I have had the *cough* pleasure of working mainly with female bosses over the course of my life. Since I am fascinated by leadership and workplace best practices, I tuned myself in to analyze the methods they used to motivate their employees and the character behind the way they ran their team.
One woman gave me a glowing example of what it looks like to truly be a woman with a vision, crafting her own media outlet and redeveloping it over the years to become a highly respected member of the community. Another woman was emotional as hell, often breaking down in tears during meetings over the pressure of her job. Yet another woman I worked for resented the fact that I was there and would write me up for things like, “Talking too loud in the office” until she had enough paperwork in line to fire me.
While today I thank each of these women for allowing me to get close enough to see their flaws and strengths, there is one woman who stands out for her underhandedness. She covertly pushed me to become a better worker while manipulating my life at the same time. I knew this then, but I didn’t mind. I understood that she had to focus on her award winning team at all costs.
I was reminded of this woman today when I went to Red Lobster after 3 years of not eating at what once was my favorite restaurant. After I was fired from there I refused to go back in and eat again, instead allowing myself time to heal and collect myself after such a mind blowing experience.
My boss at Red Lobster was a woman named Ms. Denice. She was a tall, butch lesbian with a stern demeanor but I could tell that she had a loving heart at times. Everyone was afraid of her but I wasn’t because I understood where she was trying to lead her team and after watching her I learned what it took to get there in a corporate environment.
I remember one night after work, my co workers ployed me into going for drinks with them. I hate socializing now and I did then but I went out of politeness and respect for the invitation. After we received our drinks, they went IN, warning me that in just a short time I would become the victim of Ms. Denice’s rage. “She’s going to RIDE you!” they warned me. “She is going to make you feel like quitting. She does that to every Black female who works there.”
I took this warning with a grain of salt. I absolutely LOVED being a server. For me it was show time! I would dress up by wearing special make up and accessories and give an outstanding presentation to my guests. Ms. Denice recognized my gift for service, but she rarely said anything about it to me. In fact, I once won award from her for most guest compliments to corporate which was strange because every week when other servers received guest compliments, my name was never included on the list. She hid my success from me.
I didn’t care, I wasn’t looking for approval, I just wanted the shifts I requested and every week I saw that they were given to me. Much like my own mother who rarely said the words, “I love you,” but gave me every single thing I ever asked for, I chalked it up to Ms. Denice showing love through giving me the schedule I wanted.
But then the girls’ prediction came true. For a while I could do NOTHING right in Ms. Denice’s eyes. One night I told her I needed a new book (the case we carry our order pads in) and she told me that I could not get a new book unless I had a perfect night with NO VOIDS and no mistakes.
I did that. And came in to work the next day smiling. “I had a perfect night,” I cooed.
“No you didn’t. You had a complaint,” she replied, her arms folded looking me in the eye.
She was lying. I knew it but I had no proof. I just sucked it up and tried again. She was different from all of my other bosses because while I still had the same requirements of meeting sales goals, knowing my menu and collaborating with my team to provide an excellent dining experience to customers, she also recognized that my particular specialty was guest satisfaction so she PUSHED me to excel in that area instead of other bosses who valued ONLY what THEY wanted versus nurturing the natural talent of the employee.
Ms. Denice was funny but she also helped me get through some of the toughest times in my life. At the time I was experiencing much angst and rage at the men in my past and would have frequent run ins with the men who worked in the kitchen. She would talk to me, write me up and everything she could think of to help me figure out how to get past it, including offering me company sponsored counseling, which I took advantage of.
I was also experiencing anger at myself for not progressing as quickly as I thought I should and then, the unthinkable happened, I realized that I was attracted to women. This threw my life into a tailspin and instead of having perfect nights I was dropping trays, forgetting orders and generally being a bitch to everyone. I just couldn’t wrap my mind around why I was all of a sudden totally engaged and amazed by this one woman I met and it impacted my entire world, especially at work.
One day out of the blue, Ms. Denice pulled me to the side and said, “Something is going on with you.”
I lowered my gaze. “I don’t know.”
Out of impatience she blurted out, “If you’re gay just be gay! There’s nothing to fight!”
I was shocked. But of course, the grapevine had reached her and she knew all about my issue. I mulled over her words many times and decided to just go for it- so I started dating women to get over my fear. In essence, her words worked.
While I loved what I was doing and it made my soul smile to serve my customers and make them feel good, one day my love for it gave way to boredom. I was tired of spinning in circles reciting the same menu and giving the same plates to people over and over again.
What happened next? Ms. Denice fired me.
I was elated. I was tired of it but would never quit. I believe she knew that so she released me to go on and find other work.
The awards she won, the team she created, the times hiding out in the freezer eating cheddar bay biscuits because I was starving, man, I’ll never forget any of that.
And I’ll always remember that when I have my own team, nurture natural talents in each person and PUSH them to grow.