the opportunity to suggest innovative ways to achieve those goals.

I don’t like it when the answer I get is “because I said so,” especially when I know what they’re asking of me is counterproductive.

I’m on one of those cycles right now. The most important task I have today is to not quit. This takes a lot of energy, because right now the only control I really have at this job is my ability to walk away. I want to focus on what I have to do, but I’m having some trouble with it because my anger and frustration keep getting in the way.

I started daydreaming. This usually leads me to the understanding of what I want. His fist full of my hair, his low, measured tone, and a command.

I uncovered my want. I want to submit.

Then I ask myself, “why?” What does that desire address, because I don’t always feel that way. Not since I pulled my life together and got shit under control.

That was the key. Control. Consistency. Expectations. (Sanity.) There’s a lack of all of that at work and I start to feel paralyzed by the disorganization of tasks and priorities and ideas in my head.

I want to feel productive, so I asked my lover for an assignment. It’s that simple, I figured out what I wanted and why I wanted it, and then I asked for help. To be clear, we’re not in a strict D/s relationship, though there are sometimes elements of D/s in our interactions. He candominate me. He does not always choose to do so.

But today I requested it. I asked for an assignment to hold me over until the next time I see him. Some people would call that topping from the bottom. You don’t want to know what I call those people. (For the record, I call it communicating with my partner.)

I want to submit because I want to feel control again. Sounds weird, right? Usually people talk about submission as the idea of giving up control.

But, today with a job I keep trying not to quit because I feel like success in this environment is unreachable, my future seems a little bit foggy and unstable. By assigning me a series of tasks- my lover has given me a chance to feel that I am in control of my success because the tasks and deadlines are clearly defined, the goals are achievable, and I have a sense of accountability toward him.

All things I wish I could feel in my day job.