The lowest point in my career came at midnight on Turkish cotton sheets. I don’t mean the sheets you find in fancy department stores with hefty price tags; I mean cotton sheets on a bed in Turkey. Jet lag kept me from sleep, so I picked up my phone to scroll through email. (This was a work trip, after all.)
One message was from our corporate counsel who handled trademarks. She wanted me to weigh in on a branding issue that had been settled weeks earlier. Instead of the solution that had been approved, however, she had been asked to move in a different direction. Someone had completely messed this up.
With scratchy eyes and fat fingers, I replied that no, she had apparently misunderstood the request. The approved plan was not that way but this other way. She should proceed accordingly.
Apparently not, she replied, and forwarded a long email chain from which I had been thus far excluded. Never mind that this was my area of authority. I sighed and produced my own string of emails, adding my boss so he could weigh in. After all, he was the person who had decreed our ultimate direction, and he had authority over everyone involved.
Some weeks earlier, several of us had met via conference call to determine the brand identity of a newly acquired company. I strongly believed that the new identity should fall under the corporate umbrella, following our overall strategy. Nonetheless, others believed the acquired company should maintain its existing identity. Though it was somewhat contentious, by the end of the meeting I thought we had resolved the issue and would continue with the current strategy.
My boss called me right before the follow-up meeting. He informed me we would, instead, maintain the existing identity. Somewhat frustrated, I laid out the case for bringing the old brand into the corporate fold. I see your point, said my boss. That makes complete sense, and I know it aligns with our plan. Nonetheless, we’re not going to do that. We’re keeping the existing identity.
Alrighty, then. I’m a team player, so I got on board. In the meeting, I actually lobbied against my true position and announced we would maintain the existing identity of the acquired company. When we ended the conference call, everyone was happy.
Three weeks later, I found myself in Turkey, hurling emails back and forth with the various players. I dug in my heels. No! This is not correct. We agreed to keep the old brand. End of story. It felt like Bizarro-World as I typed furiously in the middle of the night, arguing against my true position once more. Through polite words and patronizing assurances, the tone of the messages escalated toward mild furor.
My boss called. By then it was nearing 2am for me, but apparently he neither knew where I was nor cared. He was polite and congenial, and I matched his tone. He explained that we were now going to bring the new company into the corporate branding fold and oh yes, I guess that is different than what we had discussed.
I know a losing battle when I see it, so I asked for one thing. Just one little thing that should have been easy for him to accommodate. A no-brainer. And I didn’t even mention all my about-faces.
Boss, I’m happy to support this effort and back off this whole email mess. Will you do me just one favor, though? Will you just respond to my message and say that yes, I HAD been correct, but you’ve changed the direction and we’ll all proceed accordingly? If I’m going to keep doing this job, I need to maintain some credibility.
He told me he’d think about it and let me know.
My boss never mentioned that conversation again. Ever. I not only felt betrayed by his lack of support, but I also now appeared to be a borderline-hysterical, out-of-the-loop woman who didn’t know what the heck she was talking about. All he had to do was validate my position–the position I had taken because he told me to–and move on.
The only person who moved on was the borderline-hysterical, out-of-the-loop woman who left the company five months later. I took a substantial pay cut, but I couldn’t stay where I wasn’t supported.
A post on LinkedIn brought this story flooding back. Someone referred to a tweet that laid out the qualities of the best bosses. The bosses we remember, it said,
- Provided us a safe space to grow
- Opened career doors
- Defended us when we needed it
- Recognized and rewarded us
- Developed us as leaders
- Inspired us to stretch higher
- Led by example
- Told us our work mattered
- Forgave us when we made mistakes
Yes, I do remember those bosses, and with immense gratitude. But the antithesis is just as true: the boss who didn’t defend me when I needed it, who didn’t act as if my work mattered, and who didn’t provide me a safe space to grow is never far from my mind.
I firmly believe that no experience is ever wasted. I walked away from that company after eighteen years to smaller paycheck and an uncertain career path, but I left determined. I could live on less money, but I couldn’t live on less me. And I haven’t.
I spent many years at this company working with a number of truly exceptional people, including mentors who have been invaluable to me. Many are still my friends. This post simply reflects the culmination of a relationship with one person who is no longer at that firm.