Toughen up

Years ago, I lobbied for a job that I already had been doing de facto. I presented my case to my boss in a well-reasoned memo and then sat down to discuss it with him. I thought it was a slam dunk.

He didn’t give me the job.

I was definitely frustrated, but the reason he gave left me completely floored. “Tammy, you’re just not enough of an a–hole.” Wow. That’s a detriment?

It turns out that what he really meant was that he wasn’t sure I had a thick enough skin to handle some of the tough situations. He didn’t, for example, think I could fire an employee who at that time was not performing. My response was this: “You don’t always have to be an a–hole to get the job done.”

Believe it or not, I did learn a lesson in this. People value backbone. They value stamina. If you want to be a leader, people need to be convinced that they can count on you when times are tough and the burden is great. Even though I still firmly believe that I didn’t need to be a–well, you know–I realized in hindsight that I had not done a good job showing my boss that I could walk through fire.

Although I had never buckled under pressure, I had also not sought out tough assignments. I had not volunteered to clean up sticky situations. I had not weathered a heavy storm. I had not had to rise from the ashes of a project failure.  Maybe I really wasn’t ready for that assignment.

A lot of time has passed since then and I’ve proven my mettle. I’ve done a lot of tough things, failed a few times, and even had to fire a couple of people. But do you know what? I still wasn’t an a–hole.

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