Archive for the ‘professionalism’ Tag

Conundrum

I’m really freaking tired of the up/down, positive/negative emotional treadmill that’s taken up residence in my brain and psyche lately. It hasn’t even been a full week since the victorious settlement of one of the biggest litigation matters in my professional career and I haven’t even had a chance to celebrate or even fully grasp that it’s no longer a problem I have to deal with. Yet I’m already embroiled in the next (few) crises, battling the next source of negativity.

But I don’t want to fall into the trap of repetitive, unrelenting negativity. So I’m trying to come at this one from an attitude of learning: what can I learn from this, how can I reframe this into some positive, practical good?

Here’s the puzzle:

How do you separate your emotional investment in something from the intellectual and logical, even logistical, considerations of any given issue, especially when faced with the projected emotional experience of the people around you?

Here’s today’s experience that triggered this query:

In the midst of a vent about the way a few people at my company have handled certain issues lately, a person I respect and admire and whose judgment I have always trusted described their decision to change careers and come work at my company in a field and position similar to my own as “abject failure”, going on to express how their parents had lamented their decision to change fields, go to law school, and take a leadership position at a company rather than continue their promising career in an entirely different professional field with the opportunity to “do real work with value for the world “.

I know logically and intellectually that these comments were borne of their frustration and stress, that they were venting and speaking about themself and their experience, relating memories from their past. I also am perfectly clear that their comments were not directed at me, only to me, and that the judgment held in those words was directed at their life, not at mine.

I know all of this.

Yet, at the same time, it’s hard not to apply that same judgment (that being an attorney, especially an in-house lawyer for a company not “doing anything important” for society is failure) to my own career. That judgment stings sharply, especially because I don’t have that second career, that other skill set to return to.

It seems to me a reasonable conclusion that if being an attorney and business executive is a failure for someone with such considerable accomplishments and valuable alternative skills, then it surely is more so for anyone else in the same company in a similar position who is less accomplished and has fewer alternative skills. How could it not be? Only if the less accomplished yet similarly situated person has exhausted their potential – if they were always going to be less, couldn’t expect to achieve anything more or better.

But that’s as big a smack in the face as the assertion that a chosen career and its associated achievements is necessarily a consolation prize, unworthy of pride and celebration.

So, what’s the lesson to be learned, how can this be turned into something positive ?

I don’t have these answers yet. I’m still struggling not to internalize the notion that everything I’ve worked for, all my professional achievements, and me into the bargain, aren’t some pathetic joke, undeserving of the esteem I’ve ascribed to them for nearly two decades. But I have to believe that there is something positive to salvage from the junk heap of professional ego.

Maybe it is this: even if the career I’ve built and the contributions I’ve made to my company’s success are less glamorous or valuable than some other esteemed career by someone else’s measure, I at least can be proud of what I’ve accomplished because I’ve done it honestly, with integrity and by the work of my own mind and skill; I have exploited no one, mistreated no one, cheated no one, and taken nothing that I did not earn by honest means. If that’s pathetic, abject failure for some, I’m unsure what could possibly measure up to success.

Still, it doesn’t sting any less knowing that my measure of personal success seems weak and valueless to someone who I have respected and admired and whose esteem I have labored to attract. I wonder now if they regard me with as much contempt as they apparently regard my career?

That’s not a super-shiny positive on which to end this post. But at least I’m thinking about it and making an effort to divine a positive meaning from a hurtful encounter. That’s supposedly a “learner’s” mentality and the first step to positivity. So there’s that.

Nerves

After months of grueling work, high stress and anxiety, sleepless nights and even a few ridiculous panic attacks, tomorrow begins the trial. This case should have been so straight forward and resolved in a matter of days after the circuit court ruling nearly two years ago narrowed the issues to essentially one. It was a contract claim, for frick sake! It shouldn’t have taken this much time, effort, energy and head space. But old, greedy, white dudes with nothing better to do than to make trouble, and here we are.

I’m going to be at the counsel table with our outside counsel. I’m supposed to be observing and an available resource to counsel for contract-specific details. In other words, I’m the living database for our case.

No pressure.

Actually, I’m ok with it. I’ve devoted so much of my time and endured so much stress in this thing that I’d feel cheated not to be on hand to watch it play out. But that doesn’t stop the nerves. I’m sure I’ll be fine as soon as it starts. As with so many things in life, it’s the anticipation that’s the killer.

And on the plus side – I will probably wear one or both of my custom suits during this circus.

Probably won’t hear from me again before it’s all over. All the good vibes, good wishes, crossed fingers, and positive energy you can spare for me is much appreciated.

Inglorious Leadership

I’ve written in the past about the hard part of being the boss, the dark side of being ‘in charge’. Making hard decisions for your team, even sacrificing some personal dignity for the greater good of the organization can feel pretty bad and take a toll on your spirit. But there’s another dimension of the dark side of leadership that has been mercifully rare in my career: helping to make hard choices for someone else’s team.

My role often includes unenviable tasks, such as delivering bad news to executives, and bringing a tempering influence to ill-considered proposals. But I do not normally have to be involved in the emotionally-charged decisions other leaders have to make with regard to their employees. I’m thankful that most of those get dealt with by HR, not by me or my Legal team.

But given my tenure of 18+ years, the odds were against my lucky streak lasting and today the streak broke. And because the universe does nothing in my life by half-measures, it broke twice in the same day. First, I got stuck in the middle of a disagreement between two leaders of separate functional organizations over appropriate crisis management communication and had to play peacemaker in order to break the stalemate. Then, one of our senior executives asked me to participate in the process of disciplining a colleague, another senior leader in a different department who is my peer and someone with whom I frequently collaborate.

Neither occurrence was particularly traumatic. Both were handled respectfully and with tact. Still, the tension and angst produced by unexpectedly having to participate in adversarial process within my own organization was intense. In a way, it speaks pretty highly of my colleagues and our company that this was the first occasion when circumstances required this type of intervention by me. Even discounting the first ten years of my career with this company in which I was an individual contributor staff attorney, it is remarkable that in the last eight years in my various leadership roles I have never been called on to address similar tensions.

Yet, despite that positive spin on this rarity, I can’t help acknowledging that the experience was unpleasant and unsettling.

Mediating disagreement is familiar. It’s part and parcel of negotiation and deal-making. But the nuance that makes this different in my mind is that the stand-off occurred between people who are supposed to be on the same side, people with whom I’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder battling back the forces set against our company’s interests. Witnessing these same professionals square off with one another struck a clanging, discordant note in my otherwise harmonious working environment. Finding myself in the middle between them, having to work hard to persuade them back to cooperating for the good of the company, forcing me to be a decision-maker where I normally only advise, was wrong on every level. It tested parts of my leadership skill set in ways I never expected.

Then I was called upon to not merely provide constructive feedback about a fellow leader, but to essentially provide testimony that would be used in a decision making process that could potentially end in my colleague’s dismissal. That was a singularly uncomfortable conversation. I found that it tested my ability to balance candor with tact and honesty with empathy. Ultimately, it pitted my commitment to corporate interests against my instinct of loyalty to a friend.

And that’s the dark side of being a leader, of being in a position to counsel and influence. Maintaining your personal integrity – not taking an “easy” way out to avoid discomfort and conflict, not compromising truth for the sake of placidity even if it means someone you like suffers the consequences of their actions – that’s the gritty, indecorous, inglorious aspect of leadership.

I’ve faced it plenty of times with respect to my own employees and my own department. It wasn’t fun, but I understood it to be a necessary part of leading my organization. And in those instances I could bear the discomfort because it was, at its core, constructive and finite. It felt ten times worse today because the issues weren’t with my people and my lack of control over the tension made it hard to feel confident that it was constructive or finite. Instead, it felt like being an accidental witness to a private argument or a tender moment between strangers – wrong and icky.

Thankfully, the warring colleagues called a truce and returned to being collaborators, working the problem instead of pointing fingers. Also on the plus side, the executive evaluating my colleague for discipline committed to giving them an opportunity to improve before termination. It’ll be a lot of work in a short time frame, but it’s a genuine chance to save their job.

So the peacemaking and critiquing has a valuable purpose. My uncomfortable lesson in painful workplace growth was worth it.

Glimmer of Positivity 

Because my last few posts, like my life and general reality, have been decidedly on the grim side, I have determined that I will be positive and hopeful in this post. And, harking back to the method I used earlier this year, I’m going to allow myself to define positivity expansively. (For example, I think it’s entirely positive that I have successfully avoided strangling a most annoying salesperson for over a month!) Even the small victories over gloom and defeat are to be celebrated, because any victory fuels the fire that will consume this era of hate. 

And so…a list of some good, positive things:

  1. I have done, and done well, some seriously deep and meaningful executive lawyering over the last few weeks. From dealing with emergent conflicts, to guiding senior executives in strategic decisions, to managing multiple outside law firms on concurrent litigation matters, my skill as a legal professional and a business leader has been tested and met every challenge. I’m proud of my contribution to my company’s success and proud of my team’s achievements. 
  2. I got an early start on holiday gifts for my team this year. I try to give hand-made gifts that are fun, or useful, or meaningful. I’m happy with my choice this year and glad I started early. 
  3. My skill at diplomatically delegating, whether to members of my own team or to other departments, is increasing. I have struggled with the feeling of failure at having to say no to some things. But I’ve learned that exhausting myself not only compromises me as a resource and leader, but it withholds growth opportunities from others. It’s still a challenge, but I’m doing better and my team and my company are benefitting. 
  4. The weather has been beautiful and I’ve seen some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The sky is always a source of joy and energy for me. I like its infinite variety and find peace in the loveliness and simplicity of a sunrise. A collage of a sunrise from earlier this week (with the super moon!) is attached below for your enjoyment. 
  5. It may get cold enough to freeze here in the next few days and my eyes and nose are rejoicing the possibility. Can’t wait. Not only will it finally feel like it should for the holidays, but my allergies will abate until Spring and that’s a very good thing. 

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