Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to Change

This week I found out that one of our corporate attorneys is leaving the Company. This woman is the classic pit bull attorney that you would expect to see on one of those television legal drama shows. I spent the first several months at the Company being afraid of her. Then eventually I began to understand her. Finally, I actually started to like her. And when I walk into the office on Monday, she will be gone.

I will never forget the first conference call we had together. I had been working at the Company for about three weeks when one of my clients announced that they wanted to cancel our contract after the first year of a five-year deal. The attorney immediately laid into everyone explaining how this client was "trying to fuck us over" and she was not going to "put up with their shit."

It was the first time I had ever heard anyone swear like that in a professional setting. What was even more shocking is that everyone else on the phone seemed to just ignore her behavior and continue with the conversation as if it was completely normal. Over time, I got used to it too. And we went on to successfully negotiate three major contracts together.

So naturally when I had a legal question about one of my contracts, I dropped her a quick e-mail to see if she could give me some advice. Within less than two minutes a message came back saying "Not sure if you've heard but I gave my notice. My last day is Friday. Why don't you stop over and we can chat." Those words on my computer screen sent shock waves through my system. The Company was a giant mine field and I had come to rely on this attorney to help guide me through. No matter what types of convoluted situations we got into, she would always figure out the right thing to do.

When I got to her office, we started talking about the reasons she decided to leave the Company. Apparently she has been unhappy with her boss for the last three years. "There are Climbers and there are Builders," she said matter of factly. "My boss is a Climber and I am a Builder. I am sick of putting up with her crap while she takes credit for all of my work."

I am always interested to hear new theories on leadership and management styles. In fact, I have even made up a few of my own over the past few years. But I had never heard of the Climbers and the Builders before. So I looked it up to find out more. I came across an article by an author named Dan Bobinski who focuses on management training for Fortune 500 companies.

Essentially, the Builders are focused on creating a solid organization. They invest in their people. And they keep an eye on quality because they know that whatever they leave behind them will be a reflection on them. The Climbers are focused on padding their own resume. They seek the limelight, often at their co-workers expense. Although they may be talented, the Climbers use their talent to further their own career, not to build up the organization or those around them.

It is a perfect description of what goes on at the Company. The majority of the leadership team are Climbers who will do whatever is needed to advance their own careers. In fact, the entire corporate culture at the Company tends to value the Climbers over the Builders. It rewards the idea more than the execution. It celebrates the brand image, regardless of whether there is any substance behind it. That explains why I have felt an inherent conflict since the first day I walked in the door.

I ended up visiting with the corporate attorney for over an hour. And at the end of our conversation she said to me "Look, I know that you have been unhappy here for awhile. When I complained to my friend about how much I hated my boss and how much I wanted to make a change, she said to me 'So, what are you waiting for?' And she was right. Now I am asking you that same question."

After we said our goodbyes, I went back to my desk and started going through my e-mail. I came upon the invitation for the Company's 2011 Annual Sales meeting. This event is held every year in January and serves as the kick off for the sales cycle. It is mostly a promotional conference to get everyone motivated to sell our products and bring in more revenue for the Company. It is also the place where they announce the winners of the President's Club awards for those who exceeded their prior year's revenue targets by the highest amount.

Last year was my first trip to the Annual Sales Meeting. I remember registering for the event in October and secretly hoping that I would leave the Company before I ever had to attend. But I never did anything to make that happen. Now here I am one year later and nothing has changed. Once again, I am registering for the event and making my plane reservations for a trip that I hope I will never have to take.

When I look back on this past year, I have been profoundly unhappy at this job. Yet I keep telling myself that I will stick it out a little longer. At first, I stayed because I wanted to get my kitchen remodeled and the Company would let me work from home. Then I stayed because they promised to remove me from the Daughter's account and I thought it might get better. After that, it was summer and I did not want to go through the stress of changing jobs.

Now I am waiting until the end of the year to see if I qualify for the management bonus. And if I do qualify, then I would have to stay until March 2011 to get the payout. And by then it will be really close to May 2011 and so I will probably tell myself to stick it out until I have a full two years in at the Company.

When you look at all of those reasons, they make perfect sense. Except that they don't. The real question is this: What is the price of my soul?

Someday I would like to find a job that I feel passionate about. I have had lots of ideas over the past few months, but nothing really seems to resonate with me. Maybe I am so jaded by my recent exposure to the underbelly of Corporate America that I can't seem to clear my head. Or perhaps I have been waiting for some sort of epiphany and then suddenly I will know exactly what I want to do.

It occurred to me this week that I don't have to stay at the Company while I figure it out. Right now, I just want to enjoy my life and have a little peace of mind at the end of the day. So I have decided to embark upon a job search. Starting right now. My goal is to find at least one job each week that interests me and submit an application.

It doesn't have to be the perfect job. But it will get me away from the Company. And hopefully it will provide an opportunity to buy back a little piece of my soul.

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