I ruffled the feathers of my new boss last week by not going into the office during a blizzard.  With our daycare closed, every local school and municipality shut down and state & local authorities broadcasting urgent pleas for people to stay home, I (wisely) decided not to brave the unplowed roads and instead, opted to use my company-issued laptop to work from home. 

On my first day, my boss told me to look to my team to guide me on departmental policies. She assured me that she doesn’t have a lot of rules for her team and wants us all to work together to do what’s best for the company.  But being new to my job, I didn’t just assume that it would okay to work from home without asking.  I know from experience that managers can be oddly inconsistent in their application of work from home privileges.  Keeping this in mind, I followed her directions and pow-wowed with my colleagues and team lead who all reassured me that it would be appropriate to work remotely in this situation.  After all, the weather situation was forcing them to work from home, as well. 

That snowy day, despite having two small children with cabin fever in the house with me all day, I managed to be productive.  I even made major progress on a high-profile project by blowing off my lunch and working until 7 that night. 

Apparently, my focus, drive and dedication to my work are not qualities my manager is looking for. 

This week during a regular one-on-one, she gave me a stern warning about being too assumptive.  When I asked what she meant, she said that as a new employee she expected me to be more “humble”.  She expected me to reach out to her and ask permission to work from home, rather than assume I could do what everyone else in my department was doing.  Of course, this was completely at odds with her previous statements that my team is my guide and that the team doesn’t operate under a lot of rules.

So, rather than defend the circumstances of my case, I pointed out the contradictory nature of her messages.  On the one hand, she hired me to be a bold, independent worker who “takes risks”, “breaks paradigms” and other quasi-empowerment catchphrases she used during my interview.  That being the case, wouldn’t it be fair to say that consulting with my team lead and then following the directions of my colleagues is actually not all that risky or assumptive and certainly isn’t a step in the direction of paradigm-breaking?  Why I am I being called out for being too assumptive, when I should be being called out for not being the bold, independent thinker she hired me to be? 

As long as we’re talking about assumptive here, why did she assume that I’d know I’m only supposed to be selectively bold and independent in my thinking?  Isn’t it her responsibility as my manager to make all the rules and paradigms clear, so I can make more educated decisions about which ones to break?  And, assuming my only direction from her was to follow the lead of my team, how can I now be blamed for following HER instructions?  If she wants me to be someone who follows instructions, which instructions should I follow – the ones that say that I’m supposed to be bold, or the ones that say I’m supposed to be humble? 

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that this wasn’t the response she was looking for.  I think she was looking for a simple apology, or perhaps a more extensive session of grovelling at her feet.  My response just annoyed and confused her.  On the upside, maybe I scored a few points as a bold, independent thinker.  I doubt it.

Something tells me I should just chalk up this whole melon-twisting experience to a boring, everyday case of micro-managing.   I guess if it makes my boss feel like she’s in control to have her independent thinkers (and did I mention that I’m also a mostly-responsible ADULT, as well?) asking her if they can work from home during a deadly blizzard, I will endeavor to oblige her in the future.  

I’d like think this is an isolated situation, but experience tells me that’s not the case.  So in an arrangement ready-made for a Dilbert strip, I understand that in my new role I not only need to figure out how to be selectively bold and independent while appearing humble, but I also need to learn how to follow all the rules my boss will never tell me she has until after I’ve broken them.  Great.  And people wonder why women in their 30’s are dropping their careers en masse to stay home and raise children.   Who knew that the world’s most intimidating job – child-rearing – could ever look easier than deciphering the conflicting directives of a typical job in corporate America…

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