The fearsome performance evaluation is over, and it went as well, perhaps better than I could have expected. Because I run a small (minuscule, actually) non-profit, I report to a board of eleven members. I have eleven bosses.
Okay, I exaggerate. I only have nine bosses, because we have two vacancies. They are all volunteers, and I am the only full-time paid staff person, with a half-time assistant. It is an interesting dynamic. I am in charge of everything, and if I need a sounding board or specific expertise or backup or…anything…I have to accept that everyone may be too busy to help. From time to time there are things that simply must be communicated, and the president takes the brunt of that—the concerns about the local businessman who is a little too free with his hands, the thankfully-now-former assistant who has accused me of …well, never mind…, the political ramifications of my inability to meet every real or imagined need that has a “business” overtone. Because I was brought up in an environment where the biggest, most sacrosanct rule governing communication was “No surprises,” I communicate relentlessly. Even when the president sighs and harrumphs.
But really, he is a good guy. Can he help it if he is a very different personality type from me?
They had mercy on me. Only three came for the performance review, and they were sensitive to fact they had me outnumbered. In exchange, they gave me a gift—they flexed to my communications style, let me ramble, rant and posture as I worked through the blessedly few issues that we had to discuss. I will spare you the grim and gory details (well, actually, there weren’t any, despite the fears I bring from my years living the Wall Street staff shrinkages), but the amusing one was this: they want me to wear suits.
Suits! Who woulda thunk? Now you have to understand that there are huge numbers of non-profits in Vermont. In a state of some 600,000 people, there are three thousand non-profits—that is one for every 200 people. And these are relatively well-paying jobs that allow for personal fulfillment, casual attire, and an atmosphere in which you can bring your dog or your sick child to work. It is a great life, as long as the pyramid funding scheme doesn’t collapse. For those of us who toil in the economic development vineyards, the men do wear suits to Montpelier, and the women wear something that passes for business attire. But my board thinks I am excessively casual, that they would prefer to see a more polished presentation.
Once I got over the shock—which partly derived from the fact that nobody has mentioned this in the two years I have had the job—I can see their point. It is not a comment on my personal life choices; it is an issue of positioning and branding the organization. And as an INFP, I am routinely unaware what others see—the external face that creates confidence. Just as I am unaware of large amounts of dog hair in my car, in my office, and on the knees of my trousers. So I don’t mind being reminded that for some people, if I dress more formally, I am more credible.
Okay, so let’s not get hung up on whether I wore a denim vest to the last board meeting (even if it is really cute and flattering) or that, in fact, I always wear some version of business clothing when I visit Montpelier. Let’s instead take the whole range of choices of clothing for quiet days in the office, reconnoitering buildings (complete with dead pigeons), visits to local businesses (who demonstrate a range of dress code options), schmoozing legislators, peddling raffle tickets for Rotary...all of the varied dress occasions that my job presents. Let’s take them all up a notch on the formality scale. I honestly don’t have a problem with that.
This is the perfect time of year to make a shift. I heard a long time ago that the way to be fashion forward is to be slightly ahead of the season. So in August, the first transitional fall clothes come out, and if the truth is known, I hate almost everyone’s summer clothes. Fabric and cut, all seem too casual to me, with my taste shaped by a certain New York chic. And I draw the line at frumpy.
I didn’t put enough money in my request to take care of a major wardrobe overhaul. But the hunt for pretty clothes at low cost—that’s entertainment to me, and I will do my best to make it work.
And all they want is suits? Oh yes, and perhaps I could clean up my trading floor language, which emerges in stressful periods. What a gift! To have the option to stay and work with people who treat me with care and respect, in a job that suits.