We had just left the boardroom and his proposal had been tabled for further discussion. I took a deep breath and stared at my feet trying to keep it together. It was early in my career and I didn’t say a word for fear I would burst into tears. It was the longest elevator ride of my life and we only had to travel two floors!
He went immediately into his office and closed the door. When I left 2 hours later he was still on the phone. I expected I might be fired the next day.
As I tossed and turned that night I replayed the meeting in my head over and over searching for what I could have done differently.
Yet I kept coming to the same conclusion. My question was valid and I asked it because everything inside of me told me we were about to make a bad decision for the company.
Essentially what I had done that my boss was so upset about was ask a question he did not want asked because it pointed to the a gaping hole in his proposal. While I had briefly seen the proposal ahead of time, the hole in it did not get clear to me until during the meeting.
I pondered whether I should have waited and raised it with him one on one after the meeting.
In the moment, however, with my wide eyed, naive optimism, I sincerely thought the point was to make the best possible decision. Clearly I had a lot to learn about office politics. Even though I was trying to do the right thing, it seemed I had done it all wrong.
The next day I was delivering a training session at another location. Relieved I might enjoy a brief “stay of execution”, I arrived early to get things ready.
The CIO came by the training room and asked if he could see me in his office for a few minutes. He escorted me in and closed the door. Once again I was shaking inside thinking he, too, was furious with me.
He stood there for yet another seemingly endless moment looking me right in the eye. And then a huge smile broke out on his face as he reached forward to shake my hand.
He thanked me for what I had done in the meeting the day before. Turns out I asked questions that provoked a conversation that was a long time in coming. I had unwittingly disrupted the usual rubber stamping of my bosses proposals to the CFO. Anyone else asking the question would have been dismissed because it would have been coming from “they who could not be trusted”.
For the first time in my career the cost of an “us” vs. “them” dynamic was crystal clear and I was now caught in the middle.
Depending on who you asked, I had either committed an act of leadership or an act of insubordination.
From the point of view of the CIO I had provided leadership by asking tough questions that led to an intelligent conversation about the topic at hand.
From the point of view of my boss I had been insubordinate because I didn’t wait until after the meeting to ask my questions privately and undermined his position.
Now before I share the rest of the story, I’d like to hear from you – what do you think it was: Leadership or insubordination?
To be continued…
Image credit: iofoto / 123RF Stock Photo