There was an old boss of mine. He was mean as a snake and twice as angry. He wasn’t always this way. Some say this was because the man decided to stop drinking. In fact, there were writings on the bathroom walls and in different places around the establishment which said, “Have a drink already!” This was a jab at the old boss and a sign that described the sentiment of his crew.
There were some who said that the boss was really a good person but something happened when his title changed. Something happened when he went from being a worker to a boss and then suddenly, he was on the lookout for anyone who was trying to cut corners. His famous saying was, “Whatever you’re thinking about doing or wherever you’re thinking about hiding, don’t do it because I’ve already been there and done that.”
At one point, this person was the king of all scams. He knew how to make extra money. He knew how to work the angles and he knew how to manipulate the powers above him. He knew how to do his job as well as fake the position of appearance.
One day, somehow, the powers above decided to grant this man power over the ones below. I am told the transition of character was not overnight. I was told that the changes were gradual and somewhat ran along with the pressures of responsibility. The pressures of being a supervisor were overwhelming. One could argue the position came with a lack of support, which might be one of the clues as to why the change in character was so severe.
No one liked this boss. No one wanted to work with him. The different roles of a dysfunctional workplace were all present from the hero to the crew’s scapegoat. The environment was hostile to say the least but oftentimes, the job market is not always so friendly. This means that sometimes, you have to eat a little crow because although the workplace is not a desirable one; the thought of unemployment is equally unattractive.
Did this boss forget where he came from? Did he forget what it was like to have a bad night and not feel well the next day? Did he forget the human-side of the roles below him or did his lack of leadership skills give way towards a boss’s mindset?
In truth, I do not know the answer to any of this. I was not someone who worked with this person for very long and, in fairness to the story; I have to admit I was not a good fit for this position. I was young and nervous. I was in the middle of so many changes that stem from boyhood into young adulthood. I was clunky at best and when I say clunky, I mean awkward and that I was lacking a sense of professional finesse.
As a result of my nerves and anxiety, I was difficult to teach and perhaps difficult to get along with. I say this because I am a firm believer of honesty in which case, “I fess up when I mess up,” which is why I am qualifying now. I was too young and inexperienced for this position. My skill set might not have been up to par; however, I was still hired for the role. I was placed in this department in a somewhat large company with thousands of employees.
Something we learn is leadership teaches how to nurture and value each piece of your team. Apparently my old boss never got the email on this one.
There are times when we face a new challenge or a new position. We are in a new atmosphere and entering a new culture. The three major changes in our life are about to be affected: People, Places and Things. Maybe the changes are only based on our workload; or, perhaps in times like now, our situational changes due to the pandemic nature have caused us to change the way we interact with our teammates at work because we never see them anymore. This in itself is an adjustment. Next, we will add the pressures of the new role or new changes in our work environment. We can even add the simplest changes such as sitting at a new desk or typing on a different computer. Regardless of the size of change, there is still an adjustment. As such, there needs to be time to allow for this adjustment.
Next we will add the learning curve of working with new systems or technology. Then, we will add the situational frustrations of our coworkers and how the “New person doesn’t know what they’re doing yet,” and how this slows the team down. Or, if we are not the new person and yet find ourselves with a personal challenge and we are not at our best potential—there are times when this transfers to our coworkers. This is especially hard if someone else has to pick up the slack or is on a deadline. Let’s be honest about this folks, deadlines and deliverables can be a pain in the ass!
When I was young, somewhere around the age of 8 years-old, I was very sick and hospitalized. When I returned home on bed rest, I was home for several weeks with nothing to do. Then again, this was way before the age of technology. There was no internet or WiFi service. We barely had cable television at the time. But wait; I digress.
One of the gifts my parents brought home to occupy me was a jigsaw puzzle. I started with the smaller puzzles and then went up to some of the bigger puzzles that ran from 60 pieces to 100, to 250 pieces and up to 500 pieces. Needless to say; the greater the number of pieces, the greater the challenge it was to put the puzzle together. Of course, one of the biggest challenges was to not lose any of the pieces. The problem with this is if you lose a piece then the puzzle can never be truly finished.
Another challenge with larger puzzles was that the pieces are small and some pieces appeared identical or seemed as if they should fit, but yet, the shapes did not match properly or mate very well. The trick I learned is if you force the pieces because they seem like they’re supposed to fit—the edges can become marred or damaged. This is something that will later degrade the total picture with blemishes and flaws. And who wants that?
The idea of a puzzle is to create the picture, right? And if this is so, and if the puzzle pieces are pushed where they don’t belong or forced with their edges all crinkled and damaged, what would this do to the end result?
The same motto is true with teamwork. You cannot force pieces together.
So, let’s go back to the old boss—or better yet, let’s go back to the idea of leadership skills for a moment.
The reason I learned the lesson about valuing my pieces to the puzzle was because A) I lost several pieces and B) in my drive to create the perfect picture, there were times I was certain that pieces were supposed to fit together and lastly C) after all of my effort, personalization and frustrations to create this picture, I learned what happens when there is no finesse in my placements. I learned that each piece needed to be cared for with a specific level of safety and dignity.
I learned this with help because my Father advised me while standing over my shoulder. He said “Don’t force something if it doesn’t fit.” This in and of itself is a great lifelong lesson. He taught me about the dignity of each piece. I learned that all pieces of the puzzle have an integral value. I learned that all pieces are important to the end result and that in this case; all pieces need to be treated with care.
I see how this applies to life. I see how this applies to leadership and the working world. I say this because the health of a team is certainly contingent upon the team’s leadership. It is not easy to be the one who always rows the boat nor is it easy to be the one who steers the ship; however, it would be inaccurate to believe the boat can move or successfully navigate without either of the two. No matter how big or small the team is, every position is important and therefore, the success of the team is linked to the understanding, cohesion, dignity and safe treatment of each team member.
I have seen the separation between the executives and lower tiers of management. I have seen the difference between leaders and bosses. I have seen the lack of diversity, equity and inclusion. I have seen and heard the complaints and the aftermath of exclusionary practices. Moreover, I have seen what happens when workers are shown appreciation and furthermore, I have noted the performance of those at entry level positions who go above and beyond because they believe they are valuable. In fact, I have seen the empowering value of encouragement and team appreciation.
When I worked for that old boss of mine, I was always afraid of something being wrong. My energy was devoted to flight or fight. I was always on the defense and always worried that I was not the right fit (Which I wasn’t) and in my sense of unsafe frustration, I made hasty and costly decisions. This is what happens when there is no personal or psychological safety.
Imagine a team of people working together. Think about the prosperity of team who can perform with a sense of unit cohesion and cultural competency. All pieces of the puzzle are safe and accounted for and therefore, the end result is picture perfect. Know what I mean?