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Candid Answers to your most Candid questions

A Safe Place to Ask Candid Questions


Every professional - entry level, mid-career, and experienced - faces situations where they wish they had someone they trusted who would listen to their challenge and thoughtfully suggest solutions or offer a new way to consider the situation.   In the Vault is a safe, anonymous space for you to submit questions and receive candid practical advice from Sophia Confidential for even the most sensitive of issues.  


WHO IS SOPHIA CONFIDENTIAL?

Sophia is an experienced professional who has worked in a variety of fields. Ask her anything. Sophia is not HR, your boss, your lawyer or your therapist. But, she IS the person who will tell it to you straight, even if it’s difficult to hear.

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SOPHIA SAYS....

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  • 17 Aug 2022 11:00 AM | Anonymous


    Dear Sophia,

    I’ve officially decided that I need a new job. I’ve been in my position for over a decade now and need a change. I know I want to stay in my field but don’t know where to even begin to start the search. Help!

    Sincerely, 

    Job Hunter 101

    Dear Job Hunter 101,

    Making the decision to leave a position after a decade can be anxiety-provoking unto itself, let alone remembering/learning how to navigate the job market. But it sounds like you’re ready, and I’m here to help! 

    First, it’s important to understand what you want out of your next position and what made you leave your current position. Was it the role itself? Was it a lack of growth? Was it the office environment? Are you looking to move up or make a lateral shift? What kind of role are you looking for? Are you willing to move? Make an inventory of what you are looking for (e.g. titles of positions, salary levels, remote or in-person positions, etc.) and what your non-negotiables are. This will help you as you begin to navigate the job market.

    Once you have an idea of what it is you’re looking for, then, as much as we all hate to do it, you will need  to start updating that resume. Because we’ve established that you’re staying within the field, this shouldn’t be too difficult as it will most likely be just adding your latest position onto an existing resume. Now, if you’ve been off the market for over a decade, then you may want to consider looking at some resume examples or speaking to someone who is able to give you some advice on latest trends (e.g. addresses and objectives haven’t been a thing for a while, how do applicant tracking systems work?). One thing to always remember about resume writing is that EVERY single person you talk to will have something different to say but there are basic rules that resumes follow. As long as you have the basics down, and you understand what your industry expects, then you should be good. 

    Along with your resume, LinkedIn is another big place to make changes. If you don’t already have a presence on LinkedIn, I HIGHLY recommend you change that. Build a strong profile, begin to post regularly, build your network by first adding the folks that you already know and then grow your network as you begin to meet more people. Similar to resumes, LinkedIn has a world of options for putting yourself strategically out there as a job seeker. There’s even an option to highlight your profile by adding a frame that indicates you’re looking for a job. This is a bit trickier to use as it depends on whether your current employer knows you’re looking or not, but an option nonetheless. Recruiters are actively looking on LinkedIn for potential talent so you want to make sure your profile header, the key words that you use to describe yourself, your about me, etc. align with what you’re looking for. There are lots of webinars and tips out there on how to use LinkedIn–take advantage of these tools.

    Ok, so you’ve begun to build your resume and your LinkedIn, what now? How do you actually begin to look for a job? I know it's a cliche, but networking is key. A majority of jobs are found via your network rather than random online searches. Tell people what kind of job you're looking for. Join organizations in your field. Go to industry-specific events. Ask your network to connect you with other people they know in the field at other organizations. If you have a specific organization you want to work for, reach out to folks there and do informational interviews. Now, don’t go into these interviews asking for a job! Go in with the intent of learning about the person you’re talking to, their role, how they got there. The goal is to connect and plant the seed that way in the future you may come to mind if an opportunity arises or perhaps they know other folks that will be good for you to connect with. Connect. Connect. Connect. 

    Beyond networking, yes, you should of course follow the more traditional path of creating alerts on LinkedIn, Google, and other platforms, to alert you to job openings. For these you’re going to want to know the variety of ways in which a role may be described. For example, a student advising role could be referred to as a student services advisor, a program coordinator, a program manager, etc. All of these may be the same exact job, but they may have different classifications and titles depending on the industry, organization, etc. Typing “advisor” into the job search engine is going to either limit your results or give you so many results that you won't know what to do. There’s a balancing game that you’ll need to play that may take some time and research.

    Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg. I can go into lengths about each of these subjects, but I won’t as there are tons of tools out there on each of these subjects. The League specifically offers the Career Connections program which helps folks like you connect with other experienced members to talk through these exact pieces. Check out the program here. Hope this at least gives you a starting point.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 03 Aug 2022 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I have been struggling with my job for the last few years. I am generally overworked, exhausted, anxious, and frustrated due to poor leadership, high turnover, difficulty hiring, and systemic issues at my organization. I don’t enjoy my work like I used to, and the continuing pandemic also makes my job more difficult at every turn. Some days it’s hard for me to muster the energy and motivation to work, and I feel sick of it all. Other days, I feel fine and hopeful that things will improve. I feel like my identity is tied to this job. Most of all, I adore my colleagues and have built very strong rapport with them over the years. With all the turnover in our office, I would feel guilty quitting and making things worse for them. I think it’s time for me to leave, but I feel stuck. How can I finally make the leap?

    Sincerely,

    Need a Push

    Dear Need a Push,

    I suspect many readers can relate to this— thank you for submitting your question! The workplace, and without a doubt  the field of international education, has changed a lot in the last couple of years and everyone is feeling the pinch. While travel aspects are opening back up and some parts of our work are improving, many challenges remain, and plenty of new challenges are emerging. I commend you for hanging on this long! While it’s always true that things could improve and there are trade-offs to leaving a position you’ve settled into, it sounds like you know it’s time for you to move on. Let’s see if I can help get you unstuck!

    The decision to leave a position can be complex and deeply emotional, especially if you share a strong bond with your colleagues. You may be worried that your next colleagues won’t be as great, or worried about cutting off part of your social network. The guilt you mentioned can be difficult to grapple with, knowing your departure might increase the workload for your colleagues who stay. Additionally, educators can be relationships-focused people and international educators can center their identity on or live their personal values through their professional work in the field. Consider the following to get more clarity and confidence in your decision:

    Take a mindful approach to better understand your emotions. While you’re at work, zoom out and take a look at your feelings and frustrations without being wrapped up in them. Take a deep breath and allow yourself to identify your specific feelings. For example, you can think to yourself, “I am experiencing anger.” In the immediate, this will help you get some distance from negative emotions, but your next step is to note how long you’ve been feeling this way, and how disruptive your feelings are to your life. Is it some passing stress during a busy event, or is it a recurring and toxic emotion that you haven’t been able to reduce despite trying over a long period of time? Do you have these feelings even when you’re NOT at work? Once you take stock of the emotional toll of your job, you may recognize the true cost of staying. If the emotional cost to you is higher than the cost of your team having a temporarily higher workload, consider why you’re putting your colleagues ahead of your own well-being. It is hard for so many of us, but important to know that it’s OK to put yourself first! Plus, don’t underestimate your team! They will be fine without you, and may even have more space to shine when you’re not there to help.

    You also mentioned your identity is tied up in your job. Take some time to outline your transferable skills, interests, and knowledge outside of your job. List some of the aspects of your work that energize you and then evaluate whether there are other civic or community opportunities that would allow you to continue to take part in this work outside of a professional role. Once you recognize your assets outside of your current role and identify other ways to fulfill your personal values, you will be better positioned to unwind your identity from your job.

    There are always good reasons to stay, but there are also many wonderful opportunities out there for you that you won’t be able to experience if you’re stuck in your current position forever. Do some exploring and have conversations with folks who’ve made a professional pivot. Once you’ve found a few options for new employment, your focus can shift from fear of the unknown to excitement! When you’re excited about new possibilities, even without another job lined up, you will begin to see your way out. 

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 20 Jul 2022 5:00 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I work for an organization in which you only get promoted if you are buddies with the Dean or if the Dean knows you won't challenge him in any way. Everyone that has been promoted to a leadership position has the Dean's ear and does whatever the Dean wants. I've been in my role for many years now and know I can do a lot of great work if I had the opportunity to move up, but I don't see that happening as I don't get much facetime with the Dean. And also, I shouldn't have to! My work should speak for itself but I also recognize that people that are quite frankly incompetent have gotten higher positions in this organization just because they are BFF's with the Dean. A part of me thinks I should just leave but hate having to do that because of one man. Help!

    (NOT) The Dean’s BFF

    Dear (NOT) The Dean’s BFF,

    This kind of “leadership” is super frustrating isn’t it?! Unfortunately, too many people in every type of organization have moved their way up the ranks despite possessing poor leadership qualities or even worse, a warped psychological make-up. Leaders who lack self awareness, are afraid of constructive dialogue or of being vulnerable, use their power to stack their team with “yes” people to protect their own ego and position of power. While employees who aren’t in the inner circle feel the most impact with limited opportunities for advancement, everyone in the organization experiences some ill effects of a workplace led by a toxic leader. Yes, it’s unfair and hopefully your current reality is one you’ll face only rarely. Working for an individual or organization who doesn’t see your worth will have a negative impact on your professional sense of self over time. Therefore, the status quo doesn’t seem like a viable option.

    In a situation like yours, I see two primary options. You can prioritize making time to evaluate your skills, list the contributions you’ve made, and identify your professional goals as preparation to network outside of your unit while actively seeking a promotion or lateral change within your existing organization. Identify and take advantage of opportunities that afford you ways to build new relationships outside of your current role and help you learn new skills. Maybe that means volunteering, enrolling in a human resources training program, serving on an employee council, participating in an employee resource group (ERG), or seeking out a partnership or collaboration with a team that serves your current unit and your own goals. In any of these experiences, be ready to tell your story clearly to others. Prepare a pitch that expresses what you like about the organization, what you’ve contributed, and what you are seeking in the future. Be sure to consider every new engagement as an opportunity to learn about the organization and meet new people. In these interactions, focus on showing curiosity by asking questions, using active listening to convey your interest, and taking advantage of opportunities to talk about work you’ve done within your unit to convey capacity and deepen relationships. Most importantly, seek out sponsors who are likely to identify your value on their team and to the greater organization. Avoid  speaking ill of the Dean or trying to influence those who are oblivious or turning a blind eye to the poor leadership in your unit. It’s time to focus on you and your future. How you behave will influence how other leaders perceive you. Anticipate that this likely means changing your role considerably or moving outside of international education unless you work in a very large organization with a decentralized structure. 

    The other option is to decide to reframe the way you’re thinking about the Dean and manage up in ways that play into how this person leads in order to move into their inner circle. Managing up with a person like this takes a serious amount of will, a massive desire to stay put knowing the road is long and likely full of obstacles, and possible investment in a career counselor, coach or mentor who can support you through the effort you're going to put in. 

    Regardless of which path you choose, identify a reasonable timeframe, consider benchmarks to measure your progress, and keep good records that allow you to reflect on the work you’ve done and consider what you’ve gained. Change isn’t generally easy but it’s often worth it in the long run. 

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 06 Jul 2022 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    As a woman who regularly travels for work, has external partner meetings, and goes to conferences (they're coming back!), I continue to face the issue of what is and is not appropriate professional women's attire. I've had numerous people, ironically, mostly women, tell me I should not wear form-fitting clothing or that too much of my shoulder is showing (i.e. the straps to my top or not covering enough), or even when I am fully covered, my outfit isn't professional basically because I have large breasts. I'm getting quite sick of it but also know that education is much more conservative than many other fields. What do you think? Should I just suck it up and "cover up" even though I think it's completely ridiculous?

    Sincerely,

    My Clothes, (Should be) My Choice!

    Dear My Clothes, (Should be) My Choice!,

    After two years of working from the couch at home, it is a new world getting back into professional attire and heading out the door. You’re not alone in wondering how the landscape has or has not changed in terms of appropriate workplace attire. And it has changed. While we perhaps can’t get away with pajama bottoms and t-shirts at conferences, there is a visibly shifting bar that is leaning towards a much more casual approach to the office setting. That said, there is still an expectation that workers will be savvy enough to know what is appropriate and what is not, recognizing that we are all ultimately representing the company for which we work. However, the quandary you share here seems to be one in which your personal style is being questioned as it relates to your work in the field. I would urge you to consider two things:

    1. Your motives. If your choice of clothing is based on your comfort, what you deem to be becoming, and what you feel is appropriate for the work you are doing, then you should feel fine about the choices you're making. If they veer into a desire to be noticed, to give off sex appeal, or to make a statement about your femininity or body, then I’d reconsider. 

    This brings me to the second point.

    2. Your purpose. All of us have a responsibility to the jobs we’ve chosen to do and our goal is to carry out that work to the highest possible standard. In our daily jobs we are always called upon to face multiple challenges and overcome constant distractions. Ask yourself if your choice of clothing is distracting others from hearing and seeing you as the professional that you are. While our fashion is a wonderful way for us each to exhibit individuality, flair, and creativity, it may be that there are places where these expressions should be tamped down in order for the focus to remain on the objectives we are seeking to meet. If you are constantly getting comments about your attire, this suggests that your colleagues are distracted by your outfits. Should they be? Probably not but there is only so much we can control in this world. 

    If you don’t know the answer to the questions above, then I’d consider finding a colleague that you trust and respect as a professional and asking them point blank. Tell them that you’ve received negative feedback on your clothing and that you want an honest opinion.

    In the end, you want your colleagues and partners to take you seriously for who you are as a professional. If you think your clothing is distracting people from that, then a change up might be needed. It’s frustrating, I know, but you have to decide which battles are worth your effort. And if this is a battle you want to wage, then find a response that you can gracefully deliver when someone questions what you’re wearing. Make it unemotional and clear. Who knows, if this is truly something that needs to be tackled in the field of women’s professional attire, you might just be able to start moving that needle.  

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 22 Jun 2022 11:30 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia, 

    In your last answer you mentioned the importance of "managing up." Can you say more about what that is, why it's important, and how to do it well?

    Sincerely, 

    Doing Lots of Jobs

    Dear Doing Lots of Jobs,

    Happy to expand. Managing up is simple to define but can be challenging to realize. Simply, it is managing your relationship with your supervisor or someone else up the chain of command in your organization. It is an important skill that isn’t explicitly taught. Managing up takes effort but makes your manager’s job and your day-to-day job easier. It requires:

    • caring about the quality of work through your supervisor’s eyes

    • caring about them and their goals 

    • communicating effectively, which requires understanding your managers preferred communication style

    • supporting your manager and providing honest feedback that helps improve your relationship

    • being results oriented

    • staying on course with the company’s and your manager’s vision

    Some have a negative connotation of managing up, perceiving it as manipulating or sucking up to your boss or even complaining, and while there are plenty of people that do that, that is not what I’m referring to here. I’m talking about supporting yourself, your manager, and your team if the need arises.  Being effective at managing up requires identifying and employing strategies which both help you achieve your professional and personal goals while also demonstrating your value to superiors by helping them to achieve their goals. I’m sure you can imagine why managing up can be a challenging task. We’ve all experienced our share of workplace relationships where you and a superior have noticeable differences in workstyles, communication styles, vision, goals, or desired paths to achieve unit outcomes. While we know diversity in work settings has the potential to enhance the outcomes, it can also create perceived conflict or strife if both parties aren’t recognizing those differences as strengths and working toward common goals over seeking the spotlight. Not to mention, there isn’t a one size fits all approach and there are landmines all around you in any workplace, including competitive teams, toxic gossips, poor morale, or any other number of dysfunctions that can sabotage even the most well thought out and intentional efforts. 

    Done effectively, it can help you to find common ground with a manager who doesn’t work or think the way you do, lead to increased trust, help you gain control over your workload, result in a manager advocating for you when there’s something you want, and make your value to your organization clear to your manager and the team as a whole.

    To start being effective at managing the relationship with your supervisor I suggest doing some hard work to reflect on and seek insights to understand yourself and your manager. Prioritize regular communication that is both centered on work and professional talk to get to know them as a person, then focus on giving and receiving feedback with an open mind, grace and humility. We all know the saying that “people don’t leave a company, they leave their supervisor”. This highlights how our relationship with our boss is a significant determining factor in our happiness at work. By learning to manage up and improve that relationship, you invest in your own happiness.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 08 Jun 2022 12:30 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I am a consultant for an organization that has a lot of good natured and loyal employees, some who have been there for decades. However the organization also has a handful of staff who are not pulling their weight and not good at what they do. There is a track record of management not providing any structured feedback to staff and never criticizing staff. There is talk behind closed doors about these people but it is clear they will never be asked to leave, or asked to improve. The inside joke is that it is impossible to get fired at this company. I have not been asked for my input on this nor is it my area of expertise but in my several years working with them, I can see that it is clearly a detriment to their operations, and many staff are frustrated by this but it seems to fall on deaf ears. Is there anything I can do? 

    Sincerely, 

    Head in the Sand

    Dear Head in the Sand,

    What’s that quote that people are constantly saying? “The reward for good work is more work.” Too bad there isn’t an equivalent for all of the folks that are rewarded for doing horrible work by getting to float on by while doing nothing. Oh, if I can count the number of times I’ve heard this scenario come up in the world of work. So, what can we do?

    Before we jump into potential avenues to explore, I want you to really consider how much of a role you want to take/are able to take based on this situation. As a consultant, I’m assuming you aren’t a part of the organization in terms of reporting lines, etc. You have clearly built close relationships and want to support your fellow colleagues, but where is the scope of your position and how does that tie into what can be done? Now there’s the matter of what role you play but also of the work that you do. Are, for example, these not-so-great colleagues impacting your ability to do your work? Or is it more that you’re hearing things and just know it's impacting the morale of the organization, which can impact your work but maybe not directly? These are all important things to consider. If the quality of work these colleagues are (or are not) doing is impacting your ability to do your job, then it’s your problem too and something that makes sense for you to get involved in. However, if that is not the case, then I would tread carefully. As much as you want to help, you may be limited in what you can do aside from providing moral support.

    If you decide you would like to do something, or want to advise your colleagues to do something, typically I would say we should start with the colleagues themselves. I wrote a great piece for Seeking Solutions and for Managing Sucks that I think you will find helpful. Now, if working with the colleagues directly doesn’t pan out, which seems likely considering you mentioned that beyond not pulling their weight, they are also not good at their job, then going to management would be the next step. In this case, it appears that management is half of the problem. Many managers are, unfortunately, conflict avoidant which may play a role in them not being able to provide structured feedback. Are the managers fully aware of the depth of the issue and its impact on the staff and the operations? If numbers or goals aren’t being reached, for example, this will be a direct reflection on the managers so we want to make sure they are fully aware of the level of the impact. This is where recording facts of the exact situations and the times in which things have gone badly is important. If you haven’t started recording these incidents, I would recommend starting. You need to build a case to even be able to consider consequences. 

    If after all of that management is still unwilling to do anything and you’ve gone up the chain, then HR would be another resource. HR should have the tools for you to be able to file a formal complaint and support the colleagues that are being impacted. 

    Finally, if that doesn’t work, if your colleagues don’t want to go the HR route, or the HR route turns out to be a dead end, there are two other things you can consider. First, do your colleagues want to continue to work at an organization where they don’t feel heard and their work appreciated? That would be enough to get most people to consider other options. Maybe a mass exodus will be the wake up call management needs! If leaving is not on the table for whatever reason, then another recommendation would be to see if the work can be siloed in a way that your colleagues have the least amount of interaction with the people that aren’t pulling their weight. This way, you have your piece, they have theirs, and if someone doesn’t meet a deadline, it's not on you. Management and that person can deal with it. Now this is easier said than done as most operations rely on multiple players, but it's something that you could recommend to ease some of the load. 

    This is a tough one. The key is to decide what is worth it and what’s not for everyone involved. A mass exodus may begin to sound appealing soon if needs continue to not be met. Hopefully it doesn’t come to that!

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 20 Apr 2022 10:30 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I have a colleague who I have a lovely rapport with and who I like a lot on a personal level. She believes we are good office friends and confidants. However she is constantly not getting her job done and overlooks things that need doing, as well as saying she will do things and then consistently forgetting. Her follow-through is really terrible and it is frustrating working with her and relying on her for things. She is in a senior role and others notice it as well, but my company does not ever assess people honestly. I feel I cannot speak to her about this but am unsure what to do.

    Sincerely, 

    Seeking Solutions

    Dear Seeking Solutions,

    I am glad that you get along well with your colleague. You’ve highlighted her obvious shortcomings, but the fact that you have strong rapport with her should help you give candid feedback that will help you to continue working with her and stay sane. 

    I know you don’t feel as though you can speak to her about what you see with her lack of follow through, but I’d recommend that you give it a go. Feedback is a gift. Trust and psychological safety are essential to a feedback conversation. Without it, the person receiving the feedback is likely to question your intentions. She sees you as a confidant, you already have a good position to give specific feedback with a lower chance that she will take offense. Tell her you’ve noticed a pattern of her not completing her work by agreed upon deadlines or forgetting it all together and ask if everything is OK. If you approach her with concern for her well-being, rather than accusing her of being a flake, she will hopefully open up and explain. Ideally she’ll convey awareness of her issues with time management or keeping on task and remembering what she commits to. Or she may share she is struggling in her personal life in a way that affects her work. Although you may not want to, consider what kind of support or help you can offer her if needed. If she’s not very self-aware or just slacking off, chances are she’ll be embarrassed that you noticed and want to step up, thus declining your help. However, if there is something going on, lend her an ear and see if you can find a solution.

    If she gets defensive and claims there is no problem with her follow-through, then you’ll have to decide if the next step will be to speak to a supervisor. It sounds like you don’t have much faith that they’d take meaningful action, so if you do raise the issue be prepared to provide concrete examples of how this is negatively affecting your work and the company, as it will be harder for them to ignore. You didn’t mention if any of your other colleagues have noticed issues. If they have, it may also be useful for them to report these to management—strength in numbers! Then, try not to rely on her for work-related things while you focus on your friendship instead. It’s not impossible to like someone as a person and not appreciate them in a professional setting. I suggest trying to focus on doing your own work and minimizing team work with her. If it becomes clear that you’re doing the work and she isn’t contributing, management may decide to rethink her employment.

    If all else fails and nothing changes, do your best to lead by example and make it obvious how valuable strong collaboration and follow-through can be! 

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 06 Apr 2022 3:30 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    I have an employee who reports to me that just doesn't seem to want to work. She is constantly challenging my authority and complains about the work she does and she doesn't even do most of the work she is supposed to without having to be reminded multiple times. She's been here for many years now and should know how things work. I'm just at a loss as to what to do at this point.

    Sincerely, 

    Managing Sucks

    Dear Managing Sucks,

    Let’s face it: Being a manager is often just hard. It can be very rewarding but getting to that point means putting in the hard work of patiently dealing with difficult people and situations and learning as you go along. None of us were born great managers. We’ve learned, often the hard way, from a lot of frustration and missteps. I get that your current situation sucks and that’s directly related to this specific employee. But management in general need not suck, so let’s see if I can help guide you to some tools that could help. Hopefully this will not only improve the situation but will also give you the fulfillment and satisfaction that good management skills can bring to your job.

    In reading your question my first determination is that this employee is unhappy. This may seem like an obvious and mild assumption but let’s not underestimate what unhappiness in the workplace can do. Unhappy employees disengage and when they do that, they stop performing, stop caring, stop responding. They can become defensive, sometimes combative, sometimes lazy, and generally don’t complete work or complete it poorly. Sounds like your employee? I’m guessing so.

    Let’s assume she is unhappy, and this is manifesting as a difficult to manage employee. Getting to the heart of where this unhappiness is coming from could be key to finding a solution. You said she has been in this job for many years, so is she frustrated that she’s not progressing at work? Is she bored with her position, unchallenged, feeling at a dead end? Have others around her come and gone over the years and she’s feeling stuck? Has her role changed, and she no longer feels she has the skills to carry out the work? Maybe it’s nothing to do with work at all. Maybe she’s having family challenges at home. Maybe she’s got health issues she’s facing. Maybe she’s overwhelmed with finances, childcare, eldercare, the list could go on.

    The trick is to critique the behavior, not the person. I know this is asking a lot, but you will be far more effective if you can separate the personality from the actions and focus on the latter. Believe it or not, most difficult people are not intending to be difficult, and many aren’t even aware of their behavior. Don’t react to the person themselves.

    Look at the behaviors and maybe even make a specific list of the things that are troublesome and need improvement. Then set up a meeting with your employee and try to get at what could be causing these issues. Ask them pointed questions about their job satisfaction, the projects on their plate, their team relationships, and then listen actively to what they say. Be a safe place for them to open up and share what might be causing them some angst. And if they won’t share anything, then it’s time to ramp it up with something like “From my perspective, you seem unhappy in your work lately” or “I’ve noticed you are having a hard time meeting deadlines lately” and then follow it with “is there anything that’s troubling you or anything I can do to help?” If you are sincere in your questions, they will respond. But be willing to ask them if there are things you can do to better manage them and their work and then take those to heart. None of us want to hear that we are the problem, but we can all do better. Perhaps your style of management or communication is challenging for them to understand or grasp. Be willing to hear them out. In essence, open up a dialogue that can help you understand the root causes of their behavior and therefore better manage them.

    This can seem like an overwhelming and time-consuming task, but as a manager these are skills you want to be constantly improving, so practice is not a bad thing. Embrace it as an opportunity to not only improve your work life, but also to help a colleague who is clearly struggling. You will both be better for it!

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 23 Mar 2022 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    A senior position in my organization was recently, and suddenly, eliminated. The person in this role worked with my office closely and was our leader. We haven't received much information from senior leadership other than this was budget-related. Staff in my office, as well as other external stakeholders, are confused and worried by this decision and thrown off by this sudden change in leadership. As a manager, how do I support my staff and stakeholders and reassure them, even when I don't have much information?

    Sincerely, 

    Orphaned in the Office

    Dear Orphaned in the Office,

    If only good communication were the hallmark of every organization, right? Don’t worry, you may feel orphaned but you are not at all alone! How many of the world's problems could be righted if only there were just a few more details, just a little more clarity, just a bit more honest information being shared.

    The way I see it, there are basically two avenues to take on this, and I think you’re going to need to use both. The first is tackling the unsettling feeling of redundancies taking place right in front of you and your team and wondering who’s next. With little information, let alone reassurances coming from the top, it’s absolutely normal to feel a level of concern. Your team may feel some sadness at losing a leader, but I’m guessing the real culprit is the unknown possibility of wider-spread cutbacks. And that doesn’t make for a healthy and productive work environment nor does it play well with stakeholders. Now it would be great if I could give you a magical solution that you could implement on your own right now without having to involve anyone else or any sort of confrontation, but sadly that’s not in my bag of tricks. What I recommend is a graceful, articulate, and unemotional quest for information. If you have an HR department then this quest should be squarely directed at them. If you don’t, then it means asking the question to your supervisor, or the supervisor above them. As a manager, you have been charged with caring for, and getting the best out of, your team as well as serving your stakeholders. You have every right to gather helpful information that will serve to stabilize both these groups. Share with your supervisor or HR that your teams have been unsettled by this rather drastic news and that some assurances would not only be helpful, but are necessary. Even if your leadership can’t or won’t share details, they can certainly recognize that some further communication is needed. You may not want to be the one to alert them to this, but you are best suited to do so because you have direct concerns on your hands and those will eventually affect everyone right up to the top.

    The second avenue is really best traveled as you wait for the above to take place. This is one of being a cheerleader. In some ways, it’s a diversion tactic that buys time while hopefully more information is coming down the pike. But it’s also a very honest way to provide relief. It’s the reminder of mission and values: why we do this job and who we’re really benefiting. The ease at which we can get lost in the day-to-day minutiae of our jobs is staggering. When was the last time you actually thought about, or talked to a colleague about, the reason this work matters? If it doesn’t matter then perhaps it's time to look elsewhere but that’s a topic for another day. As a manager, you have a unique role to play in reminding your team of the value in what you do. While these sorts of organizational politics are easy to get wound up in, there is a bigger picture out there. Maybe it’s time for a group coffee break to get excited about the “whys” and forget about the “whats” for a few minutes. And hey, it will make you feel good, too!

    None of this is easy and I bet you’re thinking “why me?” a lot of the time. But the very fact you’ve brought this question up today, means you are a discerning and caring manager. Those are great qualities that make you perfect for traveling the road ahead.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

  • 09 Mar 2022 5:00 PM | Anonymous

    Dear Sophia,

    My boss is no longer in her position. She was serving an interim role as Director in my unit. A permanent Director role won't be hired for another several months at least. As the senior-most person in the office, I will now have to take on more responsibility, especially since the head of our department (who on paper will now be doing the Director-level tasks) is new and not knowledgeable about very much. I was offered a small one-time bonus as recognition of my increased workload, but I am still undercompensated for this level of work, and will not have any change in title. How do I advocate for myself and my compensation when the department head claims he can do all of these tasks but I know it will all fall on me?

    Sincerely,

    Actually the Director

    Dear Actually the Director,

    The combination of the reduction in force and great resignation over the last two years across so many industries means increasing workloads being laid on fewer employee’s shoulders. In some instances, the significant employee shifts have resulted in a new awareness that an employer has to act to stave off more employee departures. Often, employee transitions create opportunities for new leaders to step into leadership roles not previously accessible. If you don’t advocate for yourself, no one will! 

    While the small “loyalty” bonus you received clearly isn’t likely enough to retain you long-term, consider it as recognition they need you. Developing a strong relationship with the head of department early on is key. Don’t miss an opportunity to acknowledge the Interim Director’s departure will change workload both up and down the organization. Showing compassion toward others positively impacts our own and others psychological well being. Are there ways you can convey compassion with each of your colleagues, including the head of the department? Don’t wait, ask for a regular bi-weekly or monthly meeting, with the department head to be sure you have consistent face time during this transitional period. In the meantime, make the time to reflect, document, and (re)-establish realistic expectations with your constituencies regardless how much other work is piled on to position yourself to manage up and advocate for yourself. 

    First, take time to reflect. Ask yourself, is my work satisfying? If you’re burned out, unmotivated, uninspired, take time to identify the root cause(s). Are you overworked? Or after reflecting have you identified that there’s another type of work that excites you? Write notes down or record a conversation with yourself, a close friend, or a professional to help you to sort through your thoughts. You’ll benefit from focusing here before you move ahead with actions to improve your work conditions.

    Then after you’ve made time to consider your investment in your current role, make the time to complete a thorough audit of your job responsibilities. List in bullets what were you hired to do in one color and added responsibilities in another. Highlight essential responsibilities that are unlikely to change to differentiate those from lower priority responsibilities that could be paused, re-allocated to another team member, or transferred to or fulfilled in collaboration with another unit. By identifying the creep of scope of work and quantifying what you see as the most important responsibilities you are preparing yourself for any opportunity, planned or spontaneous, to engage in conversation and show leadership by communicating tangible information and solutions. Do not miss opportunities to seek clarity with the head of the department and develop clear documentation of what your role is, and the role other team members (up and down the chain of command) will play in this transitional period. While all work is teamwork, in the short term, it benefits everyone to have a clear understanding of their scope of work and minimize unnecessary work or overlaps. You’ll also have the information you need to communicate misalignment or re-allocation of responsibilities and compensation with the Sr. leadership and/or Human Resources.

    Finally, you won’t be able to maintain sanity through this transitional period if you don’t ensure your campus partners, students, and external stakeholders have a clear understanding of what they can expect from you and your team members. When workloads are higher response time will naturally be slower. Communicate with constituencies so they know they can expect the same high quality but staff constraints result in an additional few days to produce the work. If you look around any industry this is the reality everywhere. It may not be easy at first, but with consistency and a coordinated plan, your constituents begin to adjust by removing some pressure. A critical skill that isn’t often taught and like many skills strengthens over time with practice and good mentorship is managing up. Now more than ever you are in a position where influencing those more senior to you is paramount. Having done the work above, you’re establishing yourself as a leader who has the information and capacity to do just that.

    Confidentially Yours,

    Sophia

    P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

    Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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