So I’m finally sitting in a meeting room with my boss. I hadn’t been able to talk with her for a few weeks now (which was getting pretty frustrating), so what I wanted to get out of the discussion had been changing quite a bit. She waits for me to take the lead. I decide to take a meta-level approach.
“I’m glad we have chance to talk. It feels like we’ve been… kind of … at odds with each other,” I confessed. “Maybe it’s me – I’m so keen to see progress and push forward in a ‘dynamic’ way that when the brakes go on, it’s difficult to understand. Then, at the same time, it seems you’re holding things back to prioritise ‘excellence’ in our work. Should we be rethinking those values together?”
“I also feel the conflict”, she said. “I just don’t have the time or the energy to keep negotiating.”
When she says negotiating, she means dealing with me being challenging. And I had been. In fact, since I’d joined this small organization a year back, wanting a change from large scale international communications, I’d done nothing but challenge – believing that to be what she wanted. My brief was to help the organization professionalise – so much needed to be done – and I loved it! Influence, scope, potential – the role had reignited my entrepreneurial spirit so much that I’d probably over-challenged.
“You don’t seem to want any direction from me”, she said – and as it became clear this conversation was effectively ending our working relationship, I felt relief. At heart, I did want to be my own boss and direct my own work. The jealously I felt when I heard other people talk passionately about their own businesses said it all. But my head was still in all of the struggles I had been involved in over the past year. Why had she been avoiding a conversation with me if she felt conflict? Didn’t she want to at least try to find a way to leverage our differences? Why had my appraisal been so positive just 2 months ago? And why did she keep stalling on decisions? None of it seemed to make much sense.
As we explored what had gone wrong it seemed we had completely different understandings about the situation, fuelled by unspoken assumptions and misunderstandings about where the business was and what I should be doing.
At that point, I gave up. I was already facing a warmer, brighter sun – it felt like I was being bathed in promise. If there was ever a time to stop being an employee and start being an entrepreneur (and I’d stored plenty of ideas to be getting on with from over the years), this was it. At least she had done me a favour and literally told me what I needed to hear. I’d spent so many years believing that I needed the stability of a job to pay the bills that actually now, I realised I could pull together enough money to last 6 – 12 months, and I had a ton of pent up energy to go for it. Now was my moment.
After leaving the room I wondered two things. Why did we ever think that the values of dynamism and excellence could sit alongside one another in this organization? They felt like opposites now. And in pursuit of our preferred values, who had precipitated this outcome more – her, or me?