When I advised one of my coaching clients to look into opportunities at a prominent local company that’s a good fit for her talents and interests, she told me that one of her friends works there and says the company’s infrastructure is a hot and sticky mess. With that insider’s information, she has steered clear…but my advice was to reconsider and keep the company on her list.
Sweeping generalizations run rampant about companies of every shape and size—but there’s no getting around the fact that some level of dysfunction is in every office suite. Imperfect people run imperfect companies. Dominant—and sometimes destructive—personalities can wreak havoc in departments or entire organizations. Team members can mix only as well as oil and water. In few work cultures do employees hold hands and sing Kumbaya.
Sure, some work cultures are much worse than others. I had a lot of firsthand knowledge about a very prominent CEO who belittled many and made even senior executives quake in their boots. But he propelled the company forward in ways that many of the more genteel CEOs had never done in the past. In my blog post about “Mentors and Monsters”, I talk about a woman I worked with who created such stress and torment we dubbed her the Wicked Witch of the West. But her exacting ways kept us all on our toes, brought out nothing but our very best work and I think in many ways helped to make me the writer I am today.
These are the extreme situations that perhaps should be avoided by the faint of heart. Most companies have pockets of disaffection, dysfunctionality and dismay. It just comes with the territory. Throw a bunch of humans and all their psychological baggage into an office or volunteer organization and sparks will undoubtedly fly.
The moral of the story, though, is that it can be shortsighted to write off all those companies that are known as sweatshops, dictatorships and denizens of ruthless scramblers to the top. I’ve worked for a few that actually did not live up to their negative reputations and gave me the best training of my life. It’s foolish to think that good work cannot be done in any environment. You can further your career or your philanthropic goals in any work culture. You can learn from mentors and monsters. The trick is to find a middle ground where your personal goals can thrive. You’re never going to find the perfect set of personalities—just a midpoint where your ambitions intersect with an always hard won opportunity for personal and professional growth. —KAS
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