How My Next Book Started with Dirty Tupperware

A few years ago, I started a new job where I had what I considered to be the coolest perk ever – an assistant. Coming from a small marketing agency where I was responsible for everything from client strategy to licking stamps, the thought of having some help was a welcome relief.

As I’d learned from one of my own best managers, the very first thing I did was schedule a meeting with her where we talked about her role, what she liked to do, her family, etc. This was designed to build rapport – and it worked. At the end of the meeting, I felt confident that we were going to work very well together.

Flash forward to the next day where I had to delegate the first assignment and all of my newfound “leadership swagger” went right out of my high-rise window. My inner dialogue went something like this:

Voice #1: She’s been at the firm for 15 years and I’ve been here three dayswhat if she thinks I’m some cocky neophyte trying to boss her around?

Voice #2: You’re supposed to be giving her work to do. That’s. your. job.

As I walked down the hall to her office, my mind shifted back and forth between these two narratives. Still, when it came to delegating the task, I was straightforward and declarative – no cushy language like “whenever you get a minute” or “if you wouldn’t mind…” I felt very self-assured, authoritative even.

And then it happened.

As I was about to leave, I noticed some used Tupperware from lunch sitting on the corner of her desk. In an effort to neuter my “authoritative” instruction, I immediately picked up her dishes and said, “Can I take these for you?”

She looked at me like you look at someone with an open fly. It’s part embarrassment (for them) and part genuine amusement. I played it off like I was just trying to be a team player but as I was at the sink rinsing out her Tupperware in front of a few other colleagues, I was genuinely mortified. It was a small test, but it was among my first as a leader – and I’d failed. I wanted so desperately to be liked that I was actually doing my assistant’s dishes. Not a good start.

But rather than beat myself up about it – I decided to launch a survey to find out if other executive women were also struggling to “own” their power. So far, more than 650 women have participated in this research, but my goal is to get over 1,000. So – if you’re a women currently in the workforce, I’d be honored if you would take five minutes to complete the survey and / or share the link The results of this survey will be used in a book I’m writing that will be released next fall from AMACOM. Thanks in advance for your time. xo.

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