A short note: As I was contemplating writing this post, I realized that there was a strong possibility that the post could end up being quite lengthly. As a result, I decided to tell this story in three parts:
1. The Ego - provides background information on a struggle I recently faced at work.
2. It's Complicated - a realization that we are human, and being human, stress can affect us in many ways
3. Lessons Learned - summary of what I learned from the struggle
Hope you enjoy :)
After I returned to work from maternity leave, I decided that I was going to be a "Mom" first and put my career on hold. That lasted, oh, about 3 weeks, when I was approached about a position that really fit my interests and had a lot of opportunity for growth. About 5 weeks after I was made aware of the position, I was offered and accepted the position as a Program Manager for new technology development initiatives and proudly went to work each day eager to learn. On one hand, I thought I was crazy; I accepted a position with WAY more responsibility, customer visability, travel requirements and did I mention I was trying to learn how to balance being a working mother and wife? On the other hand, I was excited to learn; everything was new and I approached each day in my usual passionate, energetic and bubbly fashion.
That energy carried me through eight months in to the position, until I was faced with a challenge. My first real challenge. Unfortunately, I was faced with an extremely difficult customer. In an ideal world, your customer would be more of a partner, where you work together to achieve their goals and everyone ends up in a 'win-win' scenario. That's the "Steven Covey" scenario and it was clear that just wasn't what I was handed. I soon realized the importance of clear and concise communication - both oral and written. If I had a phone conversation with my customer, I immediately followed up with an email documenting our discussion so there was a paper trail. Any proactive steps I took to quickly come up with a solution to a problem or request, was soon transformed into reactive scramble due to her unwillingness to cooperate or pure oversight. I was slightly relieved to see that I wasn't the only person who had this problem - it seems that every person she dealt with had the same impression I had (which was a relief!!)
Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, her dislike or displeasure with our company showed in our evaluation from the big customer. I wasn't pleased, and in fact,when I saw the evaluation, tears filled my eyes. Suddenly all of the hard work, technology development and advancement our team achieved over the past year was completely overshadowed by a misunderstanding that caused her to be relentless in the evaluation.
After the tears and disappointment passed, a new found passion emerged. I was determined to get this right. This customer recently told me how she had her last PM fired and I was determined not to let that happen to me. I developed a written response to the evaluation and presented it to my senior leadership team. Before presenting, my dear hubby (who works for the same company), sent me an IM "Stay strong, don't lose your temper. If you do, you'll lose credibility. Talk slow. They will understand. You'll be great" I did just as he said and even emerged at the end with a smile. I believe my concluding remark was "Boy, have I learned a lot!"
I was afraid of the response from my leadership team, however they were more than supportive and completely understood the difficult situation. One of my mentors came in to my office about a week after this happend; the conversation was less than pleasant. To caveat, I have a great deal of respect for this person, so I was quite baffled as the conversation progressed. It went something like this...(and I'm only skimming the high points):
Mentor: You need to set your ego aside and fix this.
Me (thinkig): Ego? Did he say ego? Did he say big ego? Really? Me. Ego?
I don't know if I even heard much more of the conversation after this. But I do remember:
Me (thinking): Ego? Seriously?
Mentor: Welcome to the real world. This is a real job. If you want happy-go-lucky and everything-is-perfect, go back to what you were doing before.
Me (thinking): Did he say Ego? (Wall starting to go up...still thinking...) Whoa...did he just diss my old jobs? How does he know what I did and that it was insignificant to this job? Really. Ego. Hmm.
Yes, all of that was in one conversation. Talk about MOTIVATING! At that moment, I had no clue what had just happened. This person that I admired and respected, came in to give me a pep talk and all it did was completely demotivate me.
Well, I grabbed the bull by the horns and am happy to report that I (think) I've turned the situation around. The difficult customer was assigned to a new role and I am now working with a new customer. We had a face-to-face crucial conversation where I explained the difficulties that I and the team experienced in the previous year and developed a business rhythm to keep him informed.
As far as The Ego goes, I learned alot about myself from that one, simple statement and am actually grateful to my mentor for saying those words. Come back for Part 3 on Friday to learn about what I learned from this entire experience. I will say it circles back to Maya Angelou's saying 'When You Learn, Teach." And a shout out to Oprah's article "Oprah's Biggest Aha Moment Yet - and How It Could Lead To Yours." (It's all interconnected - read that article today as I was waiting for a test you'll read about tomorrow in Part 2).