Again, I must make it clear these thoughts are my own - my opinions, point of view, and thoughts on my experience.
So there I was, in my holy grail of roles. Predictably, it was an incredibly busy time. Transitioning into a role with a lot of direct reports and in an organization that was undergoing change in general was a lot to take in, but generally I was excited and energized by the adjustment.
Before long, I realized I had taken on a very sick team. What had looked like success from the outside was actually a bizarre kind of denial that was hard to process. The most frequent comment I got at the beginning was some variety of "good luck with that" when they learned which team I had inherited. In addition to a couple of highly toxic people, there were a decent number operating a level that demanded being put on a professional development plan at the very least.
It was a highly frustrating fact of corporate life that among the sharp ones, there were a lot of people coasting through their days, operating at a breathtaking level of mediocrity that would have left me in a pile under my desk in a fog of self-loathing. I couldn't comprehend it. Most challenging of all was how badly it affected the high-performing, excellent associates who had a bigger burden to carry because they had team members who wouldn't carry their weight, spread their negativity like a virus and brought the morale down to the gutter.
The only thing I could do was focus on the people. My sense of justice and fairness demanded that I take care of them first, and that made me a target. Standing up for my team was viewed as a liability, because I didn't meekly comply with the orders as they came down. Privately, I was asked to tone it down and to be careful of the perception of myself I was creating. It was maddening. People were not viewed as people, but as resources. The fact that many of them had been high performers for years didn't seem to translate to any kind of respect or consideration for what they wanted for their own careers.
This awareness was unsettling. When I looked around at the leaders above me, my peers in similar roles and the folks on my team, I didn't see anything that I wanted. In fact, all I could see was what I didn't want. I didn't know a single person who described themselves as fulfilled in their work.
I had always wanted a role like this because I was excited about learning how to run a business, manage a team, innovate and get big projects to completion. I couldn't have predicted the reality, which was that a strange combination of low and unrealistic expectations from above coupled with no authority to make decisions on my own would effectively render me a useless cog in a massive wheel.
The 4th and final part coming up...