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The Day I Demoted Myself

The Day I Demoted Myself: The Power of Transparency in the Workplace

"That's not me," I thought, as I stared at the white board that outlined the one- to two-year vision for our company and the job expectations that lay ahead of me. Except I didn't just think it ... I said it. Out loud. In a room of fellow managers, my employer, and our leadership coach, Suzann Foerster. With all eyes on me, I had no choice but to explain myself. "I agree this is what we need, but I'm not sure I'm the right person for you," I said, as a lump built in my throat. Equals parts fear and relief washed over me, which has to be one of the strangest mix of emotions one can experience.

The truth was, I'd been putting on a face at work. Pretending to be OK with the schedule and added responsibilities, while complaining about it in my head and to my poor husband. I was feeling guilty about spending less time with my kids, not exercising, and struggling with insomnia. And at work, I was feeling unorganized, forgetful, and not giving my staff the time they deserved. Although I loved my job and knew I wanted to stay with the company, I also didn't want to take more on—and it was time to admit it.

Although the subsequent discussion wasn't easy, I was grateful to be surrounded by colleagues I consider friends, as well as Suzann. She complimented me on being open and honest, and encouraged my boss to continue to provide a safe environment for future discussion.

More and more we hear about the importance of a "transparent" and "authentic" workplace. But what exactly does that mean? Teri Hockett, chief executive of What's For Work?, a career site for women, says it means the fabric of the work environment is based upon three things. "One, mutual respect between the employer and employees; two, trust and goodwill; and three, clear and consistent communication."

For a workplace to be truly transparent, it requires a commitment from both employees and employers. It simply doesn't work one-sided. Here are some tips from Suzann on how to create a more authentic and transparent workplace.

Advice for employers:
You can tell them, or they will make it up. People like to know what to expect, so when things are changing, tell them what's happening as quickly as you can. And if you don't know, tell them that, too.

Lead with more compassion. Work is moving at warp speed and we are all struggling in some way to figure out how to adapt. Assume that people are doing the best they can and ask them what would help them to be more successful in their work.

Advice for employees:
Have courage and ask. We often make so many assumptions that prevent us from truly understanding our experiences at work. If you want to know, ask. If you need something, ask.

Be advocates for your teammates. We're all in this together, and giving each other the benefit of the doubt can go far to build mutual trust and respect. Stop assuming and get curious about what might be getting in your teammates' way of doing their best work.

I wasn't planning on demoting myself that day during our meeting, and it still feels a little uncomfortable. But as long as my boss and I can continue to be open and share mutual respect, I have no doubt we will both enjoy future satisfaction and success at Serendipity.

Written by Jill Carroll, the soon-to-be-former marketing director at Serendipity Media. Suzann Foerster is a leadership coach and owner of Suzann Foerster Leadership Coaching, based in Grand Rapids.


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