Good Leaders don’t always Want to Lead

like_a_bossI’m going to start with something I am professionally proud to say.  In every single job I’ve ever had, I’ve been promoted.  I started as a concession staff member at a theater, and became a manager.  I was hired as the receptionist at an agency, and because the agents assistant and office manager.  Even in my current job, I started at the front desk, and now train new staff members, have my own desk, and go out to meet clients face to face and help them with our product.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’m frustrated at work, and have been for awhile.  My complaints, I feel, are quite substantial.  It’s not just ‘I don’t like my colleague’ or ‘I feel like they could pay for parking’, it’s that my entire team is the front line of defense, only we’re never considered in the grand scheme.  How can you expect your customer service to be at its best, if your customer service team has no idea what’s happening?

My job has kind of become a dumping ground; meaning that every single job that comes up somehow lands on my desk.  Sometimes I don’t mind.  I like being part of things.  But sometimes I’m resentful of it.  I often feel that a specific job is, shall I saw it, beneath me.  I worked hard to get where I am, and we have other people responsible for those tasks.  I try to delegate as much as I can, but I started to wonder why everything is coming across my desk.  We have a team of about ten people, and while I am near the top, I am not the leader.  My colleague has been here three years longer than I have, has more overall knowledge of the system we run then I do, and I still go to him for help when I don’t understand something.  If someone asked me, I would say he’s the leader.

Here’s the problem.  We don’t have ‘leaders’.  The company seems to like the idea of a team working in tandem, all on the same level.  I love the idea, but if you have a dysfunctional team, then that can’t work.  Because we have no one to go to in order to help fix the dysfunction, things get intensely frustrating.   We are a ‘team’ that relies on a few people to do all the work, and yet all take credit.  In this case, I do believe in a hierarchy.  A person who’s job it is to say ‘you’re not pulling your weight’.

Friday afternoon, I got called into the boss’s office.  They told me the meeting was about social media, which I run, and I was all for it.  We talked for maybe ten minutes, and I gave my input.  Suddenly, my boss and the other person in the meeting turn to me and ask ‘so how are you doing?’.  I was a little caught off guard.  I said ‘fine’, trying to ignore the immediate surge of frustration that pushed up on my mind.  I’m certainly not ‘fine’, because I am angry and frustrated every day.  They didn’t let me leave it at fine.

I felt suddenly trapped.  I hadn’t asked to go in and give a review, and I hadn’t been warned.  They were suddenly pressuring me to give them all the cooped up information my team and I have been feeling for months.  Because my emotional state was already so overwhelmed and I was barely making it threw every day, I snapped.  I told them exactly what was wrong, not stopping to re-phrase things to make them polite.  I told my boss that the company is taking advantage of us, and we’re feeling abandoned on the front lines.  I told her that we have no one to go to, and no one to help us with those team members who are not pulling their weight.  I said communication is such a big problem that despite this awesome future for the company they’re planning, the current team is so fractured and so unhappy that we’re not going to reach that future.  Without actually saying it, I told her that me, and a few other colleagues who I did not name, are pretty much ready to jump ship because we deserve better.

I was mean.  I didn’t swear, I didn’t cry, I just calmly said everything, without holding much back.

At the end of the meeting, they called me brave.  They said it over and over, how brave I am to bring this all up, to be the one to say it like it is.  My boss said it hurt to hear that all that was happening in her company, but she was glad she knew.  Apparently she had no idea, which I don’t fully believe.

Here’s where it backfired.  They started talking about leaders, and how leaders are the ones who come forward.  How I was the one who came forward, and how natural it was for me to lead.

Wait, what?  How did my tirade of negative feelings towards the company suddenly make me more a leader than my colleague who’s been here longer than me?  How did my breaking down after being forced into a corner make me a better choice?  They said the people who are meant to lead don’t often want the job, but they take it.

That’s when I looked at them seriously and said ‘don’t you dare put my in charge of this team!’.  I was furious at the idea that their response to my saying ‘I can’t hardly handle the workload’ was to give me more responsibility.  And not only that, they were going to anger my colleague, who had already asked for some of that responsibility, but completely ignoring him and giving it to me even though I’d never wanted it.  I felt instantly trapped.  I respect my colleague.  I think he deserves a conversation.  He’d already been angry for weeks because his query for a possible leadership position had gone completely ignored.  I argued for him because I felt bad, but they told me if he’d really wanted it, he’d have pushed for it.  He would have stepped up and starting doing the job while he waited.

Bullshit.  I’m a hard worker, and I always have been.  I take on more responsibility than I need to, and I don’t usually complain.  And because of my ‘sure I’ll help’ attitude, people take advantage of me.  They dump work they don’t want to do on me.  You expect us to start doing a job way above our pay-grade for free when you’re already treating us like crap?

Then I realized something.  In every other job I’ve ever worked in, I’ve been eager to do more than my pay-grade.  I see it as a way to recommend me for the next position.  So why am I so against it this time?  Why am I getting angry at what they’re saying about my colleague?  It’s because I’m so crushed by this company, so abused and used, that I don’t have any interest in moving up.  In fact, I want out!  If I had the money, I would be out tomorrow.  I would take my chances on finding another job and leave.  For the first time in my life, I’m only here for a paycheck.

Working just for money sucks.  I mean seriously sucks.  You spend a lot of time at work, so when it drones away full of anxiety and stress, and you barely make enough money anyway, it’s awful!  I want to be passionate about what I do.  I want to work hard and feel good.  I want to care about what I do, and go out of my way to push farther, harder and be better.

The truth is that I’m not sure I an respect a company that would step over someone the way they’re doing to my colleague.  If you don’t think they can do the job, then have a conversation with them.  Not only are you insulting that person, but you’re putting me in a horrible situation, because he’ll have to look up to someone his junior.  I’m lucky that he’s a good guy, and would never blame me, but still, the situation is horrible.  If you treat him like that, what makes me think you’re going to treat me any better?

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