in corporate life when there is a debacle of epic proportions (think: Volkswagen) and senior leadership enters the scene, the guilty party blends into the crowd and joins in the scapegoat search. most often the scapegoat does not resemble those at fault giving the story plausibility. blame is shifted, history is revised, and the unsuspecting lamb is led away to the slaughter. the easiest target is the newbie, the person of color, or the lone woman and woe to the person who embodies all three. bonus! problem solved. the men in the room will protect each other and allow the solo female to take the fall. but what happens then this recycled storyline has a twist?

after months of watching the most senior member of the project team backstroke through meetings, the lone female project lead headed off on holiday.  within the week a series of failures ensued, wafting like smoke through the halls of mahogany row.  unsure of how the issues arose or how to fix them, the search for the goat began in earnest. it wasn’t hard to find the culprit, the one person missing was easy to spot. but, as any project manager worth their salt would do, this female project lead checked email during her vacation and launched a defensive attack…against her direct manager.

i understand protecting your reputation and defending your credibility but when you respond to an email with SVPs and VPs in copy and deride your direct manager, snatching his pants down to reveal his missing drawers and display his ass for the world to see, well, that’s a step too far.  there is a way to handle a direct manager, a colleague, or a senior leader when your work product is in question. consider this.

first, seek wise counsel. (proverbs 11:14 “in the multitude of counselors there is safety”.) ask other people how best to handle the situation and when you are given sage advice, take it!

second, know what you want out of the deal. do you want a new leader? are you asking for a direct report to assist you? whatever it is, you must define that before running the issue up the flagpole.  if your choice to reveal the truth does not change the reporting structure or if it will cause greater issues between you and the current leader it’s not worth the angst.

Third, stick to the facts. when your reputation is in question, the last thing you want to do is fuel the flames with an emotional response. as women, we are emotive beings and expressing displeasure, fury, or indignation must be executed with the precision of an attorney delivering her closing argument. she plays on the memory of the jury, what they know of the defendant, his tenure, his work ethic. she reminds the 12 angry men of what happens when one member of the team fails, how everyone is painted with the same dirty brush. and finally she closes with impact: your bonus is riding on our collective ability to meet the targets for this year; at this rate, we will miss it by $3M. when she strategically sets up her argument and makes it personal (your money will be short come bonus time), she can take her seat. her point has been made and the only logical conclusion of each juror will be to remove the offender who dared trifle with their Tahitian holiday plans and replace the guilty party with a compliant soldier (for half what the former was paid).

sisters, never, ever, let your emotions best you. take 5, 10 if you must, and regroup. as they say, this is chess, not checkers, and you are not ready to surrender as Queen. Print the rules, memorize them, and when faced with such foolery implement the strategy. do not go off script, do not attempt to slay your opponent with a litany of his transgressions and missteps. follow the plan as outlined and let the chips fall where they may. your goal is not to besmirch anyone’s character, your goal is to protect your integrity and your credibility. revealing the emperor’s lack of garments demonstrates you are petty and offends the rest of the court (reminder: they are all men). if you have made this mistake, the damage is done and not even Olivia Pope can rescue you.

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