During the Halloween season we are presented with all sorts of ghouls and ghosts. Some of these can even be cute and fun for children. Others, such as vampires, are horrifying even to adults. These images led me to think about the vampires in our life. I am not speaking of the Count from Sesame Street, a beloved and adorable character in my opinion. Sometimes these vampires are friends and even family. At times they are the vampires sucking the life out of us, but eventually they return to their normal state. They are friends and family, and without enabling them, we can love them through that time in their life. No, I am speaking of those people in our lives who continually suck the life out of us. Those vampires!
These vampires could be acquaintances or co-workers, and quite often our supervisors at work. We can limit our exposure to acquaintances and we should remember that they are merely acquaintances and grant them no power over us. However, we cannot completely choose our co-workers or our managers. Organizations often make those choices for us, and unless you do not need your job or paycheck, we often have to endure them 'wanting to suck our blood!'
In the Dracula movies, Bela Lugosi played Count Dracula who exercised his evil powers over helpless victims. Fortunately, that is just a movie and Count Dracula fails in the end. However, this is real life, our life, and these vampires exercise their substantial powers over our work life. Fortunately for us, we are not helpless victims. Consider our co-workers who act as vampires. Sometimes they are so negative that it allows us to focus on the bad in our situation and not the good. Worse still, getting so close to the negative, viewing anything from up close, exaggerates its perspective. The closeness to any object fills our frame of vision so that it crowds out everything else. All we see is the negative. There is no visual space for the positive. There is no room for the positive.
When confronted with these types of vampires, it is good for us to take a step back, figuratively if not literally. Distancing ourselves from the negativity allows us a more balanced frame of reference and allows space for the good to reveal itself. These negative individuals are struggling with a work life that is unsatisfying to them. They often express their frustrations negatively. However, if we choose to react by accepting them for their talents and contributions, their negativity is put into perspective. They may at least care about the situation. Much like Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street, they can become likable characters and actors in our lives.
We need to do the same with our supervisors. Sometimes they do not realize that their behaviors, often ranging from bad decision making to abhorrent behaviors like those demonstrated by Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein and others, run counter to the organization's espoused values as well as our own values. We need to step back, and without acquiescing or enabling such behaviors and decisions, put the situation into perspective. There are options. In the case of egregious behavior, we can discuss it with others in the organization to the extent that they can be trusted. We may even be able to mention it to the supervisor directly by discretely saying that the behavior makes a number of us uncomfortable. In the most extreme cases, there may be little that can be done except leaving the group or organization or letting HR handle it with unknown consequences and repercussions.
For those supervisors who are just bad at their job, suffer from lack of personal, social or leadership skills, a never ending stream of these behaviors can wear on us. Motivation is diminished and our commitment to the organization can waiver. While we cannot control their behaviors, we can control how we react to them. Remember first of all, their failings are not yours. Unless they attempt to force you to do something illegal, immoral or unethical, you can simply do your job. The relationship with the supervisor and the organization is merely a transaction, the supervisor or company buys your services and you deliver that service to finance your life. It is your job, not who you are! Your values can still remain intact.
The benefit to that approach is simple. You do your job to the highest degree of professionalism and competence and your supervisor does their job in the same way. One consideration, and this is an important one, is that your supervisor may be getting direction from their supervisors (note that I did not use the term, their superiors). As one moves up the managerial ranks, you can often be presented with orders that you simply do not agree with. That situation requires you to in essence, pick the hill you choose to die on, and you simply cannot die on every hill, only the illegal, unethical, and immoral ones. As your supervisor, they may simply be acting as a good soldier, carrying out orders from above. We often have to do the same.
As we deal with these situations, it helps to remember that this too shall pass and other situations, opportunities, and supervisors will present themselves. As long as our value set remains intact, and we recognize that our work does not define who we are, it is in the worst case, a transaction. These transactions finance our life, nothing more, nothing less. How we react to these situations certainly impact our attitude and motivation, but it should never impact our commitment to our professionalism or our desire to represent ourselves and the job we do in the best possible ways. Those are the things that help define us and reveal our beliefs and values. Ultimately, it is those beliefs and values that will prevail over poor leadership. As Frank Sinatra says, 'for what is a man, what has he got if not himself, then he has naught.' You can do it your way!