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.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

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.