I almost called in sick today. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night and this morning my face felt like the dentist had practiced his trade with a jackhammer instead of a drill. Hot coffee made it worse and I’d have liked nothing more than to kick back in my favorite comfy chair with an ice pack and gone about the important business of feeling better.
What I did instead, was pull up my big boy pants, swallow down a fist full of ibuprofen, and drive in to the office. I did this because I had one minor thing that needed to be done before noon and I didn’t feel like sticking anyone else with it. Instead of coming in and being able to knock this one small item off the list this morning, though, what I found was that none of what had been agreed to on Friday had actually been done. At least one of the people who needed to see it was on vacation. Another couldn’t be bothered to read any of the follow-up email.
So, because I was trying to do the right thing by not setting up one of my coworkers to have to send an email on up the chain, there I sat with my thumb firmly emplaced up my ass unable to get the most basic of things accomplished. The longer I serve this republic, the more convinced I become that no one enters these jobs angry and jaded, but they’re made so by circumstances and conditions well outside of their control.
I almost called in sick today. I should have done it. I allowed the possibility that I’d achieve something productive to cloud my judgement. I very clearly make bad decisions… and for that I am very, very sorry.
Letting decisions fester until the last possible moment is rarely a recipe for arriving at a well-considered answer. That may seem somewhat counterintuitive, because having more time to decide should allow someone to make the decision based on more perfect information. In my experience, that’s almost never actually the case. What really happens is that the decision is just put off and no actual thought is put into it until it’s the flaming bag of dog shit blistering the paint on your front porch. Put another way, the default setting is procrastination.
The real problem with waiting isn’t just that you leave a bunch of people sitting around with their thumbs up their asses while the pondering drags on for days or weeks. The problem is that in most cases decisions get delayed until it’s too late to apply any academic rigor and you just end up going off half-informed in whatever direction seems best at the time. Shooting from the hip with a scattergun is probably a fine strategy for defending your home from hopped up delinquents, but it rarely passes muster for decisions that require a little more fineness.
It’s not how I’d do things. In fact it’s precisely the opposite of how I run the 128 hours of my week for which I am the designated decision-maker. For the 40-hours a week wherein I have no decision-making authority whatsoever, though, that’s its own can of worms. The very best I can do is appraise those who do decide on the potential bad things that will result from waiting. After that all that’s left is a shrug and a muffled “told you so.”
1. Non-final decisions. Should I ever find myself deified and empowered to pass judgement from high atop Olympus, the cardinal sin that would earn my condemnation would be indecisiveness. If you’ve got the charter to lead, then by God, lead. Make a decision. Do something. Or just keep deferring any kind of actual decision until the diminishing number of hours available in which to act precludes all but one possible course of action.
2. Partisan politics. When Party A goes to the wall screaming about what Party B is doing, I mostly tune it out. I know my mind and no amount of rending of Congressional garments for the cameras will change that. When Party A spends the day screaming about something that Party B is doing and it’s exactly the kind of procedural jackassery Party A did when they were in the majority, well lord, I don’t know why anyone would ever think we could have a functioning legislative branch. I’m sick to death of politicians and people in general who only find something objectionable when it’s done by someone else, but perfectly fine when they do it.
3. Lack of marketable skills. My particular skill set is pretty closely tailored to work on the inside. There just is’t a lot of call for someone who can slam together a 150 slide powerpoint briefing, plan a party for 55 of your closest friends without breaking federal law, or estimate how much ice or water you might need after a hurricane (and know how to order and ship it). I’ve been on the inside so long now I wouldn’t even know how to apply for a gig outside. Of course there’s too much now tied up in retirement and benefits to really consider a wholesale change – especially when the jobs that sound even remotely interesting would lead directly from professional bliss to personal bankruptcy. I’m feeling just a little bit trapped and that makes me fantastically edgy.
1. “Emergencies”. We’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating. The way people throw around the work “emergency” in the contemporary office is basically laughable. No one is bleeding. No one is about to start bleeding. The word you’re probably looking for most often is “embarrassing” as in you’re about to be embarrassed due to something you did, were supposed to do, forgot about doing. Alternately, you might be about to get blasted because of poor decision making skills. In any case, those things might represent a legitimate personal emergency to you, but to the rest of us it’s really just a shrug and a so what. Let’s try to leave the talk of “emergencies” to the times when there really are barbarians at the gate or brass hitting the floor, ok?
2. County taxes. The proposed Cecil County budget for FY18 includes increases in both the real property and income taxes. It’s made all the more noxious because it was proposed by a Republican county executive who ran less than a year ago on a platform of fiscal accountability and no tax increases. I know, lying politician isn’t exactly breaking news. Still, though, I’m left to wonder why at some point it isn’t perfectly acceptable to say that we have X number of dollars to spend against Y number of services and when there’s no additional revenue for new or existing services, some things need to be cut. The politicians first response is always to borrow or tax their way into all the revenue they need instead of being required to live by an actual budget in which they can’t always purchase all the goods and services they’d like to have. In the end the bastards always end up with their hand just a little deeper in our pocket. I suppose that’s just what you get when every level of government desperately wants to buy the love and affection of the voters and seeks ways to be all things to all people.
3. Keeping my head in the game. I’m probably expending at least as much energy just trying to keep my head in the game as I am actually doing any productive work. That doesn’t feel like something that’s going to be sustainable over the long term. It’s easier some days than others, but for the most part by the time mid-afternoon rolls around I’m dumping every bit of available effort into just staying awake and some delusory productive activities. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t want to read some of the written products that fly off my desk after 2PM. Unless I absolutely can’t avoid it, I hold them as drafts and then clean them up the next morning when I’m still relatively fresh. It’s a hell of a way to run a railroad.
You could fill an entire sheet of paper with what annoys Jeff this week. I know this because I have just such a piece of paper in front of me while I’m typing this. Look at any three lines on that page and you’ll find three things that sent my blood pressure soaring into new and probably dangerous heights. The state of my cardio-vascular system, though, isn’t the point.
Instead of reading you the full list this week, I’ll offer commentary on just one – the one that is the most troubling, and pernicious. As Spiderman tells us, with great power comes great responsibility. That’s true enough, but what Spidey almost never talks directly about is how frequently people with that power abrogate their responsibility.
When that happens you have power making decisions based on optics rather than effectiveness… and once you have people more worried about how something looks in the photo op than how well it works in reality, you’ve lost any shred of credibility. Sure, you have the power to make those decisions. No one is going to stop you. They may not say anything, because everyone is terrified of telling truth to power, but they’ll judge you for it for the rest of your days. Sure, you can make people do stupid things, you can make them smile and take it, but you can never, ever make them like you or respect you as a human being.
The One Network that Rules Them All. When I got back to the office on Monday my computer didn’t work. Well, it worked, but the network didn’t. After 30 hours we stretched a Ethernet cable halfway to Baltimore so I could at least check email, but so far the official response has been “we have a help ticket in.” If you want an employee to be productive it feels like the minimum they should do is make sure you have basic office equipment that works. But alas, that seems to be a bridge too far.
National security. Apparently the cell phone storage area at the office presents a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States. The solution to this was to move the unlocked cabinet that contains 20-30 personally owned cell phones at any given time out into an open hallway. Perhaps we have served national security, but it feels like all we’ve really done is encourage property theft in the process. Call me crazy, but leaving an $800 phone unsecured in a building where people steal pie from the fridge feels just a little bit stupid. Net result, instead of being able to check my phone periodically during the day when I’m on my way to to meetings or go take a whiz, I’ll now be adopting a smoker’s schedule and schlepping out to my car once an hour. If only there were an easier way to be compliant and not try to pretend your employees live in 1983. Sigh.
Blaming others for bad personal decisions. Two douchebags were cornered in a cheap motel room by the police earlier this week in my adopted home town. Then they decided that being on the run from felony charges in another state wasn’t the only bad decision they wanted to make. One after another they raised their very realistic looking BB guns and very quickly paid the price for that level of stupidity. There are a couple of lessons here: 1) If you’re planning on making a last stand, try to have something with a bit more kick than a kid’s toy and 2) If you’re wanted on a felony warrant and the tactical unit shows up, all of your options from that point forward are bad for you… but some are worse than others. Now to the people who say it should have been ended peacefully, that they should have starved them out, all I can say that the only people to blame for these deaths are the ones that ended up getting killed. They committed a violent crime, they fled the jurisdiction, and when the police caught up with them they threatened the officers. I’m sure they were someone’s son and daughter, after all someone loves even the most useless of human beings, but as for me, well, sometimes I think it’s nice when the gene pool cleans itself a bit.
When you’re sitting in a meeting with the great, good, and mighty, and one of them asks “Who approved that,” the correct answer is never “I did.” It results in a collection of blank stares, curled lips, angsty glances, and general twitchiness among the host assembled.
Yes, Virginia, I had the audacity to make a decision or two all on my own. I do it more often than they want to know, because it’s the only possible way to keep everything anywhere even close to on schedule. If we want to fall into the mode where the shading and font of every slide needs executive approval, you might as well fire my ass right now. Some decisions need made on the spot and unless someone directs me not to, I’m going to make them. I’m going to do it not so much based on any written authority, but based on the fact that I’ve got half a damned brain in my head and I’m reasonably good at what I do. If you feel that I need that kind of hand holding at every decision point, I’m serious, you really should replace me with someone more competent.
Look, I’m not vetoing bills and sending them back to the Hill. I’m not negotiating treaties with hostile powers. I’m not offering to cut entire weapons systems out of our portfolio. I’m deciding what slide template looks best when projected on a 50-foot screen and how many reserved seats we’re going to need. It’s the operative definition of nug work. It’s the sort of thing that should be well below the notice of those wielding profound executive authority.
I didn’t want to be the point man on this team, but someone gave me a task and told me to get it done. I’ll do exactly that, but it would be one hell of a lot easier if we could stop tripping all over ourselves. Believe me when I say if I hit a snag, or when the decisions needed are truly above my pay grade, I’ll be the very first to go screaming for help.