Harnessing Fire with Demotivation
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Ebb and Flow.
Destroying a person’s self-confidence is a time- honored method of stealing his power and harnessing it for personal or corporate purposes.
One of my colleagues whom I respect was recently offered a slot with a prestigious firm. Good money, great career status, a very enviable position on almost every level. For the final interview, they flew my friend to meet with them and to offer him the job. He’d beat out hundreds of qualified candidates for this slot, based on his education, grades, experience level, awards—he had the whole package to offer. It seemed to be a perfect match between corporation and employee.
My colleague turned it down, and he’s bitter about it, too.
After making it through a series of interviews with other professionals from all over the country, he was proud of himself and looking forward to meeting with his new employer and formally accepting their offer. They obviously valued his skills, and it was quite the ego boost. After all, he’s one of the few experts in his particular field. He really did expect them to be as thrilled with the match as he was…and to be appreciated for what he could give the company.
If they were, they didn’t let it show. They offered him the position but at the same time, they let him know how incredibly lucky a lowly slime such as this would be to have the mere chance to give his talents and time to them. They spent the next hour telling him how worth- less he was and how wonderful they were. It’s a technique that works well for this company—they have many genius-level talents who work grueling hours for them, who eat/sleep/breathe their work because they want to make a good impression, who feel they can never be good enough for the boss but keep trying. They just little batteries drained for the sake of the corporate mission.
The professional reaming was hard enough to take, but when it turned personal and his heritage was insulted, he’d had enough. He decided that regardless of the salary, the prestige, and the professional connections, he could never work for a company that insisted from the get-go that he was worthless as both an employee and as a person.
I used to watch a Colonel I worked for at Eglin Air Force Base do the same thing to us. He would stand in the hallway outside the men’s room where he’d cornered some poor passerby and talk for, literally, hours about how terrible all his employees were…while said employees were walking through the halls and in offices adjoining the hall. He’d say to whomever he’d cornered, “Look, there goes Deadwood #42” and how he wished he could have a bus pull up to the front of our building and he could load up every seat with useless employees…of which quite a few were working overtime to make him look good. He frequently talked about which employees in our Type-A heavy organization were on certain anti- anxiety meds and which ones ought to be medicated. By the time he retired, he was one of the most hated Colonels in my organization’s history.
I had admired him at one time when we worked on the Bunker Buster together. He’d been different then. Caring, focused. But something happened in his life that turned him bitter and verbally abusive, and he spent his later career causing employees to duck into broom closets when they saw him coming. Whereas he once had the power to motivate like few other bosses I’d ever had, he got lazy and began to “motivate” through tearing down.
A lot of people believed his message of unworthiness. I started to, as well, especially after his comments that there was no one at my level who was worth promoting and he’d have to go to Wright-Patterson AFB to steal anybody worth a promotion. At the time I thought, Huh? Do you not realize who you’re talking to and that I’m one of the people you’ve just called “unpromotable?”
Many people at the same level as I was then left because of him, went to other bases and the Pentagon for an immediate promotion, and have since been promoted another two times, just as fast as the time requirements allowed. Though I could have left for an immediate pro- motion, too, I was married to a man who wasn’t about to move his career to D.C., or to NASA or elsewhere. And the Colonel knew it. He told me more than once that he didn’t have to promote me to keep me because as long as I was married to a local boy, this job was the best I could do. Hey, way to motivate, sir!
Then one day, I was having lunch at the food court with another “unpromotable” employee and the Colonel joined us. He’d purposely sought us out because he had a proposition. For both of us. You see, he was trying to decide whether to put in his retirement papers and he wanted to start his own company to do business with the Department of Defense and he needed a couple of top- notch contract negotiators to work for him. He went on and on about our talents and experience and he wanted us to work for him and be partners in his company. That sounded strange to me—he thought enough of us to want us to be partners and yet we weren’t good enough to promote. He also knew which retirement program we were under and that our retirement plans were portable. He had it all figured out—he had his retirement and our husbands had good jobs and could support us financially while we all worked the first year without pay, then after that the partners would be able to start taking a cut of the profits. The first year would be hard and a lot of overtime to build the company, but we could do it. Rah, rah, rah!
That was the first time I realized how valued my skills were to him.
And they always had been, but it was easier to keep access to them and control over them—and keep me from leaving—by hammering my self-worth.
I turned him down. If I were going to work a year without pay, it would be doing something I wanted to do, not what he wanted me to do.
I did get the promotion, later, after he left. It was an outside organization that promoted me.
I’m glad my colleague turned down the prestigious position. He’ll get his promotion. It may take a little longer, but it’ll be, I think, in a much better place.