Today I had a conversation with one of my new supervisees that I wish someone would have had with me when I started out on my professional journey. Although I have only known Kim for a short period of time and my interaction with her has been limited, I can tell she has is struggling. She is struggling to find her place in a world that insists on shoving square pegs into round holes, a world where “good” is never enough.
Kim is a young, intelligent, unmarried female with no children who just completed her Masters last winter and wants desperately to promote to a level she feels she deserves. While some might argue that is the stereotypical Millennial mindset of entitlement – I totally get where she is coming from. I, too, was once that girl fresh out of school and full of energetic drive to conquer the world. And then reality slapped me in the face.. hard.
But Kim’s story is more complicated than mine as she has the added pressure of cultural demands of success from her Asian family. Her exact words to me today were, “I come from a very Chinese family, where success is measured by salary”. Although I am a Caucasian female born and raised in an Irish-German city, I can appreciate the cultural pressure that is very real in modern society.
Our conversation began when I attempted to do what I can only describe as “damage control”. Kim recently interviewed for a promotion that is also supervised by me but was not selected. She wasn’t selected on anything she did wrong – there was just a more qualified candidate who presented as a better fit for the position. I learned that Kim was notified on Friday that she was not selected and I felt it was my due diligence to follow up with her on the why behind my selection – not because I have to (because I don’t) but because I wanted to (and wished someone would have done for me years ago).
My leadership style can best be described as a desire to set others up for success. when my team succeeds, I succeed. So I asked Kim to come to my office and I dove right into it by letting her know I was aware she had been informed she was not selected for the position, but I wanted to let her know it was not because she performed poorly during the interview. In fact, as I informed her, she had done exceptionally well, but the truth was that someone else had done better. A harsh reality in a world of participation trophies for everyone.
The conversation led into what she was doing well in her current role – taking on additional responsibilities, self-initiating directive, demonstrating a performance improvement mentality, etc. I also touched (gently) on things she could improve upon – having tact in sensitive situations, remaining professional when dealing with difficult co-workers, and self-awareness. The key part of constructive criticism is delivering the message in a way that doesn’t make your employee hate themselves, you, or the organization, and that is something that takes time and experience.
I then asked Kim what her future goals were… what did she want to be when she grew up? She didn’t know, so we started to discuss some things she was interested in – data analytics, management, etc. I reminded her that she was young and that her next job was not her end all, she didn’t have to do that for the rest of her life. We also discussed the possibility of leaving our organization to find a better fit elsewhere. Now, this is tricky water to navigate, but I believe I did so successfully. I flat out told Kim that while I do not want her to leave our organization, I also support personal and professional growth and that it’s important to recognize that what may be a good fit for one person is not for another. I also reiterated that I didn’t think she was a bad fit for her current position (she isn’t) but she has a lot of talent that can be used elsewhere – and that is what I want her to explore.
I encouraged her to explore other options within our organization and together we looked online at fellowship opportunities. I forwarded her some useful links and some info that I have amassed over the years. I also let her know that other organizations within our industry offer the same thing, and that she shouldn’t limit herself. I also squashed any false hope that she may have been given. What I mean by this is that people have good intentions when they would tell her “you should do this” or “I heard this can help you” but have no real experience or knowledge in what they are talking about. I have been interviewing, hiring, and disciplining people for a few years now and I know the ropes, loopholes, and what’s possible v. what’s not. I let Kim down easy by telling her what was bad information coupled with what was an actual possibility in her situation.
One of the things I stressed to her was to not make an emotional decision! I told her she will have days when she leaves the office pissed off at the world, when she tells herself she isn’t coming back the next day and that this is it! we all have those days, but I reminded her that is not the time to go home and apply for 50 jobs on Indeed.com. instead, I encouraged her to apply for internal positions, apply for external positions, interview and ASK QUESTIONS! The grass is not always greener on the other side. She may find out the reality of another organization is not what she thought it was and that she is better off here. But she won’t know unless she seeks out that information. I also let her know that building relationships is everything in business. I encouraged her to talk to others who worked for other companies, who used to do other jobs and find out what they have to say. We all have our own story, our own path. Life is not a one size fits all.
I felt like I was talking to myself years ago, reminding her that this is not her end all but that she must work her way up. That these other little silly jobs (as she may see them) are actually preparing her for jobs that carry the burden of responsibility. That us hiring officials see the type of jobs that she is currently working through as stepping stones that build the foundation of knowledge that those at the top have. I told her that we hire for skill – we see talent and teach you how to use it. That is our job as managers.
I also told her I would delegate to her what I could so she could build her skillset and get a better glimpse of the 30,000 foot perspective. How can we as managers expect our people to grow if we don’t plant the seed? It took me a long time to lay down roots, and I want to provide the knowledge I have gained along the way to the next generation.
Who knows, maybe one day Kim will be hiring me.