In the days (er, nights, rather) when I worked at Denny’s, I had a terrible manager. Godawful. This manager offended long-time customers, pissed off the cooks, and creeped out the servers. I had one family — a large, friendly Catholic family who’d dined with us since the opening — walk out. The patriarch handed me a tip–I’d only gotten their drinks thus far–and said a few curse words about my manager before leaving.
My manager sucked.
This is one of the things that made an impression on my interviewers when I first applied for my current job. I explained that I adapted to his management style. Namely, I figured out how to keep him in the back with the cooks (where he was actually pretty decent, as long as he didn’t speak). I managed the front of the house without him, and I did it well. He eventually gave me his manager’s card in case I needed to override something.
I quit after 6 months with him.
Here’s the problem: I always knew (in theory) how to work around authority figures, but I never actually had to until then. From that experience, I developed a certain expectation of customer service, right and wrong, and manager-employee relationships.
Long story short, I did the same thing in my next job (with far less subtlety) to the point that my manager tried to do the whole, “You’ll never work in this town again!” thing.
Two completely separate industries, two customer service-oriented jobs, two managers I worked around instead of with. Both managers were shown the door shortly after I left those companies.
I never went to HR. I never complained (to anyone with power). I just did my job to the best of my abilities, including using the ability to circumvent authority. Let’s be honest. That’s exactly what I was doing, and it worked out for the customers and the employees in the long run.
Now I’m here. From time to time, things go very wrong (as they will in any job) and my fight or flight instinct is far more “fight” than “flight” (ironic, right?). Here, however, that “fight” thing has bitten me in the ass more than once. I’ve learned that the higher up one goes into the world of politics, the harder it is to see the end game. There are always things at work behind the scenes.
In the customer-facing jobs, it was simple: follow policy while making the customer happy; to hell with anyone who stands in the way.
Work isn’t that simple any more. To get something accomplished, you have to go through the politics of your own department. If it’s a multi-department effort, you have to go through the politics of those departments. If you try to instigate anything on your own, it falls on deaf ears. If you push too hard, you start to sound like an angry chihuahua challenging a steamroller in combat.
Sometimes I want to walk away and do something easier. Maybe go back to frontline customer service or walk away entirely and finish my design degree. I don’t think I can do either one. I don’t know that I could face myself if I gave up on a frustrating job I love this much.
Another part of me argues that there’s a difference between giving up and knowing when to walk away.
Two problems with “walking away.”
(1) I’m a listener first, and a decision-maker second. Leaving the path-forging to others isn’t in my nature, even if I wish it was. I don’t want to be the face of anything–any department, any company–but I want to be the one who makes it successful.
(2) I wouldn’t meet people who share the same passion for this company that I have. Remember when I taught that new hire class in September? There was a second one going on at the same time, and I love those newbies (almost) as much as my own. One of those new hires told me the other day that he thinks he could really succeed in this company. I agree-he’s smart, charismatic, and resourceful. I can name five other people who were hired into my department in the last 18 months who share the same qualities, without even pausing to brainstorm names.
The question is, then, how do I alleviate this frustration? I’m not sure, but I have to. I have to do something. The number one thing I don’t want to do is play the political game. That might be the way the old world works, but the old world is falling to the millennials.
We millennials get a bad rap for being entitled or whatever, and it’s sort of true. We do believe we’re entitled–to respect and to a better world. I expect respect from everyone I meet, and I will give respect in the same way. Respect should be mutual, automatic. It is not something that must be earned, but it still can be lost and regained. I expect to create a better world–and I will work as hard as I have to for it–but I expect everyone else to do their piece, too. I’m not Atlas. I cannot keep the sky from falling by my own strength.
So what is the next step? As a lowly idealist with no power except her mind and her voice, how can I make my ideas happen without getting entrapped by old world politics? Any suggestions?