June 15, 2012 – Isn’t it amazing what can come of something small and seemingly insignificant? An idea can stay small and unobtrusive, or it can take a breath and become something more, step out into the open and risk being noticed and set apart.
Last week I was told that I should consider thinking an a managerial direction, if I was so inclined. I was given a review that indicated I was people oriented, organized, and suited for higher levels, and that I was well suited, with another person, to consider future leadership of the program. It was a heck of a compliment considering I have only been employed by the government, and this program, for a year and I am only on term at this point.
This week I wasn’t sure if I’d completely torpedoed all of that, when I took on someone above me, when I wrote a seven page document that chastised their actions and shredded a recommendation report they had submitted. The report had my name on it, but didn’t represent my views, or those of the other members of a committee. Part of me wanted to duck my head and go with the flow, stay safe. But the bigger part of me knew that not only wasn’t that right, but that it wasn’t being true to myself. Could I compromise my past, my values, my principles to save my position? Could I ignore the fact that I teach one thing, and that this document recommended the exact opposite of all that I have taught? Could I ignore the fact that I strive to remain unbiased in my technical writing, and that this was heavily biased?
No, I couldn’t.
I’ve never been one to hide in the crowd and play it safe.
And so I responded in a professional, but very strong, manner. And my heart pounded when I hit send, wondering what the ramifications of my response would be.
I waited a couple of days for things to cool off and then phoned the person who I had tarred so strongly. I figured that calling too soon wouldn’t be enough time for him to get past the slap in the face and think rationally about the rebuttal, but waiting over the weekend could lead to him over-thinking things and lead to vindictiveness – not that I think he is that sort, but I also didn’t think he’d try to slide something important, and worth millions of dollars, through the back-door.
Two days was a good cooling off period for both of us.
He was cautious and apologetic, and was concerned that I now hated him and that our working relationship had been damaged. Hardly, at least not from my point of view (although I’ll be more cautious from now on). I told him that it wasn’t personal – he said it sure felt like it – I told him to re-read it and take that component out of the equation. I suggested we meet for a drink soon, he thought that a good idea and we made plans to coordinate some facility visits together in the next few weeks.
So it turns out that I didn’t sink my career after all. In fact I was told this week, from managers in several different departments, that I showed initiative, leadership, innovation, integrity, and professionalism. Seems my document has really made the rounds, much farther than I had distributed it. And that little kernel blew up into something significant, but in a positive way.
There is a time and a place for playing it safe, but sometimes you just have to pop!