In my long and storied career, I’ve learned one singularly important lesson about leadership and management:
I don’t want to be a supervisor.
Sure, most of these “leadership” lists include many, many wonderful ideas, but mine is simplicity itself. It’s honed by my short stint as a working supervisor and many occasional reminders from being dumped temporarily back into the job in an “acting” capacity. With a third of a career at my back, one of the few things I can say with absolute certainty is that I have no interest in supervising other people’s work. It’s unappealing in an almost visceral level. The way some people react to seeing a snake – that’s basically the way I react to even the suggestion that I should be a supervisor.
There are some very good reasons why people want to get into supervision – helping to set the agenda, mentoring new employees or future leaders, or exercising broader responsibilities. What I know about myself is none of those aspects of the job motivates me. I like getting an assignment, churning through it, and then moving on to the next thing. I’d much rather be turning the proverbial wrench than be the one making sure all the wrenches are being turned.
I’ve got the education and training to do the job. It’s not a lack of technical ability. What it is, however, is a fundamental lack of desire. If there’s any bit of accrued wisdom I would impart to the next generation of line employees, it’s to be damned good and sure being a supervisor is what you want to spend your time doing before you let anyone saddle you with the job. As much as you think you’re going to spend your days leading the office into a brave new world, what you’re really going to be doing is signing leave requests, approving timesheets, soothing ruffled feathers, running interference between your own bosses and the people you supervise, and generally dealing with three hours of administrative minutia for every hour you get to spend doing the “real” job you thought you’d signed on to do.
Some people excel at it. They have a natural affinity for the work. Every time the dark shade of that past life passes over me, I’m reminded of why it’s not for everyone… and especially why it’s not for me.
We’re reorganizing. By my count that brings me up to the 5th full scale reorg I’ve participated in since coming to work for Uncle in 2003. For purposes of this discussion I’m leaving out the myriad of minor moves, tweaks, and changes that have only tangentially touched whatever position I happened to occupy at any given time. If those were included, we’d easily be well over one reorg a year. As it is, one major reorganization every other year feels like it happens far more often than it really needs to.
Reorganization. Realignment. Operational efficiency. Synergy. Improved customer focus. Empowered team members. Leveraged resources. Cross-leveled workload.
Yep. All the right buzz words are there to make sure that this reorganization gets it just right and that six months from now we won’t all be engaged in a counter-reorg to undo most of what was just done. Except of course that we will. Maybe not in six months, but certainly before the year and a half mark some or all of this brave new structure will fall away as ungainly, unworkable, and ultimately unsustainable. They all do in the end.
There will be some new boss at echelons higher than reality who, applying every little thing he thinks he learned at B-school, will have some brave new scheme for how things can work better. Or he’ll need a job for a favored underling. Or he’ll just want to “leave his mark” on the organization.
Big organizations are surprisingly resilient to the finicky twiddling of the Olympians on high. They tend to muddle along despite what damage transient leaders try to do to them. Organizational inertia pushes things along, ensuring that today looks a lot like yesterday and that tomorrow won’t look all that much different. Wait a while and all the changes, both good and bad, will be undone in favor of some other idea. There will always be another reorg just over the horizon. They ebb and flow like the tides.
For some reason I can’t help but think about a ship steaming across the deep ocean. A massive tsunami may pass under its keel unnoticed and unremarked. It’s only when that vast wave washes up on a far shore that it’s really a problem. Get too attached to what you’re doing and where you’re sitting and you’re the one sitting on the shore… but if you stay out there in the deep water, you can just watch it slide on past and inflict its damage on other people.
If anyone needs me I’ll be out here paddling in the deep end until this whole thing blows over.
It’s a busy weekend. That’s good in so much as it means that this post more or less writes itself. That’s bad in that the world seem shell bent of flinging itself apart at the seams. Terror attacks on three continents that may not have been coordinated, but the timing of which is certainly close enough together to be suspect. A political fracas in the US that covers all the ground from heritage to hate to healthcare to marriage. The greeks have declared a bank holiday and appear all but determined to drive their country over their own fiscal cliff and straight into default while the European Union hopes the rest of them can shrug it off.
If you’ve kept an ear on the news, there’s a lot of information coming in on all fronts. Weekends are usually where they bury the stories we’re not supposed to pay attention to, but any one of the headlines this week would usually have legs all by itself. Combined, there’s almost something in there guaranteed to keep everyone stirred up at least for a few more turns of the news cycle.
I’m not fool enough to think any of these problems amounts to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but they pace at which they keep coming is a little troublesome. I’ve got at least half a dozen methods of information delivery in an arm’s reach right now… and I find myself wondering if we all weren’t just a little bit better off when we got our news from the morning edition, the evening edition, and 30 minutes of TV highlights at 6PM.
The world’s always been a complicated place, but it’s only recently that we’ve all gotten the opportunity to watch the sausage made each and every day. I wonder if it isn’t time I try to force myself to tune it out for just a little while.
1. Greece. What’s the problem? You ginned up a mountain of bills and now suddenly don’t want to pay because it’s too hard. It’s unfair. The big countries are picking on you. God it sounds so familiar – like exactly what happened when so many people in this country found themselves in homes they couldn’t afford “through no fault of their own.” Except see, there is fault. There is definite fault when you spend other people’s money without any reasonably expectation of ever being able to pay it back. Putting your financial house in order is painful. It sucks. All the free stuff people thought they were entitled too is suddenly not free – or not there because you can’t afford it. And the only way the economy keeps on working is if people who loan money can expect to get that money back. It’s a loan, not a gift after all. I feel ever more strongly that the US is headed in a similar direction to our Greek friends. $18 Trillion in loans aren’t going to pay back themselves – and they’re certainly not going to get paid while we continue to add more debt to the pile. If Greece’s gnashing of teeth is any indicator of the howl that will go up when the US realizes we can’t afford to be all things to all people, we’re in for one hell of a rough ride.
2. Negotiating with terrorists. According to the US government it’s now OK for our fellow citizens to negotiate with terrorists. While I won’t pretend to imagine the nightmare that is having a family member or loved one in the hands of ISIS, I can tell you that I wouldn’t want my family to be responsible for providing aid and comfort to the enemy in the form of a substantial cash donation on my behalf. What I would like, on the other hand, is for the armored fist of the most powerful nation in the world to come crashing through the terrorist’s front door in an effort to a)rescue me and b) eradicate the terrorists who believe kidnapping an American citizen will end well for them. If Option A and Option B are mutually exclusive, please feel free to exercise Option B with as much lethality as necessary to get the job done. And then drop a few more 1000-pound bombs just to stir up the dust and make the rubble bounce a bit for good measure.
3. The joys of home ownership. Don’t get me wrong, I love the house. It crossed off just about every feature I had on my list. Having been in it now for three months, though, some of its warts are showing… and by warts I’m referring to the perpetually moist basement / piss poor foundation grading and drainage / sieve-like window well combination that I’ve been fighting since spring time turned into Maryland’s version monsoon season. Between the landscape contractors looking at fixes to my own modest efforts at improving the around-the-house drainage situation trying to get a grip on the underside of this not so old house has become something of a second job. Now I know it’s mostly just a function of sealing up the window well, correcting the drainage, and adding on a secondary source of electricity to keep the pumps chugging along… but just now, with another couple of days of rain in the forecast, my patience – something never know to be in vast supply – is wearing even more thin than usual.
I have an affinity for history. I spent my academic life studying it. I’ve spent my life since then reading as many books about it as I can get my hands on. I haven’t always agreed with the conclusions drawn by those authors. Some of them seemed to go out of their way to disregard major events and themes of the times of which they wrote. Even good historians get it wrong now and then. New facts overturn the old and our basis of knowledge and understanding in the field grows day by day and year by year.
What never occurred to me, then or now, is to be ashamed of our history – not even the ugly parts. It’s our history. Good and bad. It’s what made us. Sure, we can choose to ignore it. We can re-write it to conform to our collective national “sensitivities.” We can become apologists, tripping over ourselves to hide or disavow the deeds of the past. None of that changes the past though – not the real past – not what actually happened.
It’s our history. As someone who’s spent three decades with a healthy respect for it, I won’t hide from it or cleanse it to serve the purpose of the day. I won’t be ashamed of it to conform to the whims of the moment… and I damned well won’t apologize for it.
We’ve been wandering down the path of politically correct, overly sensitive molly coddling for most of my adult life. I was lucky I guess to catch the tail end of the last generation that was allowed to compete, win, lose, and sometimes feel badly about ourselves. Now we all get trophies just for showing up. We’re told that good enough is ok. And for God’s holy sake we must walk on every eggshell in order to avoid saying or doing something that someone, somewhere may find in any way offensive or objectionable.
So here’s my open invitation: If you ever find yourself in a conversation with me, just spit out whatever is on your mind. Don’t feel any need to mince your words or to use euphemisms to “soften the blow.” Be honest and forthright in your meaning – you know, the way our parents taught us. You’re not going to hurt my feelings because we’re grown adults and anywhere within my (admittedly limited) span of control you’re allowed – even encouraged – to have an opinion different than mine. On some level I might even find some of those opinions offensive. That’s ok too. Having your ideas challenged builds character. And believe it or not, having character and the courage of your convictions use to be considered a good thing.
Not now, though. What we want now is a world where we all think the same things, feel the same way, don’t rock the boat too hard, or heaven forbid, have an original idea that doesn’t march in lock step with whatever passes for the mainstream. Don’t offend anyone. Don’t hurt their feelings. Don’t dare express an opinion that isn’t approved, packaged, and sanitized for your goddamned protection.
There was a time we did great things in this country. It was a time when we were dared to dream heroic dreams… but it was also a time when we didn’t worry quite so much about bumps, bruises, and skinned knees – and when having a bad case of the feels wasn’t considered a mortal wound.
1. Everything being bad for you. Sunscreen is bad for you. Sun burns are bad for you. GMO crops feed the world, but they’ll make your kid grow a tail. Egg whites are ok. Egg yellows steal your soul or some such foolishness. As much as I appreciate living in an age of seemingly limitless information, I need to break down one cold, simple truth: We’re all going to die. Some will die young. Some will die old. It’s been that way forever and there’s no current way around it. Everything is bad for you. Everything in the world is trying to make you sick and speed you to your grave… As much as I appreciate people who honestly want to live a healthy lifestyle I just don’t have the mental energy to worry about whether the tomatoes at the Amish market was raised without pesticides or antibiotics in a free range, organic environment. Maybe it should concern me more, but it really, really doesn’t.
2. Delmarva Power. Yes I know I can save money on “peak savings” days by turning off my air conditioner between the hours of 2PM and 8PM when demand is highest. No, I’m not going to do that, though. Your job is to produce and distribute power to satisfy demand – yes even on the hot days – so no I won’t be sweating my ass off in my own home on the next 97 degree day so you can avoid lighting off the last few boilers or skip buying energy from a 3rd party producer. I’ll keep doing my job so I can pay the bills, you go ahead and do yours so we don’t unexpectedly plunge back into the 1870s.
3. Manual signature required. We’re in the year AD 2015. It defies imagination that there is still a situation where I would have to print something out, sign it with a pen, scan it, and then send it back to someone in order for something to be “official.” It’s even more fanciful when we decide to send the same document around for electronic signature “so we have both on file.” Two exact copies of the same document. One signed by pen and then sent back electronically, the other signed by ID card and then sent back electronically… both then printed out and stuffed into a manila folder to be deposited in a file drawer and then not to see the light of day for potentially a decade or more. The fact that this is still how we do things is, sadly, not at all a cause for surprise.