When I was early in my people management career, I found it difficult to separate my emotions from decisions that needed to be made. Making everyone happy was my goal instead of making the right decision that was fair for everyone both in the short and long term. The first time I logged into ADP after getting promoted to my first Sales Manager role and saw that I had gone from four to sixteen direct reports, my mind filled with self-doubt and a feeling of “oh shit.”
I felt like everyone would figure out that I wasn’t qualified. How could I lead sixteen people effectively?
My reps would come up to me and ask about lead distribution, sales credit, etc. and I would tell whoever was in front of me what they wanted to hear (within reason). I didn’t allow myself to take much time to think about the request. I felt like it was my job to respond quickly. My fear was if I took too long to give an answer that I would look incompetent.
Bright side: I avoided conflict. Downside: I avoided conflict and made inconsistent decisions at times. It would take me a few years, and help from my boss, David Zeilstra, to see that I needed to resist the urge to respond in the moment. David gave me a great piece of actionable advice…
If a rep is asking you for something, imagine the whole team is asking for it. Are you prepared to say “yes” to everyone on the team? And then ask yourself, what are the consequences of saying yes to everyone?David Zeilstra
With a lot of practice, you can go through that thought process relatively quickly.
Fast forward to seven years later… “The longer I’m here, the less I feel.” That’s a statement I created to describe how I had evolved in my leadership skills at my last company. I meant it as a joke – I would say it occasionally to my peers and laugh (they would laugh, too). It was supposed to be a good thing. “The longer I’m here, the less I feel” was symbolizing my ability to make consistent, fair decisions where making everyone happy was not the first priority on the list (don’t worry, it was still on the list though). I was then managing almost thirty team members including three other managers.
In December of last year, just a few weeks after my terrible trip (described here), our leadership team did Secret Santa to exchange gifts. I received a YETI mug with a custom sticker. What do you think the sticker said? That’s right – “The longer I’m here, the less I feel.” It was a super sweet gesture that was meant to be personal and thoughtful, and I was thankful for the nice gift. It also included a gift card for Stitch Fix! My Secret Santa had gone all out.
But seeing that saying in writing on a physical sticker was hard for me. Over the previous couple of months, I had started to question if this career is what I wanted anymore. Maybe it was these feelings creeping in that made me view the saying differently.
It now struck me as a negative sentence.
I didn’t want to be spending nine hours a day on something that was starting to change my outlook and personality in a way that didn’t feel right – it didn’t feel like “me.” It felt like the person I wanted to be was starting to get lost. My job was almost becoming more important to me than my family in a real way. That sentence isn’t meant to be offensive to those of you that have a job that you love and are fulfilled from while maintaining relationships with your friends and family or raising children at the same time. For me, I was beginning to feel unbalanced.
I took the sticker off the YETI.
That custom sticker was another domino falling on the path leading away from my job. The seed that had been planted had a tiny sprout now.
My wish for everyone is to be living the life they want, and if they aren’t there yet, to feel safe to pursue it. That may mean walking away from something you’ve put a lot of work into, changing your course 180 degrees and surprising those who love you, or taking a risk.
But if you don’t make that change, you’ll be where are you right now, and you have to ask yourself, “Is this where I want to be?”