I was working a split shift, noon – 8:30 pm, as the factory was ramping up a 2nd shift in one of the departments I supported. One day as I sat down at the beginning of my day to check emails Matt came in and said I was needed in out in department 91. So, I jumped on the scooter with him and he gave me a quick run down of what was happening, but he didn’t have time to give me all the details.
We went in to see the supervisor, Brian, and I started asking some questions to find out what was going on since I was 2 hours late to the party. Brian was furious with everything and jumped down my throat. It turns out my boss spent about 30 minutes asking similar questions to prove Brian didn’t know what he was talking about. Even though I was coming from a totally different place, he heard the same challenges to his experiences. Not true at all, but it was his perception.
I got what I could out of him, did what could be done and then left with Matt. I was in tears as we rode back to our lab in the factory. I didn’t deserve the attack from Brian and honestly our working relationship was never as good again. I couldn’t trust him not to attack and he felt he couldn’t trust me.
The interesting thing about this event was that Matt, who had joined us about 6 months earlier as a full-time employee instead of as an intern, told me that he had more respect for me, and liked me better, afterwards. His reasoning was that he saw that I didn’t have all the answers, so I was more relatable. He said prior to that he felt like I had all the answers and he felt like he couldn’t live up to those standards as he was learning.
Sigh…. If only he had known that I was presenting this put together image because I thought I had to have all the answers, that I had to be confident and assured to get any respect from the guys in the factory. I believed I had to be the perfect engineer. Half the time I think I was likely faking it until I could figure out the answers. 😉
What Matt taught me in that painful experience was that being the imperfect yet real me was better for my work relationships. Yes, I had to have confidence and be professional, and I could also be someone who was figuring it all out as I went. Being perfect wasn’t sustainable and it was keeping people from really connecting with me.
Matt and I both moved on from those roles, but we have stayed friends in the intervening 25 years. We would not have made that close connection if I hadn’t let myself be vulnerable and if he hadn’t been brave enough to tell me it mattered.
Too often, as women in a male dominated world, we find ourselves striving to present the perfect image to the world. While confidence is necessary, never showing who we are makes us unapproachable, and in the long run harms our ability to be effective leaders. Perfection is an ideal and we live in the messy, chaotic, imperfect real world. Be confident in what you know and be your imperfect self. You will find it easier and more effective.