Preparing to beg forgivness…

We’ve entered a particularly dangerous part of the year… the point where the volume of information flowing towards me surpasses the available time in which to process it. Forget about trying to do any reasonable analysis, synchronizing or integrating data, or otherwise trying to build a comprehensive framework for whatever is happening. 

For the next seven business days I’m operating purely on the the input – reaction model. It’s triage, which incidentally isn’t a great way to function over any sustained duration, but isn’t awful in the short term… as long as you don’t particularly mind that while you’re making decisions based on short term convenience, there may be no one assessing the longer-term impact of those decisions. 

In fact, some would probably tell you longly and loudly that I am, in fact, not a “decision maker.” Technically that’s absolutely correct. My function in life is to provide information to the deciders and then carry out the decision as best I can. The reality, of course, is that there’s not always a decider around when you need one…. and even when they are around the time it takes to get them to make the actual decision is so long that 57 other decision points have piled up waiting for someone to do something with them.

Sometimes permission is a luxury the ticking clock just doesn’t accommodate. Fortunately I’m 100% comfortable begging for forgiveness as needed.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Getting a new project. I don’t mind taking on different work, but there are few things more professionally frustrating that being on the receiving end of a data dump of information about a project you haven’t in any way been part off. Generally I tend to prefer the quick hit projects that run for a couple of months, have their big finish, and then are put to sleep. It’s the never ending, ill defined efforts that are always a constant source of aggravation and annoyance. I suspect that’s mostly because of not having the background of how and why certain decisions were made. Basically all you end up with is an enormous steaming pile of email ​without history or context. The best you can hope for is that the guy running the project before you didn’t leave things an unmitigated cluster fuck and that you’ll be able to sift through the mass quantity of electronic paper to find the few gems that you really need to know.

2. If you say you value your people as your highest organizational asset, but then hold them two or three hours after the end of their normal duty day because you want to have a meeting and can’t be bothered to be in the office more than one day during the week, well, you can pretty much forget about ever recovering your credibility. Time is arguably the most rare commodity we have and when you think your people don’t have anything better to do with their (alleged) personal time than wait around to play the fawning audience, you’ve stopped being a leader and started being just some guy with a really good parking spot. I’ll respect the office because it’s the right thing to do, but respecting the office leaves me plenty of room to consider you a pretty crummy human being.

3. People. A dear friend of mine pitched the idea of going to DC to wander amongst the cherry blossoms this weekend. It sounds like a fine idea in practice. It’s a rare enough thing for both the blossoms and the weather and a weekend to cooperate all at the same time. The fact is, as good as it sounded, all I could really think about was the vast sea of humanity who would be there doing the same thing. I like the idea of festivals, concerts, and events in general… but the people. Sigh. Thats another matter entirely. I’ve heard that we all have some kind of neurosis and this one seems to be mine. I’ve never mastered the fine art of being around large groups of people and hiding my disgust at how many of them are oblivious to everything and everyone outside whatever personal bubble their occupying. I can do it when I have to or with sufficient preparation, but a whole day spent elbow to elbow with the masses sounds more than slightly hellish. The mental energy it would take not to completely lose my shit would leave my exhausted for the better part of the next week. I’m told I can be quite engaging with individuals or even a group of people I know reasonably well, but I’d be well and truly hopeless schlepping around a Tidal Basin full of perfect strangers.

Not for me…

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.

Hung…

There’s a long list of perks when it comes to not being the boss. One of the big ones is that you’re not the guy running interference and providing cover for a bunch of other people when things don’t go exactly according to plan. Keeping your people out of hot water comes with the territory; even when that means you have to take the body blows yourself. At least that’s how it was when I was a boss.

Look, I’ve been around this man’s Big Government Agency a long time and I know that occasionally a few shots are going to get through. It happens. But when it happens more often than not, I start getting nervous… and that’s when my very strong tendency towards self preservation kicks in because I’m not in the habit of letting myself get hung out to dry for anyone.

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.

Delicate sensibilities…

As alleged professionals, we all have basic responsibilities beyond those things described in our job descriptions. If your job description provides a laundry list of explicit tasks, our status as professionals imparts a second list of implied tasks that we need to carry out in order to accomplish our primary role. One of those implied tasks, at least in my mind, is reading and understanding the information put in front of us.

Part of my job, from time to time, is preparing electronic correspondence for senior leaders to inform them about upcoming meetings, key decisions made at high echelons, or to provide general information about the health of their organization. I generally write those messages as if our leaders aren’t mouth-breathing oxygen thieves. According to the self-anointed gatekeeper of such correspondence, my assumption is incorrect.

Apparently, selecting “forward” on the email task bar and referring them to the appropriate section of the message will lead to catastrophic confusion in the executive suite. These are important people and expecting them to use the little track wheel on their Blackberry to scroll down is too presumptuous. I’m told that our leaders can’t be troubled to read more than two or three sentences in an email, so it’s critical that all salient facts be presented in the viewable space when they first open a message. Thanks to my colleague, I now know that our leaders are too busy to read or contemplate any message involving the slightest hint of complexity.

Call me difficult, but when the topic has been perfectly well summarized by someone already, I don’t see any value to taking 30 minutes to reword it based on the argument that the big words might confuse our leaders or that having a message forwarded might offend their delicate sensibilities. Despite my occasional arguments to the contrary, I don’t really think our leaders are that dumb and I certainly don’t think they are that delicate.

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.

A matter of priorities…

So far we’ve had two meetings today with the Uberboss. One topic was a training program that no one wants to participate in and the other is about a report that literally no one is going to read. How do I know that no one will read it? Easy. The office that requested the report in the first place no longer exists. But I digress.

I’m not saying that management has its priorities jacked up, but at some point in the near future, we might want to actually schedule a meeting about the year’s budget request that has been rejected twice now by the home office. Way back when dinosaurs ruled the earth and I was an MBA student, I learned that having a budget and sticking to it was among the most important things I needed to do as a manager. Maybe I missed the day when they went over the part where they were joking and really the budget was just something you should blow off since no one really needs money anyway. Or maybe he just went to a different school.

So, once again our fearless leader is at war with his own superiors. Yeah, I’m sure this is going to end well. Maybe we should just schedule a meeting to talk about new signage for office doors… Which would be funny if it weren’t already on the calendar for next week.

Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of previously de-published blogs appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.