A letter from a reader says:
Will: I’m not your target demographic, but I need some help, and I think your site is really good. I’m sure you can help me with this problem. I got a promotion a few months ago to a position where I work directly under a really strict boss who is really good at what she does. I earned my position and I am also really good but I always feel like I can’t measure up in her eyes. I feel like I’m screwing things up much more than I used to and she’s just sitting there watching me fail. I feel like I was given this great opportunity but all I’m doing is failing and ruining my reputation. How do I prove to my new boss that I really do deserve this promotion and how do I stop making dumb mistakes?
Originally, when I read this, I thought I knew the writer. She sounded like someone I had worked with a long time ago. Turns out, I was wrong, but my friend’s story isn’t much different from Misti’s.
I have a reputation of being a really hard manager. Not because I’m needlessly hard on the staff, but because I also have the reputation of being the best there is at what I do. I’m not bragging about this, I’ve worked very hard to cultivate and earn that image. People are afraid of making mistakes around me because they think I am going to be unforgiving. Once people work with me for a while, they understand that I am more concerned with their growth than their perfection.
A few years ago, I was at a bank, (actually a credit union, but I use the term bank for those who are unfamiliar with the concept of credit unions) and I was temporarily assigned to a specific branch to “fix” the staff there. They had consistently bad customer service scores and staff rarely stayed there for more than six months before going up or going out. The company originally thought the problem was management, so they traded managers out on a fairly regular basis. The incentive for managers was to be the one that turned this branch around. One manager actually started to turn things around, although it was after the reputation for the branch had become so bad that being sent there was a punishment rather than a benefit. He asked me to come in to help him for a while.
Pretty early on, I had a meeting with the staff to see where the problems were, and how to deal with them. The staff felt like they were on the Island of Misfit Toys, because they had no stability in leadership, the management never came and visited, and they were pretty much left out there alone to sink or swim. Most of the staff just gave up trying.
One particular teller was known as a bad apple, because she would openly voice her opinion to whoever would listen. She was a smart girl, but she had had no guidance in how to behave at a job (this was her first job ever!), and she had a bad rep. She didn’t want to give up, but she was mad about the situation. Having had a lot of experience with bad reps, I took an immediate shine to her. I told her that if she was willing to do the work, we could turn her reputation around and maybe save the branch in general. The end result was that she worked hard and did the work. She became very highly regarded, and was offered a better position at another bank.
Months later, she called me to thank me for everything. She told me that she used to be terrified of me because I was so precise and she was afraid I would hold her to the same standards I held myself. It wasn’t until much later that she realized that she could relax a little, knowing that mistakes were treated as anomalies until they became habit. I would coach someone who made a mistake on how to avoid doing so in the future, and I would come down hard on someone who slacked off or was just a general *******. Her story and Misti’s sounded very familiar to me.
For Misti, I would suggest that she knows how good she is. She needs to stop thinking of her boss as some ogre who is out to get her (especially since there is no indication that she IS out to get her), and start trying to learn from her. Take your time, relax, and don’t focus on not making a mistake: Focus on doing your best, and if you make a mistake (which should be an anomaly), fix it and move on. Don’t dwell on it too much, and don’t let an occasional mistake dictate how you are perceived to those in power. The mistakes will stop as you become more confident in yourself and stop looking for someone to validate your mistakes.
Does anybody else have anything to suggest for Misti?