Day 24,425: Walking the Fine Line of Effectiveness & Egos
This is a story of Frick, Frack, and Angelica. Frick and Frack are men. Angelica, obviously, is not. They were three different people in three different companies with three common traits.
In the years I worked with each, I had serious challenges collaborating with them. To be clear, these were the years before shared spaces were a common thing, and collaboration whiteboards were invented, so perhaps each was a victim of their times. One was older than me, but two were not. The two that were not, however, felt older than me at least in attitude.
Old Attitudes Don’t Die Hard. They Don’t Die at All.
When I respectively met Frick, Frack, and Angeline, each was well-settled with reputations — not always positive — that preceded my entrance into their workspaces. Each had their own series of contacts developed after years on-the-job and a fierce unwillingness to share those contacts. If you had a work problem that involved a contact, instead of sending contact information to allow introductions, or potential collaboration, each would insist on being the go-between. They inserted themselves into the process.
I know the problem was fear of losing prestige, or importance, or the feeling that they may have been no longer critical to the process. But, if their expertise were that unique, wouldn’t they have been less fearful?
Angeline was the worst in some ways. I think she had early signs of Alzheimers and vendors, colleagues and customers wanted to be freed from the binds that required her as the key contact. The problems with Frick and Frack, perhaps because they were men, seemed more about egos and a changing work world.
Angeline’s job was eventually eliminated and she retired. Frick and Frack, being younger, continued to struggle with finding their parts to play in increasingly complex work environments. Whereas younger folks are frequently willing to learn, grow and expand horizons, Frick and Frack were staunchly trying to defend decreasing territory.
Change Challenges Us All
The world does change on us without our permission, and rugs are consistently pulled out from under us. New technologies are difficult to embrace, much less master. I, for one, have given up mastering most things, staying content just to handle them well enough. I’m a good-enough technologist.
Yet, I continue to think about Frick and Frack. They, more than any other colleagues, were resentful of me, blaming me for their faults and my successes. I have tried to be respectful of egos, but interestingly it has been my male colleagues who have suggested over the years that I should have read these guys the riot act using four letter words and loud language. I didn’t.
March is women’s history month. This month, I was interviewed by a local agency on my views of leadership. It took some self-reflection, and brought up the stories of Frick, Frack and Angeline. Ironically, none were mentioned in my interview. Instead, I mentioned Darcy, a Gen X employee who challenged me almost daily. I’m a better manager today because of her. But Frick, Frack and Angeline still bother me. I couldn’t turn them around. I couldn’t get them to collaborate. I could only get them to incessantly defend their little worlds.
It’s easy to motivate people who want to grow. I haven’t mastered how to do it with smaller thinkers. It’s a challenge I’m continuing to grapple with and study.