Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bold or mediocre?

The cursor is hovering over the send button. I’ve re-read the e-mail about 4 times, tweaking it here and there, trying to make it sound less judgmental and more friendly. How do you write a friendly “your services are no longer needed” e-mail?

After a frustrating few months of way too many delays, lack of phone calls to warn us of delays, poor communication, etc., I find I need to end a working relationship with a graphic designer. He does good work, but unfortunately, he is completely unreliable. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a project that he promised to finish before I left for Toronto, and I never saw a thing or heard from him about why it wasn’t ready.

I hate ending relationships, even when they’re working relationships which shouldn’t really impact me personally. But sometimes it needs to be done. I’ve let this one go on for too long already. Now I just have to work up the courage to hit the send button.

As I was flying back from Toronto, after a somewhat disappointing meeting with my national staff, it occurred to me that part of my problem – part of the reason why I’m less effective as a leader than I could be – is that I lack boldness. Like the cowardly lion in the wizard of oz, I need more courage.

It’s true. I know how to ACT courageous, by jumping out of airplanes and such, but more often than not, deep down, I’m a coward at heart. I cower from confrontation, I accept mediocrity from my staff because I’m afraid to challenge them, I let little conflicts simmer beneath the surface during team meetings because I’d rather not drag them out into the open, I don’t challenge my boss even though I’m sure there are some bold moves he’s avoiding which could make this a more effective organization, I don’t produce my best work for fear that it might not be accepted, and I allow the status quo to rule me because pushing the boundaries would be too uncomfortable.

A couple of things happened last week that revealed my lack of courage. One of them was the staff meeting, where mediocrity was the rule of the day because I failed to challenge the team or force them to confront their own resentments and reluctances. Another was an opportunity I let slip by because I was afraid of the consequences of taking action. Someone I know and respect wrote an article in a journal that questioned some of the things that we do as an international development organization. I sent him a personal e-mail, supporting what he said and expressing my heart. He wrote back and suggested that I send a letter to the editor of the journal as a response from me personally and the organization I represent, suggesting that he might be at least somewhat right in his critique. I declined his suggestion, because doing so would raise the ire of not only my boss but some of our major supporters. I had good reason for not doing it, but when I searched my heart, I knew that part of my reason was fear. I didn’t want to risk losing my job and ticking off the big donors. I shrunk away like the cowardly lion.

On Friday, riding the bus home from work, I almost burst into tears when it occurred to me that perhaps I am limiting my own potential and that of my organization’s by letting fear hold me back. If I were bolder, I’d stand up for what I believe in. If I were bolder, I’d challenge mediocrity.

Somehow, I need to find the boldness in me to confront my fears and speak up when things are not right. I’m starting with small steps. The first one will be to hit the send button. (Perhaps if I were truly courageous, I’d pick up the phone instead, but I’ll let myself get away with baby steps for now.) Mediocrity is not acceptable in people who provide service to us. I will strive for excellence in the people I hire.

I’m not sure what my future steps will be, but I know that this is something I need to confront in myself. I will confront mediocrity more often when I see it among my staff. I will confront it in myself. I will even try to confront it in my boss and perhaps among our major donors. I don’t want to be the cowardly lion any more.

If I can jump out of an airplane, surely I can be bold enough to slap mediocrity in the face.


Joyce said...

I cheer you on, and encourage you not to look for permission in others. They may need some time to get used to a more direct YOU, but thats okay. It will probably be a plus for everyone in the long run.
Fear is a bugger.

Melissa said...

I am the exact same way. I hate dealing with directly - especially if it involves some kind of conflict of opinion. That would probably explain my relationship with my mil - I wonder if I can write her a "your services are no longer needed" letter?

Congrats on finding the strength to hit the send button. :)

Coll said...

I would hardly consider you a coward. Everyone has fears. I think the problem may be more with your heart.. it is too kind.. you don't wish to hurt other's feelings. I would think your kind heart serves you very well in most other areas of your life... just not so much in your work life. Just my thoughts. :-)

Krista said...

I understand and validate your fear of being bold, I suffer the same condition.

I know you're not looking for praise, but I'm going to give it to you anyway. I don't know you really well, Heather, but the little I do know I deeply respect and appreciate. As far as 'females in leadership' go, you are defintely a role-model for me. I have always admired your ability to be direct yet diplomatic. You listen like you mean it and set an example for others to do the same.

If you succeed (even minutely) in your quest for boldness, I could only respect you more. I sense greatness in you, whether or not you believe that's true. I believe you are called and chosen by God. Claim that. Own it.

...It might be a little funny to say, but I just got a mental picture of you as a lioness...

Amber said...

Agreed that everyone does have fears and struggles. I suffer from the opposite condition--being too bold at times. I know from your position you don't see this as a bad thing but believe me, I often regret being such a bulldozer in certain situations. As my hubby says: "Just chill!"

Hope said...

push that send button honey.
I think I am like your last commentor, having to bite my tongue, because I am direct and high standards for myself and my staff.
In fact I struggled last week with terminating someone, because the employment situation here means employees of any calibur are hard to find. But turf her I did, and I am doing her job until I find just the right person.
For me, it's not about not creating waves, its about moving forward towards the vision.
good luck heather.

love the new blog look, I am getting lost in the dust with all the renos in my blog world.

The Passarelli's said...

Hell or high water do and say what you feel is right. You will feel better about getting things off your chest and should be respected for it.

Send it!

Now I will hit the send button and hope I didn't give you wrong advice.

Liz said...

So, did you hit the button??

It's a fine line between being assertive and being a jerk at work. I hope you find the right balance in your life. Just in the short time I've been reading you, I think you are so far from mediocre! Maybe just a little too hard on yourself?

marnie said...

I am a conflict avoidance expert. Well, most of the time. Sometimes it just can't be avoided though.

I feel your pain.

Heather said...

For those who asked, yes, I hit the send button. Now let the chips fall where they may. And if anyone knows a good RELIABLE graphic designer in my neck of the woods... It seems the ones who are both talented and reliable are hard to come by.

Gina said...

Being a manager is rough. It seems like you are totally in the middle and can't please either the people under you, or the people over you.

I know you've got it in you Heather, slap away!

Anvilcloud said...

Sometimes we wait for the right time. It's not necessarily cowardice. And some of us really have to mull things over and would find it difficult to confront something that we weren't expecting in a meeting. I'm sure that you will get better at this and appropriately assertive.

Linda said...

I understand what you're talking about. I have been wondering lately about my motivations for doing things and I must confess that all too often, my primary motivation for doing something has been fear. I suppose it's never too late to be more bold. Thanks for this post.