I pulled into the parking lot of the local brewery, which I almost never went to. I parked in the space overlooking the back door. As if on cue, one of my best friends came out of the door. He was the head brewer back then. We’ve been friends since I was four years old. This was 14 years ago.
We locked eyes and at first he was smiling, then he read my face.
When you know people long enough, well enough, few words are needed. He saw I was in trouble and before I even opened the door of the car to get the help I came there for, I broke down.
We’re talking ugly cry.
It was one of those moments where everything is tearing down and you must decide how it’s going to define you, how you are going to define it, and what comes next for you.
Now that you’ve gone to a breaking point, what comes next?
It’s one of the hardest things in leadership, learning to accept the unjust challenge and move forward. So many people keep track of every slight, every point of consideration, and it builds and builds for them, but the most successful people focus on what comes next.
The most successful people have the ability to restart.
My problem was my boss.
There’s this picture out there of a paralympic swimmer who’s standing unassisted underwater next to his overturned wheelchair. The message was clear; we can all be great in the right environment.
The leader I was reporting to at the time had fallen into the habit of seeing anyone who raised their performance beyond his own as threats. He did it with a former colleague of mine who was eventually let go; he was now doing it with me.
I pride myself on my ability to adapt to anything. That adaptation can be hard, but I never give up. I always see a challenge through.
Eventually, I overcame the scrutiny that he put me under. It took over 18 months of intense investigation into every action I took, but I learned how to weather the experience and draw strength from the absolute truth that I was doing good work regardless of how my competence made him feel.
Through the challenge, I gained strength.
Later he’d do it again with someone else.
My wife has said it time and time again: when people show you who they are–believe them.
After that, I got a new leader. With that new leader and the organization’s effort to build a new culture, I became like the paralympic swimmer–I got the environment where I could stand tall. It’s where I grew into who I am today. It’s the moment I’ll always credit as foundational for me.
I could have also chosen to leave for a company that wouldn’t allow that behavior. I didn’t because I didn’t want to run away from the challenge.
Today, people are grappling more and more with whether they should stay or go. Below is how I decided to stay.
I asked myself three critical questions:
- Is it a person or the culture of the company?
- Do I feel like the character of the top leaders is right and good?
- Do I believe in the mission?
For me, everything was either great or on its way to great aside from this boss. I ended up having some of the best moments of my career at this place, but that happened because I believed that character always wins, and I dug in because character was on my side.
Sometimes, taking the challenge will teach you way more than jumping ship.
It’s up to you whether it's worth it. I’ve been faced with choices like this since, and I will always choose the challenge so long as character is on my side.