Since starting back at work after a long break I have had to come to a decision. Do I act like the person I think I should be or act like me? I have decided to be myself because it is a lot more fun that way. Trying to be someone else a) causes confusion amongst your team-mates, b) makes you confused, c) means you have to second guess every response at work in meetings and on emails, d) makes you feel unhappy. So why do we do it? Insecurity I guess but I am not going to suffer from that any more….. sod it.
In your twenties you have to be a bit chameleon like, bowing to those more experienced higher up the food chain. Once you have knocked up over a decade of experience, I think you start to get set in your ways, more comfortable in your own skin. The attitude you end up with is – ‘if you don’t like it go fuck yourself’. Its very liberating (just don’t say it out loud).
I’ve worked with a number of screw-balls in my time. One was an anorexic she-male winning the tech clients over with her ‘first woman in the IBM sales team once you know’ rhetoric. The company was going down the pan, I bailed out to my dream job. Turned out not to be my dream job. Then returned with my tail between my legs…..back to her. In the meantime she had merged with a City firm – a rather unpleasant City firm (aren’t they all?). The whole working environment changed. One minute I was in the 21st century where men and women were on equal terms (well more or less give or take a little in the pay-packet each month). The next I was in the 1960’s. Now I could have forgiven this new company if it had resembled something like the set of Mad Men (because at least some of the guys are hot in that show). However, it was more like being a hen in a pen with too many cocks. The hens clucked and pecked away at their to do lists. The cockerels (mostly overweight, balding, ugly and with that slightly gay effeminate manner that effects posh English men) strutted around the office surveying their hens and checking they were laying.
I was a bad egg. Those cockerels didn’t like me one bit. I wouldn’t flirt with them and I didn’t take myself seriously enough to resemble someone who has got something wedged up their backside. As a result they didn’t give me any work and left me to wilt and stew a little bit. There was one guy that was OK I guess, at least he had a sense of humour (and not in a smarmy way). However he used to say things like ‘That skirt looks like a rug, I think we should have a picnic on it.’ On the way back from a meeting I remarked that I needed to pee so he deliberately drove fast over all the speed-humps in the road to watch me squirm. I flicked them the V sign and went without a job to go to.
But when you find a good team to work with and a nice boss you realise just how shitty working life was dealing with City cocks and she-males. I’ve had some fab bosses too and am lucky that I have a pretty good boss now. The kind of person who has such a natural leadership style that we really notice it when he is not present in meetings. It feels a bit like when the computer won’t work – things don’t turn out the way they would if he was there. Its almost like a comforting presence in a way. Because he is ex-Navy I wonder if leadership is still best taught in the military – however he is very good at delegating too (!) and maximising performance with the least effort – which I am told is a key trait in military leadership.
Perhaps the best management style I experienced, was a woman who had undergone a life threatening illness and emerged the other side with a completely different view on life. She really made you feel that anything was possible and made light of the hardest of knocks. She didn’t seem to be constrained by politics like so many of us get ensnared by. She did things because she wanted to not because of hidden agendas. She was truly liberating and one of the nicest people I have ever met. The best bit? She had the balls to tell the CEO of the company that she needed to lighten up a bit because it was effecting the office atmosphere and the team. Just to give you a bit of a background on this CEO, she was into feng shui and whale music and resembled Joanna Lumley. When she came into the office she complained about the location of the bins, the fact that the plants hadn’t been watered and had a face like a busted boot. But, she was about 6 feet tall, blonde, steely laser blue eyes and a temper to match. My boss was a foot smaller, petite with big brown puppy dog eyes. However, she did not recognise hierarchy, only a wrong that needed to be rectified. She also took the consequences too because they booted her out of the company. Because they knew the effect it would have on me, they deliberately called me into a meeting while they asked her to leave and clear her desk. I never got to say goodbye properly. She now works for a charity and is doing amazing things.
It takes balls to be yourself at work, particularly in your twenties, but if managers can recognise that young talent flourishes in an environment that knows no bounds (or political eggshell walking) then everyone benefits.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Sorry I couldn’t make it yesterday, another pound to Unicef. I am doing this blog to raise money for Unicef so please donate if you can to my fundraising page.