I recently spoke with an individual ready to pursue additional education so that she could switch fields completely and move as quickly away from her current job situation as possible. While she enjoyed the WORK she did, she did not respect her boss, was disappointed that an excellent co-worker recently left the organization, and felt the Organization’s Board of Directors had “no clue” as to what was happening within the company NOR did anyone care about its future. Her choice was to leave what she enjoyed to seek a greener pasture (as she had done before) – flowing freely from one situation to the next without considering any collateral damage that may have been left in her wake. Far too often we find that the easy way out is not necessarily the best choice BUT choose to follow the path of least resistance rather than working to change what we do not like – prefer to leave a “known” set of problems without considering the entirely different set we will most likely encounter. When facing major life-changing decisions, looking into the “what can I do to alter this situation” rather than focusing on the “what is wrong and why should I tolerate it” might help identify alternative solutions.
When an individual is brought in from the “outside” to run an organization, the Board (or hiring authority) should make sure that the person’s skill, ability, experience and proven track record are much stronger than any internal candidate may have possessed. In this case, the individual’s boss (new to the organization) did not (in her opinion) have the proven experience or demonstrated ability to do his job. While she had not been a candidate for his job – nor did she want to do it - she was so wrapped up in her own frustrations that she never asked him how he felt, what he wanted to do (or needed help doing), or where he saw the organization going. She had talked herself into running away from the work she liked because of things she did not know (she knew nothing about her new boss’ plans or the Board’s desires for the organization’s future – which may have been different than those expressed by the previous Director). She was like a river flowing rapidly towards a fall from which there would be no return – building momentum as she moved forward without identifying why she was moving, what she was objecting to or what part of the “blame” for her unhappiness could be directly attributed to herself. She felt that SOMETHING was wrong, could not really identify what it was BUT recognized she must act (rather than intentionally deciding NOT to act) in an effort to resolve the issue.
After talking to this individual a bit about her expectations and how she saw herself fitting into a new (but less significant) role she was able to move past the turbulent rapids into an area of relative calm. She began to examine what she liked about the job (AND the organization), what she disliked, what she would be leaving should she move on, and what she would need from a different employer to overcome the issues she was facing (while providing similar opportunities and challenges). Many of the things she was seeking were deeply imbedded within her current position but she had been so busy looking at “what was not” that she lost sight of “what was.”
Many of us become disillusioned with our jobs (and our lives) at times. Unless we step back and look at the “big picture,” however, we may base our actions (and assumptions) on part of the puzzle – trying to treat the symptoms rather than attempting to root out the disease itself. We can miss out on the opportunity to “win the war” when we become overly consumed with our focus on winning each and every single battle. The story of three blind men describing an elephant comes to mind when thinking in such a short-sighted fashion. One feeling a leg may think the elephant to be a tree. One feeling the tail may describe it as a rope. One feeling the trunk may imagine a snake. All might be right but not one of them will be able to identify the nature of the beast by focusing on a single component – as no one individual can possibly see all aspects of a situation without fully investigating and analyzing the results of his or her studies.
There are many ways to move from one situation to another – but often we embark upon the most obvious escape route before seeking alternatives resolutions. We do not simply draw a line in the sand from which we can begin anew – we excavate a trench that will isolate us from our situation once we have crossed the line (sometimes the trench becomes an obstacle in and of itself as we fall to its bottom and have a difficult time regaining our footing.). While such tactics WILL move us forward, they often create pain and close the door on any possibility of returning – or of improving our position.
Perhaps there are “kinder and gentler ways” to move from a bad situation to a better one than to burn our bridges – no matter how good that might feel in the heat of the moment. Before “moving on” we should identify ways to maximize the “good” things about where we are while minimizing the “bad.” Many new supervisors or leaders wish to make instant changes – to put their mark upon the organization – without first seeing what works (and does not need to be fixed) and what is truly broken (needing immediate attention). Often we seek to mandate change rather than trying to influence it – to “tell” rather than “sell” our ideas. We rush headlong into situations that require skills we do not possess (without seeking the training that might equip us to handle them) or have “legacy” status (that must be identified prior to making a change). Patience, tolerance and not caring who gets the credit for changes that are made are major factors that influence our reactions to situations.
In the case of the person originally discussed, a change in HER attitude made all the difference in her situation. Rather than focusing on what was wrong around her she began to identify areas that she could make a difference. She began leveraging her experience to help others change. She used her organizational knowledge to help identify “sacred cows” that would be difficult to change so that those in a position to set priorities would be able to maximize their success. She became a champion of change rather than a detractor of new ideas within the organization – a part of the solution rather than a major part of the problem within her department. She was allowed more freedom to do what she liked – what she was good at – as she demonstrated how it positively impacted the organization. Rather than leaving a questionable situation she became an integral part of the company – without having to “pick up her tent” to move to a new campsite.
While seemingly difficult, changing our perspective will often make all the difference in the world. When we identify (and utilize) our strengths, acknowledge (but commit to strengthen) our weaknesses, realize what we can (and cannot) change and intentionally act to resolve (rather than run away from) our challenges we will be able to fully realize our potential. Rather than looking “outside” to resolve your problems, perhaps the first step towards success should be to look at yourself – at what you are, what you are doing, what you are saying and what you expect. To “be all that you can be” you must identify how to communicate your ideas, influence your peers and initiate change. Unless (and until) you do, escape may be the path of least resistance but it is often the first of many detours in life we face before eventually stumbling upon the road we should have originally taken.