When I was a young leader I went to work at an organization I had known and loved for years. In fact, the leader had mentored me in my high school years. I was so excited about this new opportunity and couldn’t have been more expectant for the great things That were about to happen. I was convinced that this would be a step toward bigger and better opportunities for me.
Dazed and confused
I certainly didn’t expect the buzz saw I ran into on day one. I got to my office early and quickly realized I had been unconsciously incompetent. In other words, I got to work and it dawned on me I had no idea how to do this job. What was worse, I couldn’t get my former mentor and now, new boss, to tell me what I was supposed to be doing. In addition, that first day, it became clear that the relationship had changed. He was no longer a mentor and friend but a boss. In the coming months, our communication stagnated and the only way he would initiate conversation with me was by email. I was dazed and confused. There was passive aggressive behavior that confounded me and often I had to choose the truth in the face of pressure to conform to manipulation.
Dysfunctional team dynamics
In my new position I was asked to be part of the senior leadership team. It was an honor to be asked and I was hopeful, as I said yes, that this would mean better relationship with my boss and his team. After attending a few of the weekly meetings it became apparent that this team was as dysfunctional as our office staff. The team would try to give input, counsel, or provide accountability for initiatives that had been promised but not yet accomplished. The leader would nod his head yes and give no specifics. Everyone around the table knew that meant nothing was going to change. When these awkward moments came everyone would just look down at their shoes until someone changed the subject. It wasn’t until I read Patrick Lenconni’s book, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, that I realized just how dysfunctional this team really was.
I could tell many more stories about this situation but I’ll save those for another day. In short, I was faced day after day in that job with the option of living in relational integrity or surrendering to the unhealthy organizational culture I felt stuck in. Most days I chose well but some days I didn’t.
Here’s what I learned in my 3.5 years in that role.
- Never ever give up on your ideals
No matter what anyone else does, hold true to who you are. The ideals in you, are based on God-given values. When you let go of your ideals you become a shell of the person you and God want you to be.
- You are not a victim
Sometimes we are victimized but we don’t have to be victims. Victims are powerless, you are not. Powerful people recognize they have choices and they steward that responsibility. You are the manager of your life, so regardless of what others do, choose wisely.
- Think about the story you want to tell
Whenever I’m faced with difficult decisions of integrity, I try to think about the story I want to be able to tell my wife, my kids, and my grandkids. When I do that, the decision that seemed so unclear quickly becomes abundantly clear. Not easy but clear.
- Remember, people are watching you
There were people on that leadership team who watched me make really tough decisions that cost me equity with my boss over and over again. Later, one of those guys became a key player in the endeavor I started and still lead today. He’s still with me and we are still making tough decisions that we love telling our grandkids about.
- Bitterness will destroy you
After about 2 years in that role I got so upset I started saying negative things about this leader to some friends of mine. I just felt I had had enough and needed to vent. But bitterness doesn’t make you better. It’s like cancer that eats you up from the inside out. Someone has said, it’s like drinking poison and expecting it to kill your enemy. I realized I had to forgive because I was becoming someone I didn’t want to be. I was grumpy with my wife, short with my kids and thinking about this stuff all the time. I asked God for his grace and he gave me the strength I needed to forgive this guy. Here’s what’s amazing – I actually began to feel compassion for him. I started learning things I was missing and was able to, for the most part, enjoy my last year and a half working there.
When you hold true to your ideals, the process may be difficult but the story becomes an opportunity for growth and transformation for you and others who are watching.