The reason I have started requiring people who work with me to know their purpose and values is because if they do not, they will be susceptible to the whim of others. When you know your purpose and values, you do not allow others to blow you off course. When you are younger, it is easy to shrug and think; it’s just a job, I can leave anytime for something better. If you are acting on purpose, that’s true. However, if you are comfortable, what happens when five years flash by, or ten, fifteen, or more?
A client of mine has experienced the downsides of tolerating a lousy leader for the preservation of comfort. Below are her cathartic words which she is allowing me to share with you. If you find yourself in a similar situation, may her insight give you hope. If you are at the dawn of your career, may they give you pause. Stay on purpose. Always.
Should I Stay, Or Should I Go?
I wish this were about The Clash song of the same name. That would be way more fun to write. But it isn’t.
It’s about my boss.
Boss. The word looks beautiful, doesn’t it? Serene, even. All rounded edges and circles. Short and to the point. Strong.
But what it stands for can be ugly, if you let it. And I’m letting it.
Back in the beginning, twenty some odd years ago, we had a very simple relationship. Cordial. He told me to do things, and I did them. And for that, I got a paycheck! Thinking about the office outside of work never occurred to me. “I could stay here forever,” crossed my mind many times. Months turned into years without any surprises. My pay increased, and my comfort level increased along with it.
But here is a sad and honest truth, people: Comfort can be bad. It seeps in unnoticed like a virus, settles right in and continues to grow at a snail’s pace.
Oh, kind people, do not, I repeat, do not, let comfort become your co-worker.
Unaware that you are suffering from the effects of the comfort bug, you start to believe that maybe your boss is only a boss in name. In reality, he now feels more like a friend. You even chat more about personal things at work rather than talk shop. There are coffee and lunch meetings. Work feels more like fun! He asks you to help him with personal things, such as signing his kids up for camp, or paying his bills. You feel special because he’s letting you into his inner circle. Bonuses are given because you’re such an awesome worker. A nice car becomes part of your salary. Your friends are jealous of your low key work environment, perks and close relationship with your boss.
For me, it took fifteen years for my symptoms to start showing. I’m a slow learner. I’m sure all the necessary signs existed way before I began to notice them. Shame on me. Shame on him.
It began with emails and texts outside of office hours. At first, I didn’t answer. Why should I? I’m not at work. But one day, you are berated for not doing this or that before you’ve even taken your coat off. Why is he so mad? Was I supposed to answer those emails?
Annual reviews occur less and less, and you begin to work in a vacuum, without supervision. But because he’s not saying anything to you, you must be doing your job right! In fact, you must be his favorite.
In reality, you’re both suffering from the (dis)comforting side effects of Dysfunctional Work Spouse Syndrome. Now, this normally occurs when a leader really doesn’t know how to lead. Because if they did, they would never allow this to happen. Crossing that fine line between boss and buddy can be very damaging. But, he’s the boss, after all. And boss is just another word for leader, right?
Well, let me make one thing very clear: Not all bosses have the ability to be a good leader. I know this is hard to swallow. But it is truth.
And just like a bad marriage, the longer things go on without being addressed, the worse it will get.
So what is the solution?
It’s the one thing we tend to avoid, and that is, to be honest. If he doesn’t know what he is doing is affecting you negatively, you need to tell him. Most of us dislike confrontation, but if it is the difference between liking where you go every single day versus waking up with dread and hating Sunday nights, then it is imperative to have a sit-down. Be unemotional. Be professional. Don’t lay blame. Just state the facts and talking points. And maybe, you can repair what you were beginning to think was irreparable.
And if you can’t? Then it may be time to move on. Another scary thought. But at least you can sleep at night knowing you were honest. And who knows? There could be something even better just around the corner.
Also published on Medium.