Yes, I know I work in a different office than you do, but you need to get it through your thick skull that I’m not the enemy here and I’m not asking for information because I want to start a game of gottcha. The bottom line is I need this information to do my job. If what I’m going to discover in that data is somehow professionally embarrassing to you, while I feel bad about that, it’s not going to stop me from getting the information I need…
But go ahead and feel free to slam the door in my face, because now I get to go to my boss, who’s going to go to his boss, who’s going to walk across the hall to see your boss and explain that you are going to release the files I’m asking for. The only thing different is that instead of me having three days to do the analysis, I’m going to do it in one… and spend the other two stage-managing the inter-office war that you’ve decided to start.
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.
The more time I spend around people, the more I like my dogs. There are plenty of people I like well enough, but after a day at the office, there’s nothing better than coming home to these two. They’re not going to want to talk or ask questions. They’re not going to need a PowerPoint on short notice. And they’re not going to call an impromptu meeting. They’re mostly going to be happy with the same dinner they’ve had every day for two years, hanging out on the patio, and an occasional scratch behind the ears. Dogs are decidedly uncomplicated like that. When the world where you spend eight hours a day is doing its level best to go sailing off the rails, they’re an amazing bit of dependable normalcy… and possibly the last bulwark between me and bludgeoning people into a coma with a three hole punch.
As a kid, I loved old movies… Westerns, war movies, dramas… I ate them up. That probably had something to do with spending almost every Sunday afternoon at my grandparent’s house, where the Sunday afternoon nap and movie were a staple of the week. That’s how I remember it at least. Some of my favorite movies were the 50s vintage comedies set during World War II. In fact they’re still some of my favorites – guaranteed to stop my channel surfing in its tracks every time.
Mr. Roberts is the story of a blowhard skipper commanding an unimportant supply ship at the far end of the Pacific war. Actually, it’s the story of the malcontent first officer and long-suffering crew of this unimportant supply ship at the far end of the Pacific war and the hijinks that ensue when they conspire to make life aboard ship a little less onerous despite the captain’s best efforts to make them all miserable. The main subplot revolves around Mr. Roberts ongoing effort to get a transfer and “get into the war” before the fighting is over. In the end, and with the help of crew, Roberts gets his transfer only to be killed by a kamikaze while fixing a cup of coffee. Make of that what you will.
A guy could learn alot about leadership and psychology from Mr. Roberts – from the skipper who values his bucket-planted palm tree above all other things, to the exec who finds in necessary to occasionally bend the rules, to the junior officer who rises to the challenge of telling truth to power, and the dangers of getting what you want most. There’s a message there somewhere in that 55 year old bit of cinematography.
I’ve been thinking alot about Mr. Roberts lately. In fact, some days I’d almost swear I was in the movie. If only the old man had a palm tree…
When things start coming off the rails, there are usually alot of small indicators that its about to happen or that it’s actually started happening. If you’re lucky, you’ll know what those indicators are when you see them. If you’re not, well, aren’t you in for a surprise?
Maybe the best heads up that stupid is in firm control of the situation is when the word goes out that it’s mandatory that everyone get along with one another. Respect is a slippery thing. The best people command it just because of who they are. They wear it like a cloak of authority. The second tier will get respect because of the position they happen to occupy. People will follow them, but their hearts aren’t likely to be in it. The worst of the lot try to command respect through intimidation and by exerting good old fashioned command and control. Sure, that works… For a while. In the end, all you’ve done is breed a culture of resentment, driven real opinion underground, and created a world where it’s better to hide than stand out. In that environment, you’ve set the stage for dissent, frustration, apathy – the great hallmarks of a race to the bottom and the time when you have to start telling people to be nice to each other.
Once you’re bogged down in that morass extracting yourself is a bit of a problem. Not impossible, but certainly not easy. The tendency of people is to stick to what they know. The factions will pile up. The conflict will continue. It’s the only release valve left when you’ve slammed shut the only other avenues of advance. No one wants to fail as a matter of principle and for the most part, people want to believe what they are doing makes a difference. Take that away and what’s left is a tiny universe filled with the cynical, the sarcastic, and the discontented. Not exactly a recipe for high performance teaming.
All the “Working with Difficult People” training and be nice to each other pep talks in the world aren’t going to fix that. At best, it only recognizes that things are on their way from bad to worse. That’s something, I suppose.
For the first time in my adult life, I’m actually conflicted over who will get my vote in a presidential election. Ideologically, neither major party candidate represents my general positions. McCain has me covered with his notions on defense, smaller government, and lower taxes across the board, but Palin terrifies me on social issues. Obama has a prayer of a chance of unifying the 75% of the country that aren’t insane rednecks, but I’m deeply troubled by his positions on foreign policy and taxation. I’ll be doing the whole early voting thing next weekend here in West Tennessee due to out of state travel plans on election day, but as it stands now, my vote is still thoroughly up for grabs. Right now it’s even odds and with the clock running down, I don’t know what it’s going to take to change that.