Trapped Yourself in a Gilded Cage? Ask Madeleine


Dear Madeleine,

I run the office of compliance for the parent company of a large financial institution. We are attorneys, paralegals, and accounting professionals.

About a year ago, my boss was fired and I was made interim head of compliance. I’ve received no title change and no substantial raise, but they keep throwing stock at me. The organization is publicly traded and the CEO is all about shareholder value.

Since our growth has slowed, there has been a focus on the other way to constantly increase the bottom line: cutting headcount. As a result, I am now running on fumes with a skeleton staff and there is simply too much work for my team to do.

The challenge is that this entire house of cards depends on compliance. If a mistake is made—and it’s only a matter of time before it happens—it will be on me. I have spoken to the head of HR about this several times. Although he is sympathetic, the basic message is “Do the job or we will find someone else to do it.”

My people are past burnout, my hair has gone gray, and I am up at night with heart palpitations. I am ready to just walk away but it would really hurt the company, at least in the short term. My spouse is sick of my complaining and is ready to trim costs and do what is needed for me to jump ship and find a more reasonable job.

The problem? I can’t stand the thought of leaving unvested equity, worth quite a sum, on the table. I feel like a prisoner.

Gone Gray

Oh Gone Gray,

Please read your letter, out loud, to yourself. Or have someone else read it out loud to you so that you can hear yourself. You are an actual prisoner—of your own greed. Sorry. That is such an ugly word and it sounds so judgmental. But, as my mother used to say, “If the shoe fits…”

I do not actually judge you or fault you. You are only human, and this is a very human response to the possibility of big money. People stay in awful marriages and sell their souls in countless ways for big money. People spend their last dollar on lottery tickets when they should be buying milk for the kids because of the mirage of big money. Fairy tales, myths, half of Shakespeare’s plays, and a large percentage of all literature are devoted to the examination of the situation you are in right now.

What you need to do is simple but not necessarily easy: you must decide what is more important to you. Is it having a nice, fun job where you can succeed with a reasonable stress level? Or is it the promise of big money? There is one person—and one person only—who holds the key to the cell you are in.

Sorry to be the big meanie here; I really am. But a heart attack will be much meaner. I guarantee it.

Love, Madeleine

Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!


About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a Master Certified Coach and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. She is coauthor of Blanchard’s Coaching Essentials training program, and several books including Leverage Your Best, Ditch the Rest, Coaching in Organizations, and Coaching for Leadership.

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