Eddie’s office, the HR Rep, and me.
“Am I fired? What did I do?”, my mind raced as my boss, Eddie, started the conversation.
“Dawnna, I am writing you up for calling me disparaging names”, he said.
Sure I thought the guy was a world class asshole, but I only shared that information with my husband. I never called him a disparaging name to his face.
“Today I walked up behind you and Alfred as you were heading to the meeting on the other side of the campus. When you saw me you said, ‘OMG Eddie. Speak of the devil. I was just saying that you probably know exactly where this meeting is.’So glad you are here.’
Do you remember that?
“Yes”, I replied questionably. “We were excited to see you because we were lost.”
“So I need you to sign this for… calling me the devil”, he said as he passed me the pen and paper. I looked at the HR rep who seemed resigned to his action.
I remember thinking, “Am I getting written up for using a common colloquialism?”
That was my first trial on Eddie’s “break-a-bitch gauntlet” – a nickname that had been given to his ability to turn future leaders into lemmings. Anyone Eddie considered a threat either got fired or broken or both on the gauntlet.
In six months he also wrote me up for:
- Coming in too early. My day started at 8 and he did not want me physically in the office before 7:55.
- Loitering. Since I could not come in before 7:55, I called my mom in my car in the parking lot from 7:30-7:50. I started parking at the gas station down the street.
- Porn. I had a Muscle and Fitness Hers magazine on my desk.
- Insubordination. Eddie asked my opinion about something that had been passed down from the executive offices. My opinion did not match his disparaging opinion of the executive brief.
But that was just paperwork. The mental and emotional abuse was even worse:
- He hated that I wore suits, so I started wearing polo shirts and khaki pants (which I hated)
- He hated that women worked out, so I stopped working out.
- Then he talked about how fat I was getting – so I ate more salads.
- When we had a team lunch he commented that I was “one of those women that only ate salads“
- He hated that I was tall – like a man. He said that tall women have big feet and hands like men. Tall women were very manly. I stopped wearing heels and started wearing loafers (which I hated)
- He said that he read this book that said hazel eyed children where born to witches and whores that wore too much make-up. I have hazel eyes. I stopped wearing make-up.
- He said that curly hair looked like a nasty bird’s nest that needed to be washed all the time. I started wearing my hair in slicked back pony-tails.
I went to HR and was labeled the “complainer” who needed thicker skin. They said that I was lucky to have my job. After three write-ups I could be fired on the spot. I knew that Eddie had no plans to fire me, but to break me.
Over six months I’d gained weight, my hair had fallen out, I changed how I dressed and looked, and would throw up most mornings in the parking lot before entering the building. He was winning and I was a loser.
And not just any loser.
I was the loser that could not find success while working the the #14 Best Company to Work For in the Country according to Inc Magazine. What was wrong with me that I could not be happy at work like the magazine said that I should be?
To make matters worse I couldn’t get out of his department because, according to policy, you can’t change departments for six months after a write up… and he wouldn’t stop writing me up.
My friend Johnny (name changed), a corporate attorney for the company, saw me at lunch alone one day. He sat across from me and said, “What’s wrong? You are a shell of the funny, smart, and powerful woman that I used to know. You don’t look the same… you don’t even dress the same. Your hunched over like you are hiding from the world.” He followed as I ran out of the lunchroom and to the parking lot. My goal was to hide in my car. Johnny jumped in the passenger seat and listened as I shared my tale of the gauntlet. His advice changed everything.
Get Dawnna back. Heels, suits, make-up, work-outs, phone calls to your mom in the morning, curly-hair, your outspoken ways, everything. Eddie is beneath you and scared of you. You need to be who you are and if he doesn’t like it then screw him. Don’t say anything to him. In fact, anytime you want to say ‘f**k you’ to him and his antics, I want you to smile and laugh at him. That’s step one. Do that first and we will talk about step 2.
It took two weeks and I was back… with a vengeance. Suddenly I was like a pit-bull with raw meat in her teeth. I was pissed off and determined. Eddie made comments and I laughed at him, shook my head in amused disgust at everything he said, and gave him condescending looks. He was confused by his lack of power over me.
Johnny’s next set of advice was strategic and brilliant.
“Now that you’ve found yourself, join a cause that the executives are a part of – Habitat for Humanity, African American Achievers, etc. – and be an instrumental part of those causes. Not a do-girl but a strategist with ideas. Speak up and be seen for your brilliance. Never complain about or mention Eddie until you are asked to do something that would go against what he would allow. Let them know you are there and that they need you there.”
I joined three causes and even started playing golf with a few Senior Level VPs. I never mentioned Eddie. Things were going better than I had planned when one of the Executives, Gordon, wanted to know my opinion on a particular strategy and had invited me to a few meetings with other execs.
I explained that I could not go to the meetings because my boss would not allow it. It was like they forgot that I was just a programmer. When Gordon said, “Your opinions, guidance, and even leadership have been very instrumental. This project is critical to our future success. I am sure that we can swing a few meetings. You let me handle this.”
Three days later, before I could attend a meeting, Eddie fired me. He didn’t need a reason because he had months worth of ammunition.
Gordon called me completely confused when he realized that he could not invite me to meetings because I was no longer employed. I explained everything to him and suggested that he read my HR file.
Thirty days later Gordon offered me a new position in the company. Eddie had not been fired or even reprimanded for his behavior. I could not work for a company that would allow such actions to take place.
I declined the offer and they lost one their best employees ever. Two weeks later I was working as VP of Information Technology for a friend of Gordon’s.
I learned later that executives have a harder time firing managers than anyone else. The reason is simple. It proves that they made a bad decision. The firing of a leader is an admission of a mistake. The bigger the company, the longer that mistake is allowed to fester.
So this is my letter to those executives:
Please fire that really crappy manager so that you can stop losing amazing employees. We won’t think that you are horrible. But rather you are brave enough to recognize that some people just aren’t meant to lead.
Your Amazing Employee and Future Fantastic Leader
Let’s cut to the chase. Dawnna is a breakthrough business author and rockstar keynote speaker. She works with organizations that want to harness the power of people in business. If you’d like her to deliver content like what’s in this article or you just want to see her do this … then give her a shout.