Let’s say there are some things you just won’t do. Or you think you can’t possibly do.
For instance, here’s a big one: You can’t tell your boss what you really think because you’ll get fired.
At least you tell yourself she won’t like it and you’ll get fired.
Let’s explore that for a minute, shall we?
Just so happens that I was talking with a boss the other day. Let’s call him Dave just because that’s a fun first name.
Dave was worried about one of his key employees – let’s call her Ginny because that’s also a fun name.
Ginny respects Dave so much that she does whatever Dave says to do.
Dave says, “Let’s make all the widgets purple!”
And Ginny runs around like a crazy person organizing the production of purple widgets.
The next day Dave, who is a self-admitted idea guy with a bad memory, has a blue sky moment where he idly says, “What if we made some yellow widgets?”
Ginny nods and says, “Okie doke, yellow” and moves heaven and earth – and spends quite a lot of money – to build ’em yellow.
The next week, when all the yellow widgets are finished and Dave sees a report about their move to the market, he says, “Yellow widgets? What the hell?”
See, Ginny never once asked Dave for clarification, like: “What about yesterday’s purple widgets? Is yellow in addition to purple, or instead of purple?”
When I asked her why she didn’t speak up and at least clarify what Dave wanted, she was shocked at my suggestion and said, “That’s not my place. He’s the boss and I’m just here to deliver whatever he wants.”
But I talked with Dave, he said, “I need her to tell me when I’m being an jerk, and when I’m costing the company time and money. I’ve got too much on my plate to remember everything and I count on her to keep me in line.”
Well now, people, what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.
When I talked with Ginny further, I asked, “If you noticed that Dave had spinach in his teeth just before he was supposed to be on the Today show, would you say anything or would you say nothing because he’s your boss?”
“Oh, I’d say something because I want him to look good,” she said.
“So what if whenever you saw him contradicting himself or not remembering accurately, you simply thought of it as if he had spinach in his teeth and said something?” I asked. She laughed and said she’d never thought of it that way, but then she pulled herself up short.
“Wait. Who am I to tell the boss he has spinach in his teeth?” She started to get anxious. “I’ve just never thought of myself as a person with that much power.”
As we coached around her concern, Ginny realized that she kept hearing her father’s voice telling her not to be too big, not to get too big for her britches, to go along and get along at work. She heard her mother’s voice telling her to be a good girl and make everything easier for everyone else. It really had nothing to do with Dave.
It had everything to do with how she saw herself and what she thought was possible.
This was a pretty big moment for Ginny, I have to tell you.
And it was pretty inspiring to see her as she realized that if she could expand herself in this one way – in essence, to ask Dave if he wanted to know he had spinach in his teeth, and then do him the favor of pointing it out – then she could really grow. She could dare to be more of herself. And maybe lower her stress level a little bit.
Today, Dave and Ginny have a strong and true partnership. The organization is stronger, more efficient and clearer – for everyone. Even the folks on the floor who are making the widgets.
And Ginny? Feels pretty strong, efficient and clear, too.