The leadership vortex…

I’ve mentioned it before, but there’s a moment in the life of every event when the big day is close enough to finally attract the attention of the greatest of the high and mighty. It’s the moment when your rater, and his rater, and his rater, and his rater, and the big daddy rater of them all finally start paying attention. It’s a little bit like setting your desk up in the center of a hurricane. For lack of a better phrase I like to think of these last few days before an event starts as finding myself at the heart of the Leadership Vortex, where you’ll be assailed on all fronts by people who outrank you who have all, finally, been visited by the Good Idea Fairy. These moments represent a direct opposite condition to business as usual, which I so often charitably describe as finding yourself victim of the Black Hole of Leadership – in which everything you throw towards them for a decision disappears over the event horizon never to be seen again.

Friends, today I can report with equal parts joy and trepidation that we have reached the Leadership Vortex point in the current event’s planning cycle today. I’m joyful because it means the end is in sight while the trepidation stems from a dozen experiences of knowing how truly awful the center of the Vortex can get before you’re pushed clear on the other side. Yeah, currently I’m being provided leadership from every quarter to within an inch of my professional life.

There are a few things you need remember when you find yourself squarely in the middle of the leadership vortex:

1. The guidance you got yesterday or even an hour ago may or may not apply.

2. For the duration of the Vortex, every single person in your rating chain is now your immediate supervisor.

3. When you receive conflicting guidance, always defer to the ranking manager. You can’t shift the blame up, but it’s your best bet to find some modicum of top cover.

4. It can’t be escaped, simply endured.

5. This too will pass. Probably.

Sigh. The things we do for King and Country.

Legitimate controlling authority…

Despite having no actual personal interest in event planning, I have a skill for it. I’ve largely learned to accept that fate for the time being. The thing about being a party planner is that it relies entirely on convincing people to go along with whatever wild ass scheme you come up with for them since you have no actual statutory authority to direct anyone to do anything.

The largest portion of my job that isn’t slamming together PowerPoint slides is taken up by “facilitating.” Since I’m not a subject matter expert in nearly anything these days, I specialize in putting the right people in a room and trying to help them come up with a plan. Sometimes people don’t want to play along. That sucks, but beyond flooding their inbox with meeting invitations and leaving the occasional well-worded voice message, I don’t have any actual power to force anyone to show up.

There are those at echelons higher than reality, however, that do have the power to force people to show up at specific times and places where they would rather not be. When those people turn to you and demand to know why someone isn’t in the room, well, the best I can do is shrug and remind them that I sent the invitation, I followed up with multiple calls, I sent a second invitation… and that at the end of the day, I’m not the one with the authority to make anyone do shit.

If those with legitimate controlling authority choose not to exercise it in favor of having we mere mortals ask nicely, I have no idea why they’d expect the results to be anything other than what they are.

A time and a place…

Someone once said “There’s a time and a place for everything.” Apparently it was true enough that everyone around him started saying it too. Maybe it it. What nobody ever mentioned, though, is that if there’s a time and place for everything, there’s a corresponding time and place which is not for a thing. It’s worth trying to bear in mind, really, because you see the time and the place to tell me that the thing I’ve been working on all day “isn’t right” is not 15 minutes before the close of business. That’s especially true when I’ve been doing everything besides begging for guidance for months now.

All I’ve ever asked for is someone to tell me what the objective is – what they want the end result to look like. With that key piece of information, I can bend the world to fit that image. Without it, I’m just flailing around making shit up as we go along. As another old saw goes, “when you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”

I’ll just have to brace myself for the inevitable shitshow and mandatory ass chewing tomorrow… because Lord knows it’s always the time and place for that.

Teamwork still sucks…

TEAMWORK640-400x320My school of thought has always been that if given the choice I’d always prefer to be told what to do rather than how to do it. That’s how I approach most everything in my life. Now I’ve learned to turn that tendency off when required based on prevailing moods and opinions, but as a whole when I need someone to do something my default setting is always to tell them what rather than how.

That’s maybe one of the reasons I’ve never been particularly good at giving guidance. Despite being grown adults, it seems that most people want to be told exactly what, how much, or for how long to do something. Look, if I have to go into that level of detail with you, chances are it’s going to be faster if I just deal with it myself.

I’m not asking anyone to invent cold fusion over here. We’re talking about pretty basic stuff. If you’re pushing 50 and can’t figure out how to get there from here no amount of guidance I can provide is really going to help you. In fact it’s probably just going to make everything even more complicated than it already is.

There’s a reason that historically my best efforts are the ones when I’m left on my own to be a team of one. If I’m bluntly honest, this week has so far only served as a stark reminder that teamwork still sucks.