Frieda’s doughy face, ample figure and pathetic fashion sense endeared her to me. The mousy woman in the ill-fitting '80s power suit (although this was 20 years hence) with the suntan pantyhose and thick eyeglasses ("trifocals," she told me) looked so harmless. She looked like she had gotten ahead in spite of her wardrobe.
I reasoned that she’d have to be seriously smart to overcompensate for the wardrobe malfunctions. And, the more I saw of her, the more I realized her wardrobe didn’t reveal someone who was unconcerned with her image. It revealed someone so woefully out of touch that she believed the navy blazer and skirt ensemble conveyed "polished executive." It’s as if she were stuck in a time warp, not to mention stuck – literally – in a too-tight suit.
The time warp has added significance for me now. In one of our "one-on-ones," Frieda flung this zinger at me: "If you didn’t understand what I said to you earlier, I cannot travel back in time to make you understand."
Frieda didn't miss a chance to critique me. She once asked, "Why do you begin your e-mails with a name and then a colon? You should begin with a name and then a comma – or better yet a friendly 'Hi' or 'Hello there.'" Apparently, my e-mails were too professional for her.
"The type size in your e-mails is too big," she told me once. I apologized and reduced it from 11 point back to 10 point. I wanted to ask if Frieda was OK with Arial – or if she preferred Times New Roman.
Morale in this group was dreadfully low. Frieda was asked to bring it up. She stood before all of us at a group meeting to unveil her plan to boost our spirits. I watched with perverse pleasure as the woman who had made me miserable turned ashen. Her neck got splotchy, and I delighted in her obvious nervousness. (Why had she bragged to me about her Toastmasters public-speaking award?)
She rambled on, and I even took notes on the gibberish because I wanted an accurate account of it later. She actually said that she had formed "teams, subteams and teams within teams" to "drive out" the morale-boosting plan. Subteams and teams within teams … now there's a sure-fire way to make your workforce happy.
Until I met Frieda, I thought having a positive attitude, a solid work ethic and getting results would lead to some level of success. Frieda demonstrated that some people can be successful without having any of those things. Frieda's talents were limited to an uncanny ability to suck up and a willingness to build a fortress around her own incompetent boss and reign hell down on anyone who might get wind of the incompetence.
And, if I myself could travel back in time, I wouldn't make any assumptions about Frieda based on her utter lack of style. I'd judge her instead on her utter lack of common sense and dearth of any discernible talent.
Oh, and you should see the movie.