Forgiveness Better Than Permission

I was thinking about an experience I had a few years ago when I was a lead on a billing team.  Management and leadership in that group were dismal at best and often absent, so the team often felt like they lacked support and direction.

When I took the role, all I had was a logical mind.  I didn't have the technical skill to use the system yet or understand the processes.  My first day as the lead over one particular team I spent most of the day trying not to get repeatedly locked out of the billing system.  I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew if I sat around waiting for guidance or permission I'd wait forever.

I am a fairly intuitive person.  I can see what needs to be done and in what priority.  Through some frustrating self-training, I quickly mastered the system and started combing through tens of thousands of lines of data, identifying the problems and slowly, finding solutions.

I made a lot of positive changes when I was on that team.  The month-end numbers we had to report to corporate were the best we ever had while I was leading that team.  My supervisor was hostile and for most of the time we had no manager, our director was located in another state.  I had no example of leadership, no help, and no one to ask.  My supervisor was never in support of my initiatives but I did them anyway.  They were the right thing to do, and unless she would outright forbid me, I just moved forward with them.

I worked on that team for a few years in different capacities, and made a positive impact that isn't just opinion, it can be backed up with dollars and cents.  One of my projects saved our business unit $1.25 million dollars in one calendar year.  I came up with new and faster ways to sort and identify work in order to get it processed more timely and we could close with better numbers.

I didn't get a lot of recognition; in fact, often times my supervisor attempted to minimize my efforts.  But I wasn't doing it for the recognition.  I wasn't doing it only if they would support and mentor me.  I did it because I got a paycheck to be there and the team was counting on me.  And because of them, I didn't do it alone, either.  I empowered them to make decisions and give helpful feedback and with their help, during my time there, operations ran smoothly.

Had I spent the hours in my days seeking guidance or validation, asking permission or demanding recognition, nothing would have ever gotten done.  I was underpaid compared to my peers, and my supervisor gave me a lot of really non-sensical feedback that frustrated me, I fell back always on some of the advice my mom gave me on my first day.  She said, "fake it until you make it."  Though I knew nothing, I knew I was capable.  Though I didn't yet have the respect of my team, I was determined to earn it.

I may not have gotten accolades or recognition, but I earned the experience of triumphing over the situation and that is not something that can be had any other way.  I learned it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission.  I moved forward on my intuition and ideas, even in the face of opposition from my so-called leaders.  I didn't wait for a pat on the back (and that rarely happened) or for someone else to take responsibility for me or my success.  And in doing so, I learned so much that has helped me in every job I've had since then.

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