Day: January 21, 2017

Adventures in Leadership

I have newfound appreciation for anyone who has been in a leadership or administrative role for a significant amount of time.

They must have gonads made of steel… Because people are the freakin’ worst.


I hate people who want to meet in person without letting me know at least roughly what it is that they want to meet about. These people always want to manipulate me; they want to ask something of me that they know I would not normally want to give or do, which is why they don’t want to disclose the topic. They want to put me on the spot, catch me off guard, and force my hand into an action of their choosing, while making sure I don’t have the time to think it through and counting on my (and many other people’s) propensity to avoid direct confrontation.

I hate having my niceness, or the expectation of niceness on account of being female, exploited like this (by men and women). I am too busy to waste time on meetings that will result in me being someone’s pawn. Therefore, as of a few months ago, I have started refusing to meet. Very politely, I get back to the person, asking for clarification as to what the discussion is to be about and offering to talk on the phone or continue via email.

I recently made someone quite angry (actually, to quote, they were “disappointed”) by iterating over email that the in-person discussion they requested with only the vaguest and most opaque of hints as to the topic was  likely a discussion that would need to include some other people, too.  The person got more and more agitated and aggressive with each iteration, changing their hints as to what the topic of the conversation was supposed to be, and finally in a huff deciding that things were blown out of proportion and they did not want to meet with me any more. (I know this person fairly well, and I am willing to bet good money that what they wanted to discuss was to get me to do something they preferred even though I had said ‘no’ multiple times.)


Along the same lines, I hate it when people say, “I prefer to meet in person, as email can be misunderstood. It doesn’t convey the body language etc. ”

This is bullshit. It always seems to be used by the people who totally meant to convey whatever passive aggressive/angry/irritated/otherwise negative crap they did, but since the recipient called them on it or actually got offended, they are now backpedaling and attributing it to email. It’s not email’s fault.

I dislike meeting in person precisely because of the body language. I have a short fuse and conveying that my veins are about to pop is not helpful. This insistence on  in-person communication always seems to be by the people who are confident in their ability to keep their cool, because they rightly believe they have the upper hand as they actually have all the pertinent information while the other party (me) does not and is thus in an inferior and precarious position.

I love email as a mode of communication because it helps me craft exactly the message I want to convey. Especially if an issue is sensitive, I can edit until I have achieved what I feel to be the right pitch. I can be nice, helpful, and funny; I can be formal or casual; I can be passive-aggressive or plainly aggressive… I can be who I want or need to be. I can respond, rather than react.


Recently, I was put in a position of being yelled at by a higher admin; this was my first one-on-one conversation with this admin. Luckily, it was over the phone, and it solidified my conviction that sometimes not seeing the other person’s face is best. I was not told what the discussion was to be about, but I thought I knew based on some earlier information. It turned out the conversation was about something else, and I got yelled at for doing something I hadn’t done and for not having done what I had been supposed to in this person’s view, even though I had done precisely what I had been supposed to according to the job description. I pushed back fairly hard and the person backpedaled. Then another admin called me two weeks later to explain that the first one had been yelling not because of why he had been yelling (better not, because I hadn’t done anything wrong), but because of some other underlying stress and perceived grievance that dates years back and has nothing to do with me.


A third person got all huffy because I pointed out that they hadn’t done a good job on something important and they needed to redo it. The person was all upset and told on me to the admin above (which prompted the aforementioned yelling); they said I was wasting their time (trust me, I wasn’t). This person is now redoing what they were supposed to and is going to miss the first deadline to turn it in. They are now upset with me anew. Why? Because I am not flexible and permissive enough to allow them to miss the deadline  (which would put everyone who needs to do the follow-up work in a terrible time crunch), but rather I told them to shoot for the next deadline that is only weeks away.


Is it that people are a$$holes in general, or that interacting with a woman or me in particular makes them particularly a$$holish? If instead of me there were someone with more Y chromosomes in a position of some leadership, would people be less likely do double down and become aggressive when told that no, they cannot have what they think they are entitled to?


I work hard and I believe I have a good sense of what is fair and just. I really dislike it when reasonable rules are bent and when other hard-working people are taken advantage of by those who think they are owed special treatment on account of nothing at all.

Where does a request for reasonable accommodation end and a high-maintenance primadonna status begin? When what you want puts undue burden on those around you, when it creates unnecessary work for them, when it messes up their lives. When you require ridiculous scheduling gymnastics from many people in order to accommodate your very special circumstances that are not special at all, as everyone else has them, you are just being an a$$hole about them.


That colleague who said once that I didn’t have the right personality type for administration was correct. I don’t. I can’t deal with people. Many are self-serving and irrational, and it affects me profoundly. I lose work time; I vent to my husband (which is probably not helping his longevity); I clutter the blogosphere with screeds of fire and brimstone.

I also suffer from chronic self-doubt, probably inextricable from the impostor syndrome. Even when I rationally know that I did all that I could and that I am not wrong, somewhere deep inside there is this seed of doubt, making me wonder if I am at fault, if I am the reason that there is a conflict, that things are not smooth, that people around me seem unhappy. Unfortunately, insecure people are always vulnerable to manipulation. Luckily, my husband is my trusted voice or reason and reassurance.

It seems that the most effective admins are those who are somehow able to not take the $hit personally at all, while being able to be nice and smooth enough to make everyone feel like they are being heard and appreciated, and who then go do what they wanted to anyway. I don’t know if one can develop this tough hide or one is just naturally less emotional, with a  really cool temperament… But not getting ruffled by personal attacks in the context of the job seems to be critical for long-term leadership or admin success. My response to people giving me $hit is always, ” I soooo don’t need this. Why am I doing this? I have papers and grants to write.”