Saturday, November 2, 2013

Leadership Responsibilities

 For today's Work Until You Drop I refer you to the following article about why the Tampa Bay Buc's coach Greg Schiano should not be fired:

It is a commentary, and is well done. The writer (Jeff Briscoe) lays out a good argument, talking about all of the things stacked against the coach. And Schiano needs a defender; nobody is in his corner, so what's the harm of one or two people arguing for keeping him.

I will lay out a single argument for why he should be fired: winning football games is his responsibility. It is his job. And he has been given ample chances to do his job. How many working-class people have been fired even with fewer failures than Schiano?

A leader is also a fall guy. That comes with the job. Part of the problem with our delayed economic recovery is that too many leaders are allowed to continue in their jobs, despite failing. In Japan, if the head of a company consistently fails, or causes a scandal, they step down, bowing apologetically. Never mind that often the "network" takes care of them. It is the image that matters to those that do the work. We feel slightly better when we know there is some level of humility at the top, that a person can be fired for failure even on the other side of the glass ceiling.

So Schiano should be fired because it is he didn't accomplish his job. Did his leadership hamstring him? Surely. Yet at the end of the day, these are all professional athletes. They are capable of running routes or blocking or tackling or any of the other tasks that football players must do. It is the coach's job to pull them together into a cohesive unit, to make them gel, to create plays that they can execute. And he failed at that. If this was Japan, he wouldn't get fired - he would step down for the good of the team. Which might not be the best thing for the man.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Getting Fired, hired, and working downtown

I took a new job.

That's not something I normally like to do. I'm a stability person. One job for a long time works for me. Just not always for other people. So, tired of contracting, I took the opportunity to work for an old friend for whom I have great, great respect, in a company I truly admire.

Working in downtown Nashville is not quite the same thing as when I worked in downtown San Francisco, or downtown Osaka, or any other downtown where I've worked. For one thing, no other downtown blares country music on the sidewalks. And I've seen quite a few friends at totally random times. That's not a big-city thing. Wearing a suit every day is hard, which is a very first-world problem.

The real bothersome thing is the Starbucks. It's too convenient.

Last week I was standing in line at Starbucks waiting to order my personal addiction (iced Americano) and overheard a conversation between three people: two women and a man. They were talking about a coworker who had been fired. I wanted desperately to step in and play therapist for them, because I could tell that they didn't know how to feel or what to say. "She maybe deserved it." "She should have seen it coming." "She was a nice lady." "I always liked her."

Then they said that it was probably okay, because the lady has a new granddaughter, and the lady has had some health issues so she really can use the time off to get better and bond with her granddaughter.

I wanted to ask if they were always that out of touch with reality.

Maybe the woman was rich. that could be, and in that case she probably could think about such things as time with a grandchild. I couldn't. Losing my job would jeopardize my family. It would compromise my position as the father, the typical male role that I know I shouldn't care so much about but I do, for better or worse.

Losing a job sucks. Everyone should go through it once in their life. Regardless of your socio-economic status, it is impossibly hard. Even if you find work right away, losing a job changes you. It bothered me that the younger people around me were so callous to that, or wanted to somehow assuage their guilt.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Assumptions and Unintended Consequences

I'm convinced that many of the world's problems are unintended consequences. Anyone who has done project management will tell you that the purpose of the job is to mitigate and prepare for the unknown.

Hand in hand with this is making incorrect assumptions. There is an image that assumptions are bad; they are not. Assumptions are the foundation of most research. It might be a quantified assumption, but much of what we do in life is a guess based on the information we have available.

The key, then, is information. But what do we do when we don't have the information?

We guess.

Take for example an incident I was involved in recently. My son's flag football game ended and he came off of the field after the game upset. The other coach said something to him in the hand shaking line. I couldn't make heads or tells of what was going on, so I went to ask my son's coach what happened.

Evidently that was not a good thing to do. My son's coach was talking with the other coach, who was (I soon learned) really, really upset. He marched over to me really mad and started jawing at me, I told him it wasn't his place, turned and tried to leave. He continued to talk.

Now, I'm not an aggressive guy. At all. But if you're going to threaten me I'm going not going to be too passive. I walked away with an eye at him and the men on his sideline who had come onto the field. Then we left.

Assumptions were made all around. I assumed that I would be able to talk with my son's coach and assumed that the situation wasn't that big of a deal; news flash: 13-year-olds get worked up. The opposing coach assumed I was coming at him angry; his parents assumed I was making a confrontation (never mind the other guy is the one that walked across the field).

How often do we see this in the real world? When Iran, for example, made overtures of peace, wasn't there a knee-jerk reaction? That might not be the best example because Iran has somewhat earned that. How about the story of a school in Alabama that had a college-level language instructor on staff who could teach a foreign language at a very high level - only that language is Arabic, and it was assumed he would be teaching the kids to be terrorists. Or the government shutdown - there are lots of assumptions about this or that being politically motivated.

An assumption is only as good as the facts it is based on. I endeavor in my life to avoid the quick assumption; gather facts then present is my strategy. But even with the most honest and best preparation, sometimes we face unintended consequences.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Key to Happiness

I don't worry about happiness. That's the key. It's a "watched pot never boils" kind of thing. If I sit around lamenting how unhappy I am, I will never be happy, because, by definition, sitting around lamenting things is an unhappy activity. Just accept that jobs suck; we both have plenty of empirical evidence to support that. There is no perfect job. And while I am insatiably bitter about losing my last job, I can move on because I've also come to recognize that maybe I am using my talents; only, my talents aren't what I thought they were or what I wanted. I work and do my best to make my work day enjoyable. Then, when I go home, I ride my bike or read a book or work in the yard - all things I enjoy. If it wasn't for the work (that I might not enjoy so much) I couldn't do the other things that I do enjoy.

It hasn't been easy; but the rewards are great. I sleep much better. My wife and I have a good relationship, especially considering we've been married almost 19 years. We travel pretty much wherever we want, which is possible because of my ability to now detach myself from work - no more vacations worrying about work, or, worse, not even taking the time off because I'm afraid of the work that will back up. Let it. I don't care. It will back up regardless of my presence. So why worry about something that's inevitable? Work will always be there. And I am thankful of that, actually, because it's through that work that I can do the other things I want. Like have a family and a home. And food. I love my food.

I've gotten very Zen about life. Sure I have depression still and that sucks, and there are tough days. But I am treating my life like driving down the road. I can only control the vehicle I am in, and I can only see the obstacles around me at any given moment. There could be a baby sitting in the road five miles ahead but I can't know that. So I ... let go of the desire (and resulting depression) to know what's outside of my control.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Four way stop

This isn't exactly a work or leadership post. So if you are one of the two people who come here expecting biting commentary on working and leadership, prepare for something else.

I'm going to talk about four way stops.

Because it bugs me.

The rules are pretty simple. The car that gets to the stop line first gets the right of way. If two cars get there at the same time, the car to the right has the right of way. If the cars are across from each other, then the one going straight has the right of way.

Being nice and letting other people go at the four way stop doesn't help anyone, and really isn't being nice at all. You see, when you do that, the rhythm of a crowded four way stop gets thrown off, and it is really an inconvenience to the cars behind A) you; and B) the other cars at the intersection.

And don't get me started on the jerks that take the right of way from somebody else.

The lesson in this is that kindness to one person can often be an unkindness to a whole group of other people. There are certainly circumstances in life where we should be kind to someone at the risk of spoiling things for others. But the four way stop isn't one of those situations, because the other people are not expecting or wanting that kindness. It isn't needed. If you're the sort that believes in Karma, you're really wasting Karma points. (I am too lazy to look up if Karma is a proper noun; but I'll capitalize it anyway, just in case, because capitalizing Karma hurts nobody and maybe gains me some Karma points.)

It is my belief that most of the time when people do this it's because they haven't paid attention to whose turn it is. So pay attention, follow the basic rules, and we'll all get home in the most efficient way.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Labor Day

Labor Day:

The only problem I have with Labor Day is that I have a lot of strongly anti-union friends who take the day off. This is one of those holidays where people want to have their cake and eat it to. There is no more pro-union event in the country than Labor Day.

I don't understand the anti-union folks. Not that unions are great; they're not. They are as prone to corruption as any other organization that holds a lot of power. The lesson of unions today is that power corrupts; but anyone who has half a brain already knows that. As a concept, though, I am strongly pro-union. They have made our nation a better place. Don't believe me? Imagine World War II if we had not had unions in place to help make our manufacturing system the strongest in the world at the time. Read The Jungle if you have any doubt that unions made our nation better.

Short post today. Happy Labor Day to all of the working humps, from the C's on down. Just remember why you work and who does the work. That's what the day is about.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

You too can be the best bad manager in the world!

In the past week there have been a couple of articles/essays on LinkedIn that I have commented on. One is titled "You Can Do Anything You Set Your Mind to Do." The other is "Top 10 Tell-Tale Signs Of A Bad Boss."

First I want to address the notion that a person can do anything they set their mind to do. It's easy to poke holes in this; no matter how hard I flap my arms, I will not fly. That is a great oversimplification of the problem, of course. But I feel it is very bad for our society that we simplify the process of becoming a good human being. Comedian Denis Leary had a bit where he came home and told his dad that in school he learned that anyone could be President, and asked if he (Denis) could be President; his father laughed and said no. The truth is, we all have abilities and skills, and the purpose of a parent (or manager or coworker) is to help others maximize their abilities. I don't tell my son, for example, that he can become a Navy pilot, because unless the regulations change his severe food allergies will prevent him from even becoming a Navy deck swabber. And kids are smart enough to know this. So if we tell them "you can be anything you want" we are building them up for something they cannot achieve. Also, I personally cannot have the job I want, which is to manage a corporation's Japanese operations; my family is firmly rooted here in Nashville, and my industry (healthcare software) has very few opportunities in that area. I am very good at what I do, and I keep edging towards those few companies that are global. Yet even if such an opportunity came up, I couldn't move my family; I would have to go alone, and I'm a very devoted family man. So no, you cannot do whatever you set your mind to; you can try, you can work towards a goal, but I know very few people who can attest to the reality of that sentiment.

Now, about the tell-tale signs of a bad boss. Most people know if they have a bad boss. What is most important, and largely overlooked in the literature, is for an upper-manager to know when they've hired a bad boss. My last director, for example, was abysmal. She has no cheerleaders in the company, except for the CIO, and meets the criteria of most "bad boss" lists that I've seen. Yet she not only continues to be a boss, she was promoted despite plenty of evidence of inferior leadership skills (and, honestly, bad performance as well). She isn't the only one I have seen in that situation; over the years I've witnessed many bad managers succeed when, had they been a cubicle-dweller, they might have been fired. I'm not in management and not privy to the goings-on above the glass ceiling, but sometimes it seems that the "too big to fail" mentality applies to people we've hired, trusted, put money into, and then continued to support. So managers, particularly the execs, determine what is most important: leadership or management. Ideally you want both in one person, but that is hard to come by. Whenever you hire a manager, or when you evaluate their performance, ask yourself this: would you work for that person?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

War games

My favorite time killer at the moment is to play Total War's "Shogun 2" game on my computer. In the game, you take the role as head of one of Japan's clans and then try to take over the entire nation. Technically I've already lost the game; but I am bull-headed and want to control every province of the game. There is probably a very good psychology paper waiting to be written about this.

It is a mixed-genre game. Turn based, it also offers real-time combat simulation. In the transition between these two formats, the screen pops up all of these quotes by military leaders. Mostly they are Japanese, but sometimes there are quotes from Bismark or Sun Tzu. Some are samurai death poems, and are thus quite profound. Others are more direct. When I read these, it makes me think about parallels in non-military life.One in particular stands out, by Kato Kiyomasa.

"It is said that the inferior seek to emulate the superior. Thus, if a general slackens only a little, those beneath him will be greatly negligent."

Aside from my problems with the words "inferior" and "superior" (I take this as a translation problem; I prefer "subordinate" and "superior"), this is true, of course. A soldier heading into battle will follow behind the captain who leads the charge with sabre held high, screaming bloody murder. But I also wonder if it cannot be used as a way to measure a subordinate's leadership potential. Meaning, let's say you are a third party looking at a team and see a lax leader; you should look at the team and see who isn't emulating their superior.

I also think this quote is a good insight into the Japanese mindset, where hard work is perhaps valued more than output. Not that output isn't important; not at all. Quality is very, very highly valued in Japan. Yet how many people stay in their offices until late simply because that is what's expected of them? There is a law of diminishing returns when it comes to the amount of work put into a project and the quality that comes out. A worker can only be so good, and no amount of polishing the turd will make him better. Writer C.J. Cherryh explored this concept in Cyteen.

Back to the quote. A second point. Leaders should certainly always keep the pedal down. But on their own work. Lead by example. Hammering others to produce is all well and good, but people will follow a leader who shows a willingness to do the work themselves. Another Japanese samurai said that a good leader does most of the work and takes little of the credit. While I'm not sure that hits the mark, it's close. I personally do not like working for someone who cannot understand my job. Not simply that, but cannot conceive that they don't understand what I do, and insist on their way forward even when that path is based on vapor and leads to trouble.

Finally, and I've harped on this before, leading is different from managing. There have been many great military leaders who fell apart once the war ended. Organizing a cavalry charge is not the same as organizing a team of people who all work independently on a series of project to implement an application for clinics embedded inside a factory, each with different dependencies, and, oh yeah, two of those people need off for Fall Break because they've been planning trips with their kids for months, and a third got sick and might need surgery... you get the idea. A lot of the failed managers I've seen don't understand this. They cannot delineate between leading and managing.

Not that I would have wanted to work for a samurai. I've seen enough movies to know how that ends.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Measurement of Success

Today's topic comes from Dilbert:
For those that don't want to read the strip, in it bad survey scores indicate a distrust of management; so management cancels employee surveys. This might sound far fetched, but I have seen something very similar happen. I have also seen surveys changed so that there are really no negative answers.

Let me digress for a moment and talk about education. In Nashville high schools, you can now no longer get a grade lower than a 50. No grade of 0 will be given for even the crappiest work. As we talked about this at dinner last night, I complained that it isn't how life works.

But maybe I was wrong. The Dilbert cartoon made me realize this. You see, we spend a great deal of time trying to not fail. That is fundamentally different from spending time succeeding. We are married to test scores, so much so that it is impossible to separate the different realities that govern our lives. What I mean is this: a bad score doesn't mean you're a failure, yet that's what we see. So instead of teaching kids that a 0 is an opportunity, a window into their weaknesses and a chance to improve, we've decided to not give them a grade of 0. Us working stiffs are all too familiar with the emphasis put on survey scores, which is the working-world's interpretation of the "no 0 grade" policy. For example, I've seen situations where a company expects that scores be impossibly high. If the scale goes to 5, they want the average to be 4.6. Common sense tells us that just can't happen without fudging the numbers. Which people do. In one company, we found surveys going to personal emails of the employees so that they could get the numbers up.

I guess what I'm driving at is this: perhaps what we need isn't a new way to measure success/failure (quantitative analysis), but a new way to interpret it (qualitative). There is nothing wrong with expecting us humps to achieve perfection; I strive for that personally. But I recognize that I will never reach it, that perfection will always be just out of reach. Companies need to accommodate this, need to find a way to measure "good enough."

And the company that asked for those impossibly high survey scores did, in fact, achieve that, in a way. They either found ways to artificially inflate the numbers by omitting some surveys, or gave bonuses for being close. Which begs the question: why have a goal at all if you're not going to honestly adhere to it?

Monday, July 22, 2013


Summer soccer is almost over.

We are known as the Global Geezers, because we're an international group. And we're old. Also, the initials GG, when said aloud, is a Japanese slang for "old man."

This summer we played in the over-30 league because there is no over-40 league in summer. It is humbling, because you realize how much we change in the short course of a decade. The over-30s are very competitive, hard charging, and quick with their feet. And that's in the lower division. I'd hate to play against an upper division squad. In the over-40 league we're middle of the pack, and are poised to be in the top one or two teams this coming fall. Over-30 - not so much. Second from the bottom of ten teams, which isn't too bad.

Playing a sport is frustrating for me. For one thing, I quit sports in high school for no reason than I was a teenager and that's what teenagers do, because at that age I had a life ahead of me. Now, at almost 43, the majority of my life is behind me. I still have plenty of good years to do great things. What is changed is the confidence. When I play soccer I feel that lack of confidence. If I don't tape my ankles I risk severe injury, and that tape is all that keeps the pain at bay during the game. Not that I let pain stop me. Maybe that's why my ankles hurt; I will play through sprains. In fact, for a long time I was playing with a torn ligament, which surprised my doctor when he went in to remove bone spur in my right ankle; he asked how I was able to do anything, because the ligament was torn and there was infection in the ankle.

That attitude should serve me well in work. Only it doesn't, because I'm in a follower position. Leaders need to be fearless, driven. Followers - well, I guess it depends on the situation, but to use my standard military analogy, I'm a grunt, an infantryman, boots on the ground. You don't want your infantryman to use too much personal initiative. They need to follow orders, do what they are told. And that is hard for me.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Unemployment Part 2 - So, you've lost your job - Now what?

In the last post I talked about ways to live your life so that, when unemployment happens, you might at least have some amount of financial stability, if not outright security. This post will deal with the feelings you have right after the layoff.

When I lived in California I got laid off four times in five years. Only one of those was a total surprise. Not that I was a pessimist, but you can generally tell if the company is struggling. This was during the Internet boom and bust. There were a lot of people getting laid off. You sort of expected it when you were just a journeyman white collar laborer.

My first layoff was with a very successful (still) software company. I had applied to a totally different company, not realizing that a much larger group had purchased them. So I actually got a job with a prestigious place, and I got to brag to my friends about it. I was not that good at the job. That was my fault. I chose to enter a profession that all but guaranteed failure, in that job and others to follow. I was in technical marketing. Anyway, about a year goes by and I've done okay. Not a great success, but not a great failure, either. Then we got this new VP. She was my first exposure to a truly bad leader. She brought with her to the job a consultant who happened to do the same thing I did; once she paid this consultant to re-write a white paper I had written, and when I did a file compare the consultant had changed less than 1% of the document. It was a great use of corporate resources. Anyway, the company was doing a website redesign. Part of my job was to assist the competitive intelligence team, and as soon as I saw the redesign (which had been completed and was in BETA mode) I noticed it looked just like our leading competitor's site. I mean exactly, to the point that if you saw the web pages side by side you couldn't tell a bit of difference. So I told my VP, who asked that I sent a summary email, which I did. She then forwarded that email to everyone at her level and above who had anything to do with the redesign. I heard that the VP of that team was severely reamed out over the redesign. Fast forward a couple of months. They announce that our group was being downsized and rolled into the corporate structure. If there were jobs available, we could apply and our applications would get strong consideration. There was one job available: under the VP that I had unintentionally embarrassed. Needless to say I didn't get the job.

Why tell this long story? Because that was the first time I was laid off. At that time my wife was in a PhD program at Berkeley, and the week after my layoff she had some major exams. I didn't tell her I lost my job. That might sound like a horrible thing to do, but she had enough to worry about; her exams were very important. What was to be gained by telling her? We were already living on a very tight budget. Every day for the week of her exams I left at my normal time and, rather than go into the city, I rode my bicycle up to a park above Berkeley or went to the library all day. When her exams were over, then I told her. Luckily, because of the Internet boom, I had a job within a month.

So how will you handle your layoff? It is easy to think selfishly, even if we're trying to be selfless. If you are married, your first task is to tell your spouse. And I suggest just coming out and saying it. "Honey I lost my job today. We'll be okay." Each relationship is different, and this can be a strong disruption, to say the least, and that's why I waited to tell my wife; telling her might have made me feel better, but it would have hurt her. But it is important to get your spouse on the same page as soon as possible, so your significant other doesn't go out and buy a big-ticket item.

Next we'll talk about the business of being unemployed. And you should treat it as such. Take advantage of the resources available, and set yourself a schedule.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Unemployment Part 1

Today's post is about unemployment. In theory this will be a series, providing guidance to all those who either are unemployed or think they might be.

And everyone might be.

That sounds like a pessimistic note to start out on, but it is simply reality. Unless you are one of the privileged few who are privy to the ins and outs of your company's health, you really don't know what is going on. This isn't to say that you should sit around worrying about losing your job; that is a fast track to making your fears into reality. But prepare for it, just like you prepare for any other potential disaster in your life. You have homeowners insurance, right? Car insurance? Health insurance? There is no "unemployment" insurance (though I think I have a great business idea...), so plan for it.

First, I will echo what financial planners have been saying since the down of time: save money. There is no better way to survive a layoff than being in financially strong health. This doesn't mean rich. It means stable. And I'll probably piss people off with this next comment: part of being financially healthy means NOT eating out all of the time. Why? Because it's a hard habit to break. If you're married, and especially if you have kids, you'll find that suddenly having to eat meals at home that might not be that great is a burden on everyone.

Second, have a savings account that is accessible. It does you no good to have money in the bank if it's locked up in an IRA or a CD.

Third, when the event happens, evaluate your finances immediately. Plan on being out of work for a year. Can you do it? How far can you go without needing to break down and work on a loading dock someplace or begging the manager at McDonald's to hire you? This is important because you really don't want to take a job in desperation; that could lead to getting the wrong job for you. I did this once. It worked out for me in the long run, but I had to beg the hiring manager to bring me on because my wife and I were young with a young baby, new to town and with limited savings.

And on that note....

Finally, look at your career objectively. Are you doing what you want? Are you an example of the Peter Principle, where you've been elevated one level beyond your competency? Maybe you should take a step back down the career ladder. Or maybe it's time to wake up and move up the ladder; were you let go because you maxed out your job-title wage increases and the company could hire someone equally competent for less money? Go to the library and get a book on a new programming language, or start on your project management certification, or... whatever, just as long as you keep an eye on your career.

More to come....

Monday, June 24, 2013


This article came across the Facebook news feed today:

After the Show: The Many Faces of the Performer

The article looks at the apparent contradictions in creative people. For example, creative people can be both extroverted and introverted at the same time. This resonates with me. One major problem with the article (as well as with the links provided within) is that the writer focuses on performance art. Creativity is obviously much broader than getting up on a stage and singing, dancing, or telling jokes.

But the article made me think on how hard it is to be a creative person in the workplace. I know that some of my managers struggle with this. "You are really smart and creative," I've been told, right before being given some criticism.

Do companies want creative people? I believe most would say that they do. That is really just our conditioning, though. From my experience, while companies value creativity up to a point, they really want people who can move the corporate agenda forward. That makes sense. Businesses have goals, often financial in nature, and the ability to write a kick-ass poem or say a problem is "system agnostic" in a support ticket isn't necessarily important.

I argue that it is. For example, I am a hell of a problem solver. I believe this comes from years of writing. Not simply writing, but studying writing, and working to hone my own craft. A writer must have the ability to see through issues. Even if you write a crappy novel (which it appears I have done - three times), a book-length work requires seeing far down the road in both directions - both where you've been and where you're going. And that is at the root of problem solving. Far too often I've seen people think only a step or two in either direction. Problems are rarely so simple. A leader must be capable of understanding how an issue happened, and that is often accomplished by aggregating a lot of other problems, some of which might not have seemed in any way connected. Then, when the problem is diagnosed, the fix cannot break anything else. How often does a software patch fix problem A but also cause two other issues? I recall one incident in which a director who didn't understand the system told end users to take an action that resulted in double-billing our customers. Had she been more creatively gifted, perhaps she could have followed the plot beyond resolving whatever the immediate problem was (and, incidentally, the fix wasn't even her decision to make; she is known for going rogue).

So all you leadership position types: value the creative people. Encourage them. Give them a proper path to follow and don't force every worker into the same tight templates. In the long run your company will benefit, and so will you.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Leadership from a requiem

I went to see a performance of Mozart's Requiem. The orchestra and choir were from Vanderbilt's wonderful Blair School of Music. They came to my church to perform. The acoustics in our chapel are very rich and perfectly suited to that type of music. Watching the performance I came up with a couple of good leadership lessons.

The first was from the choir. Actually there are a couple of things I noticed as I watched them. There were four soloists: a bass, a tenor, an alto, and a soprano. In the bass section there was a young man who really didn't look to be trying very hard. On the surface he just wasn't "performing." He was singing. I watched him throughout and realized that he was actually quite passionate about his singing; but it was a subtle passion. Someone once said of Roy Orbison that he didn't look like he was putting any effort into singing; and if you watch him, he looks pretty ambivalent about performing. But the beauty of his voice is undeniable. That's what I thought of when I saw that young man in the choir. He'll never be a soloists as long as he doesn't *appear* to be doing his job well. There's an obvious lesson there, but it should be one for leaders rather than employees; just because a person appears to do something with little effort does not mean there is no effort involved. It takes patience and faith to see the passion a person puts into their task. Another note on the choir. Of the four soloists, I only one of them seemed to also be singing the non-solo parts. The others sat looking regal and diva-like; but the bass singer was singing along. He didn't put the passion into it like he did when he was doing his solo. But he was still singing. That got me to wondering how a soloist gets that job.  Was the young man so passionate about singing that he wanted to help his peers? Did he long for the days when he was one of the masses? All too often leaders relish being in leadership and forget where they came from; sometimes that's because they came from nowhere.

The other leadership lesson comes from the obvious place: the conductor. In this case the man conducting this wonderful work was a member of my church. He was obviously very passionate about what he was doing, and because of that everyone watched him. Now, that's their job; they must watch him to know what to do next. But you could see in their eyes that they trusted him to lead them down the path, and they willingly followed him on the journey. Whether the person was looking for personal gain or wanted to be the best member of the group they could be - they all followed. And to me that was amazing to watch. It's doubtful that the conductor could do most of the jobs of the people following him; he is a singer, and I assume he plays an instrument. But not all instruments, and certainly not all vocal ranges. Yet despite that, he was able to lead people. That's because he trusts the people to do their job. The first violinists are in that position because they know what they're doing; the horn players, the cellists, everyone was trusted by him, and that's why he was able to lead them. He didn't just demand respect; he demanded they do their job, and because of that faith in them they trusted him to lead.

One final lesson: life offers us many chances to lead. It also offers us many ways we can follow. The difficulty is when we want to do the former, but perhaps are best suited to the latter.

Leadership from ruin

Today's leadership lesson comes from the aftermath of the tsunami disaster in Japan a couple of years ago:

No doubt there are many such stories, most of which we'll never hear. In this case, I think the lesson is clear, as the article states: the man is forging his destiny. We all do this, of course, every day of our lives. Sometimes an opportunity comes along to take a giant leap forward. You could argue that such opportunities are always around us; but they're not always obvious. Usually we have to uncover them, even if by minimal effort.

Kudos to this man for doing what he can to make the world a better place. That's the purpose of leadership; it's not about the self. It might be lonely at the top, but we cannot lead alone.

Firing Line

Once I managed a housing facility. My staff was a pretty diverse group of 13. They were a quirky bunch, but all were hard workers and they did what I asked. If I asked too much, they told me. I considered that part of my job; they knew their limits, and as their manager I needed to trust them; they knew their jobs, after all. That's why they were hired.

A few months into the job one of my workers started showing up late. First it was once a week, but it grew to be worse. I told him to start coming in on time, but it didn't get better. Finally, my director said we cannot tolerate it any longer. I was ordered to fire him.

I took him into my office and had him sit across from me. The foreman was with me.

"I'm in a bad spot," I said. "I've talked with you about coming in late, and you keep doing it. It's really important that you tell me why right now."

He said the mother of his child had become very erratic in the previous month. That left him with the responsibility to take care of the baby. Every day his mother came to get the infant on her way home from a night-shift job, and sometimes she had to work over and so he was late.

I told him to give me a day to think about it. When he left, I asked the foreman if we he thought a staggered shift would fix the problem. He said that there were a couple of other employees that might like that idea. I wrote up a proposal to my director and he approved it. My staff worked out who would come in an hour later than the others, and it became policy at all facilities. In the end I didn't have to fire my worker because I analyzed the situation and came up with a solution that allowed the company to keep a valuable resource and also allowed the man to take care of his personal situation.

Whenever a friend of mine tells me they've been fired, I think on that situation. Do companies really do all they can to retain employees? Is there an analysis done on the cost of NOT having someone doing that job? My feeling is that the answer is no. Directors and managers can often be little dictators over their people, with complete authority to decide if that person stays or goes. Such power is unacceptable in our society; yet we accept it.

Been a long time ....

That's not such a bad thing, I guess. I stopped posting here for two reasons. One, I was warned by someone that management types at my company had seen my blog and had mentioned it in a negative light; not sure if that's true or not, but it made me wary. Second, I ran out of steam. Part of that was due to my depression taking hold; then I changed jobs, was very happy, and then oppressed in an extreme way. Very Dilbert-esque.

And then I was laid off.

Technically I resigned. They make you resign.

Now I'm on the bandwagon again. More posts to come, and I'm working on a book project around this blog. The working title is Biography of a Bad Manager. It is a culmination of my experiences as someone "being led" by managers. There are few leadership books from this perspective. Most are by Warren Buffet and others who are leaders telling other leaders how to lead. My project is from the perspective of one in the trenches. What is it like to be led?

I've been very lucky. Most of my managers have been good. There is one very glaring exception to this.

I am also working on my travelogue of a recent trip to Japan. Every publisher and agent I've sent it to has rejected it. Awesome.

Hopefully I still have people interested in this blog. Either way, I'll be putting up more posts soon.