Your Manager Is Not God

I hate to be the one to break this terrible news to you: your manager is not God. I wish someone sat me down and told me this when I’d started working.

To begin with, I did not have healthy experiences with authority figures in my life. So I just assumed that everything they said and did was golden and that they would automatically know what I was thinking and feeling and would respond to me accordingly.

(This misconception doesn’t translate well to other important relationships, either).

Most of the time, when I put my mind to something, I get it done. And although I was never the ‘perfect employee’, I think that most of my managers enjoyed having me on their team because of my ability to show results. What I (subconsciously) expected from them though – and they weren’t really able to give – was to hold my hand on days that I was struggling and tell me that everything was going to be ok (fine, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit here but you get the idea).

I didn’t know what I needed from them until I noticed that I wasn’t getting it (like acknowledgement for something done well, some thoughtful coaching when I’d made a mistake and shown how to improve next time).

Until I was a bonafide manager – with title and everything – I had no idea how tough it was. There are multiple pressures coming at you all the time, you have to juggle a number of projects simultaneously and when things go wrong, you’re the one that has to be held accountable. It was easier to hate my previous managers before I become one.

Now I have more empathy for them.

We’ve all heard the saying that “anyone can be a manager but not everyone can be a leader.” Just like the saying “anyone can be a dad, not everyone chooses to be a father”. Ultimately it comes down to how much an individual chooses to rise to the level of responsibility in his/her life. Some will lean into it and grow – others will cave under the pressure and abdicate responsibility.

I have more impetus than ever before to grow into this level of leadership. Coaching has helped me tremendously in this regard.

Just because someone has a title, doesn’t mean that they suddenly have demi-god powers that makes them immune to the same things everyone goes through. Growth takes time. Your manager is human, as are you.

Yes they have more responsibility to learn how to lead and manage a team effectively – but that doesn’t remove the responsibility from you to be a proactive and engaged employee. When I notice the pressures that my manager(s) face, I think about ways that I can be most helpful to them. Most of the time, that means buckling down and accomplishing the tasks that have been assigned to me already.

Try to take your focus off what your manager should be doing to improve your work life and rather use that energy to invest in your own personal development.

You’ll be happier for it.

Work week reflection question: In what ways am I indulging in unrealistic expectations of my manager and how can I focus on how I can improve the work environment?

Not Just The #RedTieGuy

I can’t believe that I’m writing this today.
When I last wrote about Mikhail Hendricks, it was in the present tense. I’d just seen him at an event, where I placed him at the table with the Rector of the University he attended.
My most vivid memory of Mikhail is his intense energy as he approached you to greet you. It seemed like he reached towards you with his whole being. The smile that captured the attention of the world and made him famous with the RedTieGuy hastag, was definitely infectious.
Ironically, he didn’t want people to remember him that way. In our last FB chat, a week before he would run out of words, he said: “I am very eager to retire RedTieGuy… When people are exposed to that, they fail to see that there is more to me than that.”
Although his close friends and family obviously knew the real Mikhail, he will never get to show the rest of the world what “more to me than that” would have looked like.

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Organisations Don’t Owe You Anything

The sooner we understand that organisations don’t owe us anything, the sooner we start making a real contribution in the working world.

I have been working for 16 years. I started at the delicate age of 17, fresh out of high school, looking for work because I didn’t have the money to pursue a full-time tertiary qualification. (It broke my heart because the dream of full-time university study was one I had to forfeit.)

I knew that I could write well, so I went to our local newspaper’s office to see if I could submit any articles on a freelance basis. Turned out the editor was looking for a journalist, so I began my first job before I turned 18.

Needless to say, navigating my naivety within a working environment without any real life experience beneath my belt was tricky. The editor’s husband told me about the option of doing my degree part-time and suggested that I study Communications. That seemed like a good idea and three and a half years later, I graduated from Unisa.

I was 22.

If you had to ask me at that time what I wanted to do with my life, I would have given you a blank look. No one really knows what they want to do at that age. Although my career developed without any clear intention on my side, I now love what I do. My career evolved in direct proportion to my personal growth.

Since my first job in 1998, I have worked in 10 positions at nine different organisations – and the most important lesson I have learnt during my working career?

Organisations don’t owe you anything.

I have made many mistakes along the way (especially during the time that I was trying to establish my own business). Yet I have gained invaluable experience at each company I worked for, broadening my skills set and helping me grow in maturity.

I could not have known when I was 20 years old – writing donor newsletters for the South African National Blood Service – that I would be preparing for my ‘second career’ as an academic fundraiser in my early thirties.

I now see that all the work that I have put my hands to in the past has prepared me tremendously for the work that I am doing now – and loving every minute of!

I see all the anxious young adults stressing about their future. I know how that feels but my message to them is this:

  • Understand that organisations don’t owe you anything: Stop looking at the people around you and focus on the tasks you have been given. Once you start excelling in the little things, new doors of opportunity will begin to open up for you.
  • Life is not linear: It might look that way on your cv but there are many twists and turns along your specific path. Trust the process. Things will look much clearer in hindsight.
  • Seek out your purpose: The more you understand your purpose – what you feel you were born to do or what you feel passionate about – the greater your clarity will be with regards to the type of work you do. When I started out, all I knew is that I had the ability to write well. I slowly began to discover that I was motivated by inspiring people towards personal growth. That basic understanding has been my ‘golden thread’: purpose is found where passion and motivation meet.
  • Trust your inner voice: Don’t do what people say will bring you money. If you hate the work you do, you will either end up becoming a bitter, negative employee or looking for a way of going back to what you love.
  • Career excellence takes time: Don’t chase money; chase opportunities that will grow your skills set and stretch your capabilities. Building integrity and character should be an ongoing focus.

Ultimately  its not about gaining status or growing salary packages. The true test of our lives will be:  “What have we done with what we have been given?”

Levels And Layers

 

I’ve been realising more and more how we experience and live life through ‘levels and layers’.

The friends you had in high school are now weird looking adults with marital appendages and oggly googly offspring to boot. Your junk-food eating and animal-like partying tendencies eventually catch up and suddenly a new decade sneaks up on you, resulting in an awkward kinship with ‘deep’ people like CS Lewis who said things like: “Thirty was so strange for me. I’ve really had to come to terms with the fact that I am now a walking and talking adult.”

The things we thought we knew about life, love and everything else seems to go for an upgrade every now and again and we are forced to re-evaluate the things we thought we knew for sure. Things that we thought we had dealt with, faced, overcome and conquered keep coming up again like an annoying jack-in-the-box. The way we deal with recurring cycles and patterns forms the essence of growth and maturity. Some people suck it up and face their shit, resulting in eventual positive change and transformation. Others never do and blame the world and everyone in it for any sadness and misery they feel forced to endure.

What is remarkable about this otherwise maddening mystery is that, when you finally allow yourself to look back over the hills and valleys, mountains and oceans you have traversed, you are finally able to appreciate just how much you have grown and just how far you have come.

All that means is that once you have ‘reached’ a certain level in your life (in terms of relationships, friendships, career, personal development etc) and explored the rich layers of truth and meaning that pertains to your individual experience, there is always another level to get to and further layers to uncover.

Therein lies the beauty, exuberance and fullness that life has to offer.

This Is My Country Too


I write this letter to all who will listen to a South African woman who wishes to let her voice be heard amongst the dissenting clamour threatening the purity and promise of our hard won  freedom.

I wonder what people think about when they look at me. Perhaps they see just another ‘Indian’ and unconsciously wrap the string of stereotypes that come along with that descriptor around my neck.

Yet when I look in the mirror, I see ‘South African’.

I don’t know what the rest of the Indian population (yes the largest outside of India) in this country are thinking and feeling right at this minute. I can only speak for myself. And this speaking, this articulating, this daring to let my voice be heard, this rising up of courage… has been many years in the making.

I’m not sure whether it was something I gave up, something that was taken away from me or something I never took ownership in the first place.

Partly the reason for the self-censorship of my voice has been that I too have been a victim of the ‘old oppressive system.’ And no we can’t just ‘stop talking about apartheid’ because if we forget where we came from, then we will forget just where it is that we want this country to go to.

And yes I too want to see the national socio-political discourse shift towards a more progressive, action orientated agenda. But maybe we are stuck in a moment of national intransigence because all of its citizens are not leaning on the same side of the ship. Maybe all the voices haven’t been heard yet, so we don’t quite know how to take the next step of progress.

So now that I am finally letting my voice be heard, I am determined that it will not just be another angry shout that adds to the pervading negativity. Instead, I hope that my voice will be a heralding call to action to stop making war with our words and rather to be brave enough to open our lives to personify love in action.

Yes I know many will dismiss my voice as being naïve and overly optimistic, but it is a voice calling out to ‘true South Africans’ nonetheless.

A true South African?

Since this is the first time that I am articulating my South African voice, there is a probability that it will be lost in translation. I am trying to make you understand that maybe, just maybe, we need to reform our understanding of what it means to be South African.

No one has ever bothered to ask me what it feels like to be a South African. I may not be able to give you a succinct definition, but I can tell you how being a South African makes me feel.

I may not have been one of those who took to the streets to protest unjust laws. Neither am I tormented with memories of loved ones who placed their lives on the line for my political freedom.

But when I visit the apartheid museum, I don’t have to be black to feel the anger of righteous indignation. I don’t have to be black to read Solomon Mahlangu’s last words and feel the indelible weight of responsibility fall on my shoulders.

I don’t have to be white to feel the confusion, false guilt and loss of place that dominates everyday conversations. I don’t have to be brown to feel frustrated at the defeatist attitude prevailing in aforementioned minority groups.

In fact, I don’t have to be a colour at all.

My identity as a true South African is not tied to my colour – it is tied to my character.

My fellow South Africans are people, and stripped away of all the political codes, they are individuals who are just like me, trying to find a way to find their place in this country, trying to find a way to move past all of the pain and injustice, all of the burdens and the pressures of what we are facing.

A true South African dares to hope, dares to dream, and it is not problems that are tied to our country but if we can find a way to learn to see each other as South Africans in the core of our identities… then maybe, as we make an attempt to chart a different course, we will be able to teach the countries of the world, about reconciliation that comes from forming real and true relationship.

A true South African is a mosaic of beauty, culture, love, integrity, freedom, hope and joy.

And I wouldn’t want to change that for the world.

This is my country too.