I'm often asked: "Can you work for someone or a company you absolutely can't stand?" My answer: "Absolutely."
As many of you may have read and commented about in my previous article I couldn't stand about 45% of the CEOs I've supported over my 27-year career as an Executive Assistant. Not sure why that's a shocker. It's truth. Things usually started off great during the interview process but devolved over time to the point where I'd lost all respect for those I'd supported. This was likely due to promises being broken, tacit micromanagement, reality not matching up with what was sold to me during the interview process, or just finding out that several of the CEOs I supported were complete douches and snatched from the oven a bit too early, not allowing their sugar (read: empathy and selflessness) to carmelize.
However, what I've learned over the past 2+ decades and what I try to pound home to my coaching/trībU clients and everyone who is a "worker" is that IT'S ABOUT THE BUSINESS. As much as we would like to skip through that scene The Beatles wrote about in "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" every day we come to work and be supported just as heartily as we support, the [new] truth is that those days are pretty much over. We are in a new era where one must look out for self first and foremost. Fight me all you want. The truth, specifically in business, hurts.
Being on the executive side of the coin has been incredibly eye-opening for me. I've realized that many of the years I slaved away as an Executive Assistant were wasted getting emotional, stressed out, burnt out, trying to make selfish, morally questionable people into these magically supportive, woke-ass, superheroes who had my career trajectory and professional aspirations top-of-mind each annual review cycle. And these days I constantly kick myself for staying in that game for 27 MF years, bumping my head on the same brick wall with a slightly different version of the CEO before. Luckily, I did have several who helped change the trajectory of my career. But the first BIG move I made was reaching beyond the pail and grasping a ring I was never even told was possible for me to grasp. As a result, I see business much more clearly and I truly understand the motivations of those at EVP-level and above. And, sorry folks, your professional development is not top-of-mind for them, unless you make it so.
So, I know you LinkedIn-ers love your small bites and Top 10 lists so here's some quick advice for you to ponder to gain the type of perspective that will take you much farther than you already are, succeed in today's business climate, and be able to work for people or a company you absolutely can't stand.
Know your end game.
(I'll use Executive Assistants as an example since that's what I know best. Usurp whatever applies to your specific sitch.)
After being on the road and teaching to EAs for almost 3 years, the #1 issue and disappointment I see in the wild is that EAs have no clue what the end game for their careeris. Most are so consumed by the job that they are missing the forest for the trees. Now, more than ever, EA roles are being dumbed down, quite conspicuously, not in an effort to eradicate them, but simply because executives are busier than ever and have much more responsibility, urgency, and accountability than in decades past. Many are resistant to change so they're defaulting to what has worked vs. what can work. All that old school shit that top Assistants detest like calendaring, travel management, meeting choreography, etc. is a big-ass, warm, fuzzy blanket for execs who when stressed out, time-challenged, and attention/empathy-deficient, default back to valuing more in-the-moment than their EA's desire to become a Chief of Staff. In their minds, that's even more work they have to do and #aintnobodygotimeforthat. I have more and more dope-ass, $175K+/yr Executive Assistants reaching out to me lamenting "All he/she wants me to do is calendar. I'm sooooo bored! What do I do now?" And worse is when they're forced to do something all day, every day, that they absolutely detest, make a bonehead mistake because they hate doing it in the first place, and their executive launches into a tirade about "your one job" and starts micromanaging an Assistant that can do that shit in their sleep and has, likely, for the past 10+ years.
Here's the thing, tho. It's not the manager's fault, per se. Nor is it the Assistant's fault. The Assistant has to look at this for what it is. As much as we would love to be respected, challenged, included, and all of that, we're still hired to do a job. A very specific one that ebbs and flows in highs and lows of responsibility, accountability, and impact. By having a clear end game in mind, an Assistant can see the role not as a forever home, but as a stepping stone to a career that includes many companies, many CEOs, and all the training, education, experience, travel, influence, etc. they want.
My resume looks like Swiss cheese because it is filled with experiences that lead to my ultimate goal or end game, which is still evolving. This is my truth and what will make mefeel fulfilled in my chosen career. Not having no plan for my future and being bounced around by CEOs like some child of divorce being yanked back and forth between Mommy and Daddy, each having clear agendas of their own. If your end game is crystal clear you can work for absolutely anyone because as long as they support your ultimate goal they are at your service, not the reverse. My attitude: "Yes, you're a verifiable asshole. Just make sure that check clears, Boo. See you tomorrow...to continue my journey...that happens to include you...for now."
Take control of your shit.
Stop handing the reins of your career trajectory over to people who kinda don't care. People have enough trouble living their best (business) lives, especially undersocialized, communication-challenged execs with far more accountabilities beyond just you. Extract yourself from this waiting game and expectation-laden vortex and figure out for yourself what you need to do to live YOUR best business life. If your end game is clear then every company you work for and every executive you support are merely a part of your grand plan. If you luck on one or two along the way who accelerate your growth or take you under their wing, be grateful and realize they are unicorns these days. Stop wasting time in roles where your development has stopped and movement toward your end game has ceased. Once you've maxed out on learning and opportunity, move on! Period. And let me be clear, here. If you are truly paying attention to your end game and focused on achieving it, you will never be caught with your pants down when layoffs happen or your executive bounces for greener pastures. You will have already created a network of people who can immediately refer you for open roles that progress you on your path to your end game. You will be listening carefully to each poach attempt and vetting it for that one or two skills or that next level of exposure and accountability you lack in your current role and be ready to make the leap or circle back once you're ready to make a move. You will know and vehemently advocate for your (comp) number walking into interviews and RUN the interview, not be run by a bunch of people who have no clue what you're actually capable of, only what they need from you and are vetting for.
Stop falling for this loyalty BS.
There is no loyalty in business. Especially, as an EA. Executives go where the wind (read: money) blows, now. Loyalty is now being mistaken for convenience. Their convenience, not yours. No one at the top of the EA game stays longer than 3 years with a CEO if they're smart. Stay longer and you'll miss out on growth opportunities, different industries, different mindsets and paths to success of the CEOs you support, and a different experience watching a company grow, weather storms, go public, etc. Ask any CEO that if roles were reversed if they would stay at a company supporting someone out of loyalty while actively allowing their skills to get dusty, be reduced to a calendar maven, be excluded from important meetings, have requests for reimbursement of professional development classes and workshops be denied because "the budget doesn't allow for that," be skipped over for promotions of any kind (because you provide a level of convenience they deem can't be replicated), and given multiple new responsi-ccountabilities with zero increase in pay AND with an attitude and questioning your loyalty when you ask for one. They would think you're fuckin' nuts! So...
Seriously, people, it's time to wise up. Business is moving at a speed and trajectory we have never seen before. The courtesies and morality of the past aren't dead necessarily, but they've morphed significantly, especially with a new, now dominant generation that grew up with a different set of morals, ideals, and gauges of success. As much as I long for the days of old when we truly were a family at work, those days are dead, replaced by a very conspicuous attempt to manufacture family/empathy/morality by the numerous People teams and HR peeps in the wild shoving culture down our throats...something they have absolutely no control over. (Read my book...out shortly.) It's time to see your position in the game of business as THE most important. Not those of the people you support. I assure you, they are doing exactly that for themselves. And as a new exec, I assure you, I'm about that life...though a little more empathetic and "pay it forward" than most of my new peers.
Know your end game.
Take control of your shit.
Stop falling for this loyalty BS.
If you handle your business and run yourself like a brand, no one can deter you from your mission or end game. If your end game is clear and each day your sights are locked on that target, then no amount of office politics, bullshit, or annoying/detached managers will ever shake you more than you allow yourself to be shaken. When you're not clear about your end game your future is officially open to interpretation at the hands of the people who sign your paycheck. If you know, with certainty, how those people fit into your end game, then you can give to a certain degree, take to a certain degree, and move on to the next step in your evolution with confidence knowing that you've squeezed all the blood from the turnip. I'll say these two things again from two of my favorite authors. I use them as mantras every day to recalibrate and keep from burning the building down:
"If you don't prioritize your life, someone else will."
"How you're being treated is how you're being perceived."
Put the victim card away, please. Grab that warrior card, handle your shit, and know your end game. That's how you succeed these days. Even if you can't stand your situation or the people you support. Trust me, I do it every day.