A Values Conflict Can Be a Recipe for Disaster

“Could you fire someone?”  That was the first question the Branch Manager asked me at the interview.  Needless to say I was floored by the question.

I stammered something like, “Yes, if I had given the person time to improve and helped him/her to change but nothing worked then yes I could fire someone.”   Somehow that did not satisfy her.  She said she was looking for someone who was tough, who focused on the bottom line and was ready to quickly fire anyone that was not producing.

I didn’t get that job.  She said that our “styles” were too different.  I wanted the job and was really disappointed.

Since I was on the Sales Vice President’s staff in New York City and had been for 4 years I was eager to get back to Boston.  Later that year the Vice President (her boss too) pretty much strong armed her into hiring me for another sales manager’s position.

Taking that job was a huge mistake.  It was clear from the beginning I was not a good fit for the branch and that branch manager.  Today I would say we had a values conflict that did in fact make our styles very different.

She had hired the other sales managers and they were happy working for her.  I was not comfortable with her nor was I comfortable with the other sales managers.  The 2 years I spent in that job were horrible ones for me.  I was definitely not happy at work!

During that time I secretly criticized her for an insensitive approach to move very quickly, eliminate poor performers and get business at any cost.  Today I would say that her values were in conflict with mine.

What made my predicament really difficult at that time was that I was limiting my job search to AT&T and Boston.  At my level there were very few AT&T jobs in Boston and openings were rare.  I had a good salary and benefits at AT&T so I was reluctant to leave the company.  Oh those golden handcuffs!

Two years later I found a new job –still within AT&T and in Boston.  I reconnected with a woman that I had worked with before.  She had been promoted to manager and brought me on to her team.  I knew her to be organized, dependable and focused.  Her team welcomed me and I immediately knew that I fit in.  At last I was happy at work again.

Let me say that both managers were very successful in their jobs.  It was not a question of a bad manager as I thought when I left the first manager’s branch.  It was just that my values were more aligned with those of the second manager and so we worked really well together.

What did I learn from the situation?

  • My values must align with those of the person I work for.   I must know that before I accept the job!
  • Taking a job with a manager whose values conflict with mine is a big mistake.
  • If I wanted to find a job in Boston I needed to look for it both inside and outside of AT&T.
  • Staying connected with former colleagues is worth the effort. (I still hear from the second manager at Christmas and it has been 15 years since I worked for her.)
  •  Having a good work situation is more important than having a high salary. Being happy at work makes life more satisfying and work more meaningful.
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