Beware the Saboteurs!

I’m thinking about two things this morning — saboteurs…they’re everywhere…and self-regulation – skills that help us navigate tricky situations. Why is this top of mind? I’ll explain…

This past weekend I had the pleasure of catching up with a dear friend, a former client.  She’s one smart cookie and it was my privilege to be in her corner as she ascended, gracefully and deservedly into the ranks of executive leadership. In her new role, she reports directly to a company President and sits at the board room table as a peer with vice presidents and chief-executives with all the acronyms – CIO, CFO — you get the idea.  For privacy reasons I’ll stop there but my friend (we’ll call her Beth) recently navigated a hurdle so beautifully, I can’t help but share. 

Beth was asked to create a new initiative and campaign – to debut in a preview at a senior leaders meeting.  The President of the company (let’s call her Angela) had little interest in the topic, the effort – and Beth knew that from the outset.  As Beth became more acquainted with her new boss, she teased out the truth early on:  Much of Beth’s work will be viewed as ‘task completion’ items only – work that serves to check boxes and note accomplishments for Angela without much investment on her part.  Beth’s savvy that way – even though she’s been in her role for less than a year.

When Beth reached out to process a recent disappointment, I was all ears, eager to support her.  But let me share a secret first. When I put my “Dr. Vicki” hat on, I do so with confidence because I earned the privilege of the title with my doctoral degree – but the truth?  I suspect I benefit from my interactions with clients as much or more as they do from me.  Mutual benefits are realized as I peek into their worlds and provide support – any way I can. What draws me in the most, sadly, is the opportunity to sit ringside, to view the capacity we have to injure and submarine one another with hateful words, neglectful, dismissive attitudes.  How injurious we can be to others, especially when painful barbs are delivered in gilded wrappers…sweetness on the outside but intent to harm, barely cloaked, within words and behavior. Case studies, everywhere.

Beth’s story? She prepared all weekend for her presentation and reached out to Angela, the President, twice to ask if she wanted to provide input, see a preview before the rollout meeting.  No, and no was the reply.  Carry on – it’ll be great. That was the message.  But you can guess what’s coming.  As soon as Beth settled into her seat, rolling out her multi-media presentation, seeking to earn a little buy-in with her trademark warmth and professionalism, Angela had other ideas.

Whether she begrudged Beth the spotlight or felt she needed to put her ‘mark’ on the effort, it’s hard to say, but as soon as she saw Beth winning over the team, delivering ‘the goods’, Angela derailed her.  Big time.  Beth had done her due diligence – reaching out to gather input from the President – in advance – but was shooed away.

The President Angela interrupted Beth and asked her to conclude her presentation – just as she’d begun – claiming Beth ‘didn’t understand the assignment’This is not what I asked for.  We can’t waste time on this…I wish you’d consulted me first…as she glanced at the agenda and asked Beth to shut down her slide deck so the next ‘victim’…err…presenter could cue up. 

You know that expression – all the air was sucked out of a room?  That’s how Beth described the environment.  All eyes were on her and despite her desire to throw her laptop at Angela and storm out…with a few sassy, retaliatory missiles…she simply shut down, as requested, and said, “Understood, but I have a few questions.  Perhaps we can discuss when this meeting concludes.” 

Wow – just wow.  Beth said it took every ounce of restraint in her body, mind, head, heart, soul to stay in her seat and not bolt out of the room.  Nope, she thought.  The President looks like a bully and an idiot.  I’m not taking the bait.  I know better than to publicly shame someone…I’ll speak to her later.

When the meeting concluded, Beth was the first one out the door and Angela, with a much softer voice and affect trailed behind her saying “Oh, I hope you understood my feedback.  I need your help with a few other, higher priority things today…not that project” as she touched Beth’s shoulder – like they were friends, commiserating or sharing.  “Sure” Beth said, “But I need to get to another meeting now.  I have some feedback for you, too, but sometimes it’s best to do that in private.  Let me know when you’re available later.”

And there you have it!  Emotional regulation, self-regulation at its best.  Still, when we spoke, Beth was angry at herself, wondering if she should’ve fought back in the moment, allowing her frustration to be more visible. She was pleased and surprised when I had nothing but praise for her. She showed more professionalism and poise, under pressure, than anyone could hope for and her approach, I’ll speak to you later, my pretty — in reply to the President Angela’s self-serving outreach? Perfect.  A sign of an evolved soul.  Reacting in the moment is tempting, for many of us, but demonstrating the capacity to receive…without leaping into defense mode?  Such a challenging lesson.  And it reminded me of this from Andrea Bell:

“Someone who has good emotional self-regulation has the ability to keep their emotions in check. They can resist impulsive behaviors that might worsen their situation, and they can cheer themselves up when they’re feeling down. They have a flexible range of emotional and behavioral responses that are well matched to the demands of their environment”

Oh my, yes.  If you’re interested in a quick, high-level reading about the foundational thoughts associated with SRT – self regulation theory – this link provides great resources.  A terrific starting point.

More than anything, Beth’s story isn’t unique.  Tricky saboteurs can be around every corner but learning who’s worthy of your attention, energy, anger?  Even if that person is your boss…your President?  Good self-care, I say.

Thank you so much for reading – take care of yourself today.

Vicki 😊

19 responses to “Beware the Saboteurs!”

  1. Hi Victoria,

    Thank you for sharing this incredibly interesting account of Beth’s interaction with her boss. Wow. How fortunate she is to have you as a friend. I’m glad that I can now look back at how “Art” would have “handled” that meeting–not very well! There would have been frank honesty, which, in the long run, would have only hurt me. Kudos to Beth! She rose above, in more ways than one.

    Wishing you a great week!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Art — and the same could be said for me — how “Vicki” has taken the bait and handled things poorly in the past…things we learn, eh? I appreciate you for reading and for your lovely comment. Hope you have a great day and a terrific week! 😊😊😊


  2. Wow, Beth really handled that situation with grace. You’re so right that we need to ask ourselves who is worthy of our attention and energy.. the negative people tend to be energy vampires, sucking the life out of us. As good as it may feel to push back, being the bigger person and directing that energy towards more productive endeavors is typically the better strategy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You are a wise one! I think you nailed it – who’s worthy of our attention? Love that! 😘

      Liked by 1 person

  3. An Audience of One Avatar
    An Audience of One

    Your Beth is one class act! It’s so difficult when you’ve tried to do everything right, and something like this happens. I used to think of it as needing to manage the manager.
    But regardless, a huge hats off to Beth for the flawless way she handled the situation. And I’d bet real money that everyone in the room could see what was happening. Even if they couldn’t, guaranteed they took note of the way Angela behaved! Watch and see, she’ll be sitting in Angela’s chair one day. 😊

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree with you, Kendra – about the class act observation AND that Beth is likely to occupy an Angela-like chair at some point. Now she just needs to see what the rest of us do! And yes — I agree with you about those who were in the meeting. I think she earned respect from her colleagues with her graceful reaction – even though she was on ‘full simmer’ at the time. xo to you for your sweet and insightful comment! 😘

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a story. I don’t know how Beth kept her calm, but kudos to her for doing so. I’m really curious about Angela’s backstory. She sounds like a deceitful piece of work, so maybe Beth knew that down deep and now has public confirmation… hence Beth kept her cool?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ah…yes. Beth’s learned from colleagues (coming to her after the nutty incident where she was treated so poorly) that everyone has ‘taken a turn’ but no one feels they can defy Angela. Everyone’s hoping Angela will crash and burn and I think they’re holding their breath…collectively…as they try to stay employed until Angela gets booted. Deceitful is a really good word to describe this nutball-in-chief…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, I’m growling about Angela – there are too many feelings her self-serving, show of power behavior strikes in me. But I love the part of Beth’s response where she says, “I have some feedback for you, too, but sometimes it’s best to do that in private.”

    But more than that this is wonderful how you tie her reaction to self-regulation and also to self-care. If we can build up from the inside out, the Angela’s of the world will have a harder time penetrating from the outside in. Brilliant!! Thank you! XOXO — and please pass on at least one XO to Beth. Good for her!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Wynne! Will do – Beth is amazing but everyone needs encouragement. And I agree so much with your thought about strengthening from the inside out — yes! ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow- super impressive response by Beth! Kept her cool, didn’t escalate, but also tactfully called the boss on her bullshit- I hope Beth did get a chance to give her feedback. Two thumbs down for Angela 👎👎

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Todd! I hope Beth had that chance, too….I’ll need to catch up with her again soon to find out. Love your Angela thumbs down! 👎😉😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A great example of grace under pressure. So smart of Beth. She handled it much better than I would have. I would have tried to push on and made it about myself, instead of being smart about the situation. My suspicion is that she turned a few heads and created a few fans that might come back to help her in a future meeting. I know male execs can be @$!%# to each other, but I always hate to see a female leader like Angela bully another woman. (Please tell me if that’s actually sexist of me. I suspect that it might be.) I just hate the message that it sends to other young woman trying to break through the glass ceiling. Congratulations to Beth and credit to you tooo for being a listening ear and a friend in a time of need!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m with you 100% — the bullying between women is a special kind of hell…more so than watching men do it, but it’s always unnecessary. Stupid, small-minded posturing. I think you’re right about Beth earning respect from colleagues! Thanks so much, Brian! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The crazy thing is that Beth reached out and sought out feedback before the presentation. That’s just rude . . . to come back later and try to make her look silly to others. You can get away with that kind of behavior for a while, but eventually others will notice and you will get what you deserve. (At least, I hope so!)

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I know, right?! Beth was very respectful and considerate…and you’re right, you can’t get away with that level of Angela deceit forever…eventually it catches up and the bad leaders suffer…at least I always hope that’s the case! 😉


  9. What an interesting post! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading! Nice to meet you. 😉


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