It’s the last day of what has been an abysmal month for the company. In the morning meeting, we were told that a reckoning was coming, a heavy dose of tough love to help turn things around for all of us. We were going to be held accountable for things we already hadn’t done. Things which most of us–most certainly me–had said we had been doing.
It’s a sales job, and making phone calls is part of the job description. Thing is, I really dread making phone calls, even if it’s to someone I know and like. I barely call my best friend or my own parents more than once a month. It’s partly because it’s so draining for me. More than anything, what I feel I most need during the day is time to think, time to process what I’ve been reading, watching, hearing, plans and strategies I’ve been mulling over, without being interrupted for feeling guilt for not doing something else.
The last 12 months have been volatile to say the least. My daughter was born, my first, and inducted me into the world’s biggest club I never knew existed.
But I also hit one of the lowest points in my life. It was very dark, and in order to pull out of it, I had to make some changes.
By necessity, I started doing what I felt like I needed to do to get through the day. One of these things was making time no matter what to do reading and writing. It also meant avoiding activities which were either very threatening or very draining to my emotional state. Making phone calls represents both of those things for me.
It’s a good thing to not work in a place where you are micromanaged. This puts the weight on personal responsibility. In this sense, I failed on my end of the bargain, putting my needs above that of the company, and it’s wholly my fault.
This reckoning is a good thing, I believe. It also stirs up painful truths which I’m now having to face.
One of the most painful parts is the injury to my perfectionism, the wanting to be perfect and to be thought of as being perfect by others. This is separate from wanting to do the right thing. This is wanting to be flawless, and to have others think I am flawless. It is a pride thing. On principle, I should derive no pleasure regarding how I look to others, or how I think I look to others. Injury to this part is a good thing, as it exposes a deficiency in my character.
Next, is the betrayal of my integrity, saying that I’ve done something even though I haven’t. This is the tricky one for me, because as soon as I start to confess this error, specters of excuses rise up to deflect blame to others. They point out that I am hardly the only one who does this; that given how many tasks we have to complete per day, and how redundant they are, it is understandable, or even expected, to fudge some of them to get the important work done; that there is some blame on management who has been so inconsistent in their expectations and oversight of our work; that the entire system is an elaborate way of each of us protecting our self interest to those above us.
All this does not alter the meek, soft spoken virtue of truthfulness which has been pushed aside by these other voices. When did I forget that I must always have honesty, even in mundane ways like this?
What I must do is simple really. I must recover the tender child and head his voice as I once did, understanding that this repentance is a discipline and its own virtue as well.
Beyond my own actions, there are principles at work here in regards to leadership which are still worth commenting on.
It is amazing to me to think back on how damaging a lack of consistency can be to the attitudes and behavior of the entire organization, whether it is through turn over or by habitually setting new expectations which are forgotten after a week or two. It creates a disease of perceived sarcasm on the part of the management, which the employees respond to in smugness, disdain, or flat out ignore. We begin to obey the letter of the law rather than the spirit, knowing that in the end, it won’t matter.
This is not the way I felt when I started. New members like me were eager to learn and eager to prove their ability in this new organization, and to collectively raise the standards and performance of the team as a whole. I remember the shock I felt at watching seasoned team members discard the advice or suggestions of management on a new idea or process, wondering why they didn’t just want to be better? Within my first year, I saw three new general managers come and go, and each one had their own agendas, expectations, and rules which the other almost completely changed or did away with. Through it all, it didn’t seem like our performance ever drastically improved or dropped off. This made it feel like future advice, too, wasn’t going to make much of a difference.
The new rule that began to develop, quite silently, but resoundingly so, was the ultimate rule of self interest. Not because I didn’t want others to do well, but because my altruistic interests didn’t guarantee much in the way of job security. Units matter, and I had seen plenty of well meaning under-performers go by the way side. Again, it wasn’t that I made this my highest value at the expense of others; rather, it was a distillation of what mattered most in regards to how I spent my energy. The kum-ba-ya emotional high didn’t count for much in the end.
Another thing that didn’t seem to count for much was the actually effects of making all those phone calls. All that stress, all that anxiety, all that planning, all that practice (which I admit wasn’t all that much), and the effects were, more often than not, endless voice mail messages or awkward conversations where you scramble to try to figure out how you aren’t actually just badgering someone to see if they are ready to buy yet. And when I asked about how to “provide value” in my phone calls, well, I’m yet to hear anything other than a cookie cutter response. This, too, seemed to be part of the 20% results generated by 80% of the effort.
Part of my survival mechanism was I began to stop doing things that I really didn’t like because, ultimately, I believe that this is not the career for me, therefore it does not deserve my best effort. I am here for self knowledge, and to pay the bills in the process, until I am able to find that next vehicle to get me to my next “dot” on my life’s journey. However I survive in the meantime is acceptable.
But this doesn’t solve the issue of integrity from earlier. Is it ok to manipulate a system through small lies to protect your interests because you’ve decided you don’t care all that much for how the system works?
The more difficult path is to be accountable for each task delegated to me individually, and to face the toil of each interaction. If a task seems unnecessary, to address it individually. If I am struggling with how to effectively make a call, to do my best.
In the meantime, I must steel myself to be able to do the work set before me.