I am sitting in a computer room on break from leading training for a program that fast-tracks high potential grad school graduates into management positions in the federal government. I’m a faculty member for a 3-day intensive leadership program for them.
We had a great discussion today as we explored the challenges of working with cynicism and resignation in the workplace. These are young, very intelligent, immensely talented, energetic and idealistic people. As they move into their new roles, they sometimes get stopped in their tracks as they get exposed to the [tags]cynicism[/tags] in the workplace.
I listened to their stories of working for zombie bosses or with retired-in-place colleagues. It reminds me of when I have worked with senior leaders trying to lead their organization through change and how they often got stopped in their tracks by the resignation as well.
Iâ€™m also reminded of my own bouts of burn-out and cynicism, as well as the times I helped other managers heal their own struggles with it.
As we explored this, some interesting things popped up in the discussion. They learned the ultimate irony of how the cynics were once very committed and idealistic workers just like they are today.
Over time, these hard chargers were disappointed over and over again by incidents and events. Their enthusiasm was blunted and their hearts broken as they were worn down. Their ideas were not heard, promotions didnâ€™t come or change efforts left them behind.
Over time, the bright light of possibility just flickered and sometimes it was snuffed out.
People and organizations dismiss cynics as pains-in-the-butts. Yet cynics were at one time the most motivated and committed workers.
When I think back to what it felt like as a cynic, I think, â€œIf we didnâ€™t care so much we wouldnâ€™t be hurting or angry or disappointed. The quiet ones are the ones to worry about â€“ they donâ€™t care as much.â€
Some of the deepest periods of Disquiet for me occurred when I was also struggling with my own cynicism and resignation. They seemed to all feed each other.
There is a deep connection for me between cynicism and the Disquiet. Learning how to heal the resignation, to transform the cynicism into engagement and commitment is an important part of working with the Disquiet.
This isnâ€™t easy or quick work. When working with your own cynicism, or someone elseâ€™sâ€™, you have to do some digging. Like an archeologist. You have to scrape away the layers of feeling wronged, complaining, railing against the system and yearning for justice.
Eventually, you might uncover that original spark, that little pilot light of what you (or the other person) really cared about. The reason that got you flying out of bed in the morning ready for the day, happily slugging through the commute and putting up with the meetings about meetings. Remember that time?
If NPR were to interview you and they asked you what inspired you and what you were most proud of in your career, could you remember?
If itâ€™s not too late, if the flame hasnâ€™t been totally extinguished, it can usually be fanned back to life. Look for that glowing ember.
We will come back to this from time to time in my newsletter, â€œTime for Changeâ€, and explore ways to get that ember glowing. We can also discuss what happens when itâ€™s been blown out completely and what you can do to start a new flame in old ashes.
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Tags: Life, Podcasts, Resources, The Disquiet, Work, Working with change, career, cynicism, resignation, work issues