I know I’ve broken a few souls in my lifetime. No, not soul-breaking as in my karaoke singing dissolving ones will to live, or even like breaking someone’s heart. Although selfishly, I would hope somewhere out there, I meant enough to someone for them to have felt ‘heartbroken’ by my absence in their life (is that sadistic?). What I actually mean when I say breaking someone’s soul is the act of breaking down someone’s spirit. I didn’t do any of it with cruel intentions, it was unfortunately an unnecessary by-product to what I thought were stepping-stones to success.
I worked in profit-driven industries in my 20s and my bosses were great in that they provided me with rare opportunities and infinite room to grow as a manager, but they, themselves, were also hardwired with sky-high expectations. Praises were hard to come by and because they were infrequent, they were often sought out as a source of motivation. I’m ashamed to admit it, especially now, because I am more cognizant of how dramatically work cultures have shifted in North America within the last five years, from an autocratic style to a more democratic approach. In the height of those years, I was a tough manager; a militant, no-bullshit manager. The word “perfectionist” is a good way of sugar-coating the harshness. As a female manager, I was told I would be taken less seriously than a male colleague. I was encouraged to push people to the max. I began to believe that to be good meant to be ruthless and tough without much regard for anything but the best results from a company-profit perspective. I had people quit because of me. I had people cry because of me. In most ways, I was efficient and successful in the traditional sense, but my methods were uncompromising. I knew the tenacity it would take for me to get to where I thought I wanted to end up and I wasn’t going to let anyone make me look bad. Truthfully, I thought I was crushing it.
If those people were asked who their best and worst managers were, I could see myself easily landing in either category (but probably more the latter) depending on if they felt like my direct and no-nonsense methodologies helped their growth in any formidable way.
Looking back now, though, I see what was missing. Empathy. True human compassion and empathy. It barely existed in my world then, and I rarely doled it out. I know better now. Perhaps my 180 outlook is because of the monumental shift in where work-life ranks in the grand scheme of the average person’s life post-pandemic, or perhaps I’ve had more sympathetic bosses since then who have shown me that hard and tough doesn’t always necessarily mean better. You can still be respected as a strong leader while being assertive and knowing what you want without being merciless and insensitive.
For now, I am crushing it still- just not souls. And that feels way better!
I drafted this post a year ago after reading and being inspired by another blogger’s take on the subject. For some reason, I never finished writing it but hey, better late than never! Please check out her piece here.
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