My career would have faltered if I had not paid close attention to what was going on around me when I did well. Being too successful was risky.
“This is a tough place for a woman. I’ve been put down, pushed aside, knocked out. Truth is, I have had to fight my whole life because of who I am, who I love, and where I started. But I didn’t let anything get in my way.”
These words, spoken by Sharice Davis during her successful 2018 campaign for Congress, resonated with me immediately. She spoke of her time in the political world, but she might as well have been speaking of my time in corporate America.
I have been working continuously since I was twelve years old. In that time, I have been a play leader, sales clerk, receptionist, medical assistant, laboratory assistant, engineer, senior engineer, program manager, technical manager, manufacturing manager, manufacturing engineering manager, production manager, Director, Site Leader, and Vice President. I have also been President and CEO of my company, twice.
Every time I got too comfortable in my career, compliancy bit me. It hit me hard. I took years to figure out that if I didn’t take charge of my career, no one would. I am a woman. Often, I was not taken seriously as I sought promotions.
Don’t take the offered bad jobs
I sought promotions when I was doing well in my current position. This timing turned out to be dangerous. There are good positions and there are bad positions. Several times I scouted out my next position only to have those in charge point me toward another much less relevant position.
The alternate positions that were recommended appeared to be equal to the position I sought, but something was always wrong with them. It took digging to find out what it was, but once I knew the game, I could always identify the weakness in the offered job. Again, these bad job offerings occurred at the pinnacle of my power. Had I taken them my career would have been derailed.
It took even longer for me to recognize and act in a manner which identified me as not for sale to the highest bidder. When I worked for a company, I did my best to make them successful, but they had not purchased my soul. I was allowing them to lease my time, skills, and expertise at a monthly rate.
I kept my decency, my conscience, and my integrity. My values caused me trouble whenever I encountered “corporate prostitutes.” A corporate prostitute is a person who has sold their soul to a company and will do whatever they are told to do. Anything that is required to meet a company’s wants, needs, and goals is acceptable to this person.
I kept a journal and documented the incidents in my career where something was learned. The journal represents the universal lessons I wish someone had taught me early in my career.
Documenting your career provides a method to revisit decisions regarding your career. Not taking bad positions offered is one of the hard-won lessons, I glow when I review my work journal.
“The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same.” — Colin R. Davis.
Know your worth
The reason I became a manager was twofold. While I was working as a senior engineer, I was placed on a team of Ph.D. scientists to facilitate their work on sophisticated equipment. They struggled to work together, and when I arrived, I became both their technician and workflow facilitator.
I became their boss. Under my leadership, we completed the work that had stalled on time with excellent quality, meeting all the technical requirements. When I received a bonus equal to ten percent of my salary, my husband took me out to dinner.
In our two-engineer home, we usually lived by the unwritten rule we did not interfere with each other’s careers. That night, he gave me a diamond bracelet and advice.
Sitting across from me, my husband looked me in the eye and said, “You deserved more than a ten percent bonus.” He continued, “The team did not work together well until they added you as the work facilitator. Your ability to lead the team made the difference. You should make your boss’s salary. They will not give you anything else if you do not ask for it.”
My mouth gaped open. “What?”
He leaned forward. “Toni, you need to concentrate on becoming a manager.”
I stared. “I’m a good engineer — ”
“You are a better leader,” he interrupted.
It was his input — and that diamond tennis bracelet — that convinced me to apply for a management position.
Applying for that leadership position started me down a road that was challenging, rewarding, frustrating and amazing. Being the boss was nothing like I expected it to be. The power of knowing my path made a difference to my success.
Be prepared for the challenge
Many believed as I did before I became a leader that being the boss was easy. It was not. Numerous activities are hidden from the everyday employee that would shock them.
Don’t take the Leadership path if you are not ready to have your actions and every aspect of your personality challenged. You must be ready to have your motives challenged if there appears to be nothing in your actions that benefit you. Being a woman with power and doing well is not an easy task; many expect female members of upper management to play the villains based on common stereotypes.
One of the toughest tasks is to maintain your version of female power, not the versions that are imposed upon a female leader. There are so many stereotypes from the “Nine to Five” boss to “The Devil Wears Prada” executive and everything in between. Each situation requires an assessment and measured reaction.
Don’t be distracted by bad bosses
I was working for a toxic boss on a large, important project. The project involved castings, which are made by pouring liquid metal into a sand mold. Manufacturing parts with precision dimensions using this process is a magic trick. To add to the challenge, we didn’t have the molds required for this project.
Normally, from start to finish, a casting takes about thirty weeks. We had to make the part samples ourselves, check them, send them to a supplier for machining, check them again, and then send them to a supplier for painting.
We developed a plan for the parts to travel directly from one supplier to the next; we would perform our inspections on site at the suppliers. On-site inspection brought the delivery time down from thirty weeks to twenty-five. On this project, those five weeks would make a huge difference to the production team, which wanted to get the sample parts back in-house as fast as they could to build up first the production prototype and the units.
Both the production team and the parts procurement team reported directly to me. Despite enormous effort on my part and theirs, the parts did not come in at twenty-five weeks. They came in at twenty-six weeks. They were one week late.
The day the parts were due but did not arrive, my boss stormed into my office. His face was red, he was breathing hard, with his hands clenched into tight fists. He walked straight toward me, and for a moment, I thought he might punch me.
He climbed on top of my desk and started kicking. He kicked my phone off the desk, then my paper clips, then my calendar.
I didn’t get out of my seat.
I thought “I choose to be the calm leader.” I placed both hands against my desk and glided in my chair back against the wall. He was on my desk continuing to kick things around; I was hoping I didn’t get hit by anything. He was not a skinny man. How upset was he to climb on my desk?
When he had finally kicked everything off my desk, he stared at me. “What was the timeline for this project?”
I told him, “The schedule was thirty weeks.”
He didn’t like that answer. “What did you tell me you and your team could do?” “I told you we could get it down to twenty-five weeks.” “Did you get it down to twenty-five weeks?”
“No,” I told him, “I did not. The parts did not come in today. They will be one week late to our expedited plan.”
This detail appeared to calm him down. He climbed off my desk.
“You make damn sure those parts are here next week,” he said.
I stood up and pretended that my desk items were not scattered about on the of my office floor. We were two people, boss and subordinate having a normal conversation.
“Sure. I’ll make that happen.”
My ability to “make that happen” was one reason I did so well in my career. I knew the value of being able to close on projects when others could not. The power of completion belonged to me. The boss would not distract me with his craziness. There was no time to be upset at his attitude. I had a successful team to lead.
Keep your power safe
These challenges came when I was doing well is a hard lesson. Most people are on guard when they are not doing well. One challenge of being a woman leader is staying focused and on guard when you are doing well. Hold your power and keep it safe.
Toni Crowe can be reached at https://www.tonicrowewriter.com/