Stop doing your job. Start doing you.

I once had a co-worker that hated his boss. It wasn’t a strong personality clash – it was a work-style clash. The boss was kind of new to “being a boss” and tried his best, but often fell short by being late to meetings, demotivating the team, not being clear with priorities, and blowing up when things went wrong. My co-worker, we’ll call him Tyler, could point out all of the boss’ shortcomings and in fact had really great suggestions for the boss to do better.

The problem is Tyler never told his boss what he really thought.

His reasoning is that he needed to know his place and respect hierarchy. Speaking out was a risk.

This is a problem.

The hierarchy in your job is constructed. Your boss is by no means superior to you in thought or performance. People become bosses because there was a vacuum of power, they got lucky, they performed well as an individual contributor, or they handled managing some important project very well. Sometimes this translates to being a good model and manager for other employees, sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s one thing to not vibe with your boss because of personality or even politics – but those issues are generally not a big deal, from what I’ve seen. People bond over getting things done and reaching goals together, no matter their differences.

What really irks me is the emphasis on hierarchy. As I stated in previous blogs, the start of my career was in startups, incubators, and in generally horizontal hierarchies. I didn’t know how to function in other types of organizations, but I learned quickly. My first week at an agency – I received a handful of meeting invitations. I thought a few of them were not relevant to my work, so I declined.

I was then taken into an empty conference room and several managers explained to me that it was not appropriate for me to decline a meeting invite. Through the months I had other such meetings, informing me that I could not criticize others’ work since they were not “below” me. On and on, I learned to “know my place” and “respect hierarchy.”

How did this provide value to the organization? I was a skilled expert with experience, and I slowly started keeping my experience to myself. I stopped trying to improve the organization. This is what Tyler was doing, too.

It’s clear that this is bad for the organization, but I believe it’s bad for you too. You are learning to be useless.

One of the best jobs out there is “consulting.” You go into an org, and you use your experience to give them a couple pieces of advice. This is the direct opposite of what most orgs teach to to do. Strange, isn’t it?

No, there’s no conspiracy. Honestly, most people don’t know how to run businesses. They think hierarchies work, and believe that employees are single skilled output machines, instead of thoughtful contributors to collaborative goals.

While it may seem obvious that the best thing Tyler can do is tell his boss what he really thinks, when we find ourselves in those types of situations, we falter. That initial “training” kicks in. It’s not my place. It’s not my job.

Well, maybe you should stop doing a “job”, and start being you. Your opinions are valid, useful, and contribute to the larger success of your organization. Silence contributes to all the “communication issues” people like Tyler find themselves dealing with.

If you want to work in a good, positive, dream work environment, it starts with you choosing to leave your job behind for a higher calling: being you.

Even if you are paycheck to paycheck, but don’t have a lot of bills, you can handle getting fired every now and then. Getting fired is good for the soul, especially if it’s because you stood up for how you think business should work. If you have a lot of bills/dependents, working contract might be the only path to a better type of work environment.

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