Wednesday, September 3, 2014

It Is Impossible For Your Platoon to Be Effective if They Don’t All Absolutely Believe Their Sergeant Would Never Shoot Them in the Back

I have spent the last ten years living two professional lives simultaneously. The first is working for a federal agency and being branded a pariah. The agency leaders and contemporaries outside of my immediate department valued and appreciated my work and who I was. My immediate department’s fundamental nature was hostile. No matter how much effort I made or how much I created or produced, middle management made deliberate choices to devalue the work I did and consciously undermine me professionally to peers, clients and management. Fortunately, the second life I lived concurrently was through voluntarily supporting an agency that has continuously mentored me and trained me and trusted me to develop into the leader, spokesperson and advocate I now am.

That may sound like an unlikely combination, but it is primarily caused by the anomaly that effective management implies controlling your team rather than cultivating your team. When a few months ago, I finally got my courage up to begin a broader job search to leave federal service and professionally move onto a different path, the contemporaries in my second life, offered every piece of encouragement and advice they could. They reinforced my confidence and opposed the derogatory feedback from the leaders in my first life. During a near mental breakdown, where I was beginning to doubt any past achievements for them, one of my managers resolved my concerns quite effectively by noting, “Look. You’re a pro. If I did not believe you could do it, I wouldn’t have relied on you to do it. Don’t let their attempts to damage you make you believe the crap they’re feeding you.” They also recommended that I join professional organizations to further reinforce my confidence. I joined a few and found my niche. Helping people like myself to believe in themselves and value themselves enough to discourage abuse and enabling creativity and communication.
I have been a leader and a manager in many stages of my career. Often these roles came about by incidental need, but each time I led a team, I intuitively made sure that they knew I had their back. I believe that being a leader did not make me the dictator, but the one responsible for the task/project/response/result if we didn’t succeed; and the one to give the team all of the credit if we did succeed; (which we repeatedly did).

The primary lessons from my experiences of the last ten years are simple. 1) Everything does happen for a reason. 2) Other people behaving unprofessionally or cruel are not a license for you to act the same way. 3) There is always a tipping point in all abusive relationships where the effort to try to re-cultivate a professional rapport is simply enabling more abuse (and that no good ever comes from this). I watched so many co-workers who had been damaged to the degree where they honestly had nothing to hope for and no self-worth. I was determined to refuse that choice, and still take conscious steps to stay in touch with many of them to try to reinforce some positive impact on their psyche so that one day, they may be able to save themselves. Regardless of all of these things, I will continue to try to make the second aspect of my professional life, (and not the first), influence the third one I am about to enter. If I succeed, I will be an effective leader and unlike many who have led me in the past to dark times, I will never be worried about my platoon except for my responsibility to get them through our upcoming missions.

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