I have done something disgraceful. Horrific. Beyond the pale.
Like a peek of bedraggled lace from below an A-line skirt, I have let my humanity show.
And it has been judged as weakness.
And I have been shown the door.
What? you exclaim. Can this happen in today’s equality-driven world?
Yes, my fellow women, it can. (And, truth be told, the world’s not all that equal.)
So what is my story? How has it all unfolded?
The details of my story are still a work in progress, but they are unfolding. Well, unraveling, really. Here’s what I know today.
I am 52.
I am a woman.
These facts might be relevant.
For the past 17 years, I have worked in media. I am a hard worker. I believe in what I do, and I have a knack for getting things done. Consequently, I have been consistently promoted. My last (hint: clue) position was Director of Sales.
I supervised 11 salespeople, five managers, and four support personnel. Throughout my tenure, I worked for the same vice president, a man also in his early 50s, but twice my height and decibel level. We had a mostly symbiotic relationship. (Until the end, that is.) Yet we engaged in a long-term debate about what a leader truly was. His vision was top-down hierarchy, a leader aloof. Mine more middle-of-the-pack, let’s forge forward together. I believed (and still believe) a true leader paid attention. I believed a true leader cared about the people she worked with. I believed a true leader made it understood that she strove for everyone’s success, and she would do whatever was necessary to help insure that success. Even if it meant she rolled up her blouse sleeves and did some of the dirty work or got provocative on their behalf once in a while. I believed a true leader stood at the front of the line.
Years passed. We made our goals. We grew revenue. We embraced new media. We understood the modern realities of business, which required we change and change and change.
So we centralized.
So we counted heads. (There were gradually less of them.)
So we changed software. (It was cheaper but not, alas, easier to use.)
So we bore the brunt of bad operations and weak personnel elsewhere.
Through it all, we scrambled to do more work with less. Yet it became clearer and clearer to me that a sales operation so encumbered would make it less and less possible for us to sell, let alone perform. Selling is trust-building. Selling is uncovering needs and matching them with solutions. Selling media can’t be done over the phone or by email. It has to be done in real-time, across the desk or on the floor, face-to-face with your customers.
I thought I worked for a company that was willing to “confront the brutal realities” (I love you, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great) of what was happening with our sales force (more feeble than force). That once identified and acknowledged we could collaboratively work on resolutions.
I found out to my cost that I did not work for such a company. They took my agitation personal, a trenchant unwillingness to accept the status quo. Never mind that trenchant unwillingness to accept the status quo is exactly what founded this country and our best companies.
Ladies, I was handed my walking papers.
I do not know what my next step is. I am hurt. I am scared. Yet I refuse to regret giving 200 percent and caring for the people who worked for me. We should succeed in this world because we are human and united for a cause. Not despite being human and hanging onto a job. At least that is what I hope my daughter and sons learn from my experience.