I was chatting with a former colleague late last week and we got to talking about our previous managers– the ones we liked, the ones we didn’t like. One that came up was our final manager on the team (we have both since left the company)– someone that I would comfortably define as an alpha female. She has an immaculate academic record (graduated both undergrad and bschool from an Ivy league institution) and has climbed the corporate ladder at said place of employment.
The only problem? She sucks.
Ok, so maybe that’s not totally fair. I worked under this manager for a short amount of time and did have one unpleasant run-in with her wherein she didn’t understand that she was creating a logistical nightmare in the completion of a project. In fact, while on the phone with this manager, I had to ping my colleague (we sat right next to each other), telling her to look away b/c I was about to cry while on the phone. My sense was that she was so focused on the completion of projects that she was unable to understand problems that her reports experienced and therefore was uninterested/unable to help with solving the problems.
Another friend worked with this manager and said nearly the same thing– that she was focused on high level goals and never understood the clients and the products enough to see the problems that her team members faced. My colleague agreed with this, and then mentioned” You know, she wasn’t very smart.” And it struck me because I think that I just assumed, given her history, that she was smart and therefore suited for her role. And in retrospect, she really wasn’t any smarter than anybody else on the team. But because of her aggressive way of being and phenomenal academic and subsequent professional history, she is assumed to be the best for leading efforts on her team. Her successes were really the successes of our efforts. In my colleague’s words, “We made her look good.”
I think that’s one problem with working with or under alpha females– they have the signals that management and hiring managers look for: they can talk the talk and they have enough to show that they are capable of doing a job. And most probably can. But what’s tough is working with an alpha female who doesn’t know what the eff she’s doing b/c she will never admit it, never ask for help, and never take the suggestions of those around her. Oh and also: she’ll usually take credit for the wins and will try to blame the losses on others. Typically it will be you.
Now, I know that I keep using “she” but I don’t totally mean to be. There are tons of guys who are alpha males and are miserable to work with/under. So please disregard my use of that pronoun solely in this blog post. I mean all alpha people.
I recently interviewed at a company in SF. I’ll loosely call it an advertising company. The hiring manager for the role was youngish (probably my age) and was a VP, I think. She had moved aggressively up the totem pole in the PR world and now was the VP at this advertising company. In talking to the other team members, people kept highlighting “She worked in PR,” which I found really interesting… like almost as if they were critical of her competence given this background. While talking to her, she pitched her vision for the role and the team, which was good… but in my opinion totally wrong. I can’t get into where she was wrong but suffice it to say that when talking to the CMO and members of the sales team, the real focus of the marketing team’s efforts should be elsewhere and required using different messaging, in my opinion. But the hiring manager has her vision… she won’t hire me… she won’t hire anybody like me (which is exactly what the team needs)… she’ll hire somebody like herself to execute on her goals… she’ll never consider that her plan is off-track and the sales team is really going to suffer. I’m fine not being hired (b/c being forced to do work that makes no sense means that nobody will be successful). I feel really badly for that team– I think they’re going to struggle in the selling process and I think it will be her fault.
Also, some alpha females can really be bitches. I know, I know: an aggressive male gets congratulations for being focused and driven, the same female is branded a bitch. There is a sexism that is pervasive and I shouldn’t perpetrate the imbalance. Again, both sexes have bad apples, whether it’s men being dicks or females being bitches. They are all terrible and we should pray for their downfall.
There was a high level individual at a director-level role at a company I previously worked at. And man, was she a bitch. Everybody has a story about her, which clearly none of her superiors knew about as she was later poached to work at another Bay area tech company. I kind of hope she fails and isn’t able to secure anything else when her reputation precedes her. In one instance, she was in the bathroom with a junior team member. The junior team member said hello to her and SHE (THE DIRECTOR) PRETENDED NOT TO SEE HER. Fixed her hair and left the bathroom without saying a thing. Wow. Awesome leadership. Another story is that she was on a panel interviewing an individual for the team. She clearly did not want this individual to join the team bc later, when that individual had joined the company and was in the microkitchen, the bitchy lady walked up to her and asked, “What are you doing here?” Wow. Her hatred was subtle.
So this whole post was basically a rant. Alpha females are so impressive and I wish I had what they have to zoom forward in my career. But on the receiving end, alpha females can be terrible to work with– sometimes incompetent (and unwilling to think otherwise) and other times, totally mean. They can be inhuman and inhumane and that’s no good. It’s good to be confident but I guess I need to go at it with a certain level of humanity, humility, compassion and generosity. That’s the type of worker I want to be. The end.