“I’m not going to put numbers down in an offer until you tell me you will take the role”. That was the offer proposed to me by a former boss’s boss who was seeking to replace my boss. How could I possibly take the internal promotion without knowing what the offer was in numbers and expectations? Because she was technically my bosses boss, I understood the importance of treading lightly. Losing my job was not an option for me. My bosses boss, sitting in a different office halfway across the United States, would frequently call me in regard to my boss’s whereabouts. I grew up with a chain of command mentality, so I would often reply that I was unaware of his whereabouts and that she should contact him directly. It wasn’t that I was a fan of my immediate boss or that I was seeking to protect him, rather that I was abiding the rules of appropriate engagement.
After speaking at the Women Who Count Conference several months ago, I was invited into a table discussion regarding inspiring female role models at work. As the conference attendees spoke about the powerful female role models they had experienced at work, I was coming up empty. I legitimately could not think of a single female role model in the workplace. Perhaps this is because the industry was male-dominated at the time. The only female in a superior role to me had been the individual I mentioned in the former paragraph.
It did get me thinking though. I felt lucky that I had the exposure to a chaos-inducing boss. Not only did she cross professional boundaries, but she would also cross personal boundaries. She felt the need to be in the “know” with employees personal dilemmas and would often let others know of the employees lives outside of work. I watched as she manipulated employees, specifically females, by gaining their trust in keeping secrets of their personal lives. In return, she would use it as leverage as an employer. She often pitted individuals against each other and would watch the fallout only to come in later to aid in the reconcile and secure her status as the perceived peace-maker. She encouraged her employees to live just outside of their financial means as a retention strategy. I learned to keep her at an arm’s length and it earned me the name “Ice Queen” in certain circles.
I do not believe that she did this out of malice, but out of her own insecurity. She had come to the top of the industry from a lot of hard work, but the investment in her as a leader wasn’t returned. She was a producer, not a leader, which are equally important in every company. She had no idea of what leadership meant and it was not her fault. As a distraction, she created unnecessary chaos throughout the company which destroyed employees trust in each other but left her in her position as the “steady” leader. She lost some of the best real talents I have ever seen in the recruiting arena. Had she the foresight to ask for help in her development it may have been different and perhaps I would still be with that company. It may sound odd to have a tremendous amount of respect for what her lack of fundamentals and toxic leadership taught me, but it’s enabled me to be a better leader for my company. She taught me how to not lead and that is a gracious gift.
Regarding the position she sort-of offered me, I declined and I followed my husband’s career in Germany instead. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Since then, I heard the Board of Directors finally invested in her and she has overcome a good deal of her flaws as a leader. I am happy for her and the company that she leads. Her past serves as an example of what not to do while her future is an example of how anyone can overcome flaws. Poor leadership is a gift in many ways. Happy Holidays from The Office Protocol and enjoy the season with those you love.
One thought on “The Gift of Poor Leadership”
I agree. The lessons learned from failure/mistakes/weakness ( our own or those of others) can be very powerful. Since women were invited to the leadership table late, we often had to “learn on the job”. The traits that we saw modeled by the men in our profession were not necessarily a good fit for us. The traits that came naturally to us were not necessarily respected by others. The skills required for leadership are not easily developed by a trial and error process . Now that leadership training, coaching and mentoring are so readily available, the road is less treacherous. .