It’s a cold rainy April day, I’m at home, steadily applying to open IT positions in and around the city of Toronto. I’ve had plenty of ‘chats’, ‘discussions’ and recruiters on the phone, but no in person interviews quite yet.
I’m on my 6th week of resting at home. Decompressing is a luxury that few are afforded when cut loose from their former employer. It’s a time to reflect and ready yourself for the next challenge. I’m writing now because the anxiety is starting to set in, and I find no better outlet than just writing my thoughts down. I struggle to determine whether the anxiety comes from not working or the prospect of a new role – or both. Gut feeling tells me I have a DRIVE to get another job – if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have drafted 4 resumes and posted to easily 100 roles so far. Gut feeling tells me I’m not afraid of the next challenge – I confidently present myself and routinely demonstrate the skills I advertise on those resumes.
I dig further and the next deeper causes of my anxiety feel like they could be fear of failure. I was, after all, laid off. Twice now. I’m second guessing myself more. I fear the confidence I portray may be seen as some sort of Dunning-Kruger – do I seem overconfident like those who think they are great but actually aren’t? Especially when my resume is now peppered with 2 layoffs where employers, like myself in the past, can read between the lines?
Now, before it becomes an existential crisis of some sort, I’ve boiled and distilled my thoughts into a simple theory: I’m not a good servant-leader. That’s not a bad thing by any stretch – there are plenty of awesome people I’ve met who simply didn’t have the mindset or skill set to rock it in the management & leadership world. It’s something I struggle with because there are few things I get into that I can’t at least get decent at. My peers have always provided support, however my superiors now, twice, have not. My anxiety comes from falling into this trap again.
My last 2 roles started as technical jobs and I moved into management – slowly on the first job, swiftly into the next. Does that mean I’m becoming a ‘better’ leader? OR, had I simply fallen into the trap of confidence & self-assuredness in leading people, only to be perceived as (or actually be) bad at it and be fed a sum of money to walk away quietly?
Analyzing this is quite difficult as I have to have enough emotional intelligence to disconnect myself and look at this professionally. What do I think that guy at those jobs was not good enough at? What do I think that guy at those jobs didn’t do well that lead to his superiors to push for a layoff. It’s too easy to hide behind the ‘RESTRUCTURING’ excuse and I don’t find recruiters / potential employers buy it for a second. Answering my questions – I think that guy overburdened himself and fell into a spiral of promises & failure to deliver.
Wow, that’s a bit of a shot to the ego, but it’s true for me on a personal level. I’ve been far too agreeable in my management career – too eager to take on things, too happy to make my boss excited – let the good times roll! But when it comes down to brass tacks, I often ended up with 30 days of crap to get done in 5. The other destructive element – I hated telling my leaders something was going to be late. Resetting expectations was worse than delivering late because maybe there was a CHANCE I could pull it off.
Managing for some capacity for 10 years – I still struggle to come to grips with this. I want to be helpful, friendly, deliver epic stuff. But I don’t keep my own limits in mind – my mental toughness eventually wearing down until I come into work every day and slump into my chair and start tackling a severely bloated inbox that should never have got there because it could have been avoided with a simple “No.”
Folks, if you’re reading this and you’re feeling like it’s hitting a little too close to home – I’m just thinking of it this way now:
Boss: Man, I think we should get a Porsche.
<cue> Me thinking a) that’s cool, b) if we did X, Y and Z we could totally get a Porsche.
TKJode: Let’s do it, I can make it happen.
Boss: Sweet! Get it done man!
TKJode gets over the excitement and realizes there’s no ACTUAL time to do X, Y and Z, but starts the gears moving anyway. TKJode tries to split his time between previous tasks A, B and C and now X, Y and Z.
Later… Boss: TKJode, how’s that Porsche coming along?
TKJode: Man, it’s a lot of work but things are happening!
<cue> TKJode fails to mention that A, B and C are little behind too because of working on X.
Boss: That’s great TKJode, cuz I’m really excited about that Porsche!!
TKJode: Me too!
<cue> TKJode having a mild panic attack after the boss leaves because we expected X and Y to be done by now but we got stuck with X because there was no time to push things along.
Inevitably – Boss becomes upset because we didn’t get the Porsche in time. Rinse, wash, repeat.
New Me aka. what I should be doing / having in mind at ALL TIMES!
Boss: Man, I think we should get a Porsche.
<cue> TKJode thinking there’s enough on his plate for the next 8 weeks
TKJode: Cool, but I’ve got A, B and C to get done – reassign, reschedule or remove those tasks and I could totally have the cycles to get that Porsche.
Boss: No TKJode, A, B and C are super important, keep working on those, the Porsche can wait.
Oh look, isn’t the 2nd better?! My difficulty, and my anxiety is around falling into the Old Me trap over and over. I can’t continually get caught up in the hype and be so agreeable, but it feels somewhat against my nature – it goes against the grain of my person, especially when it’s interesting and a hot topic that gets me swept up in the excitement.
So then, I naturally wonder – is my output as a manager lower than acceptable because I fall into these habits? Is my output as a manager lower than acceptable because I’m just not good enough in personality, leadership skills, organization ,etc to get the job done? Or, should great managers be able to take all this stuff on and still come out on top? I think I can answer my own question with simple observation – the number of people I’ve seen around the industry that can just willy-nilly pile up tasks like IHOP pancake plates and still come out sparkly is almost ZERO. The great leaders are ones who can focus on and deliver what they promise – and they are self-aware enough to not make promises they might break. The best managers I see are masters of control… over their self AND over their peers and leaders. They say no. They know when to put the brakes on. They’re not afraid to turn something down because it’s better shutting it down up front than wasting bunch of time, money and resources to make it half way only to turn back or fail.
No leader wants to have to take care of a subordinate. Especially upper-middle management – you get there because you did your time taking care of the employees. Many directors feel they deserve that break…and maybe they are deserving of it. Personally I keep seeing how great leaders are the ones who continue to nurture and bring up the next leaders – but that shouldn’t be a crutch or a point of contention that I can lean on and perhaps for some time it was something I expected to continue — that little accountability umbrella that my superior would provide. Maybe a culture of accountability umbrellas would allow leaders to grow & self-pace but I truly don’t believe the North American corporate space is even close to being that soft. Competition and cost-cutting demand only the most self-reliant bootstrapping leaders remain.
But wait! The opposite effect is seen all the time!!!! Ask anyone in any corporate office; “Who’s the useless manager in your area?” There’s often many – peers that know that one person who’s been around and gets by simply by being a task master – dutifully spending hours in Excel submitting numbers with colored graphs, having uninterested one-on-one’s with their direct reports but not actually doing any ‘leading’. They’re OK managers but don’t command much respect. Yet they survive. They survive because they at least do the things that upper management needs which is to simply corral the employees and provide numbers that can be easily acted upon using a common management framework.
Do I become one of those managers? Maybe I have to become that to lead ‘better’. I know how to do the numbers, I know how to report, I know how to put together a useful management framework and I genuinely care about how my teams are doing.
But I over-commit and act cocky about my abilities. So that gets me the door and a bag of cash and a ‘thanks but see ya later’. I’m not mad, I’m only a little anxious that I won’t get out of that pattern any time soon and in this job hunt, maybe that it’s showing a bit on my resume.