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.
I’m not a decider. At one time, when I was young and ambitious, I thought that’s what I wanted. It was the career goal I chased for a while. In my analysis of the game, though, the return on investment just didn’t make it worth the effort. What can I say, I like it when my phone doesn’t ring at 7PM on a Friday because someone, somewhere did something stupid.
The problems start when someone at echelons higher than reality decides that because they have my phone number, I should be empowered to speak on behalf of the entire organization. While it’s flattering for someone to think I have that kind of power and influence, a quick reality check will show that my parameters wherein independent thought is authorized are fairly limited. More importantly, I respect those boundaries – largely because by keeping myself between them I can generally avoid having my ass handed to me. Once on the other side of them, however, it’s only a few slippery steps to getting yourself pummeled.
I’m happy to take you call. I’ll do my best to explain the official position of the organization. If you disagree I’m more than pleased to pass your concern on upwards through the chain of command. Eventually it will arrive in the office of someone who is empowered to make a decision. I’m not saying they will and if they do I’m in no way guaranteeing that it will be the decision you wanted. It’s important to note, however that I’m not now nor will I ever be that person… and I’m more than ok with that.
I have a very simple rule here at Fortress Jeff: When bad things happen as a result of piss poor decision making, the buck stops with me. I get the credit for the good stuff so it’s only fair that I take the blame when my decisions go awry.
When I was 20 years old and walked into the cave-like bar in the basement of the Hotel Gunter, I knew damned well and good I was under the legal drinking age. I also knew they’d serve me. When the local constabulary arrived asking to see everyone’s papers, I wasn’t the victim of a totalitarian police state. I was the victim of being a stupid 20 year old making my own bad decisions.
Four years later, when my beloved Jeep was broken into. The slash and grab cost me a few hundred dollars of CDs and an ashtray full of change. Yes, I blame the criminal for breaking into a locked vehicle, but I share the burden of blame because I left an easy target sitting in plain sight. If there hadn’t been something of obvious value in clear view I wonder if he’d have passed on to the next target of opportunity.
If nothing else, social media has shown me that we live in a world where people think we should just all love one another and there are butterflies and peppermint sticks at every turn. The reality is that we live in a world where bad things happen and where there are natural consequences that accompany every action. When you play stupid games, there’s a strong probability that you will win stupid prizes. No amount of wishing it different will change that.
I’m not here to shame any victims or absolve the fault of any criminals, but I am here to say that we’re all responsible for our own behaviors and actions. Bad things happen to good people all the time. The very best thing we can do as individuals is to understand the important relationship between action and consequence and the do our best to mitigate our personal risk factors. One awfully easy way of reducing the number of bad things that could happen to you is to give it some thought before you walk down a dark alley alone, or leave your computer laying on the back seat of your car, or drink until you’re blind drunk. People with bad intentions are out there already and they may do horrible things anyway, but it damned well doesn’t mean we should make ourselves an easy mark because we think we’ll be untouched by other people’s bad decisions and immune to the consequences of our own.