A Lesson in Leadership #WriteBravely #WTFOW2018

24 Jun , 2018  

One of the challenges of a blog challenge, blogfest, or writing prompt is to write about something that doesn’t immediately inspire you. This should be easy for someone who spent the largest part of their career, to date, as a technical writer, but that part of my career is in the past, and some part of me rebels. “This is not a work for hire, you dolt – why are you doing this to yourself?!” The cure, I’ve found, is to dive into the water and do a bit of research to find some intriguing little hook. It’s not always there, and I know from past experience I can dive down the rabbit hole of Google or a lovely old library full of dried out, dusty books that smell like history unfolding, and get lost for hours. I could go off on a thousand tangents, when there’s no paycheck riding on it. In this case, I have a deadline: noon today.

I finally settled on this – the second of three prompts for today:

“The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”

– The Lion King

You see, the first prompt was problematic; I’ve already told the Pygmy Story.

The third inspired – I have a beautiful photo like that of my husband and my daughter, but it feels too intimate to share on the blog, and I’m not inclined to blog about a stranger’s sweet moments of fatherly bonding.

The problem with number two is that there is nothing about my past that I’m inclined to run from. There’s little there that’s left a lasting hurt, at least in terms of things I’d run from or learn from. Lessons – we all have them, though I have met people who are more inclined to wallow in the problems than to run from them or learn from their past, and I find that annoying. You see, there’s that third option – don’t run, don’t learn, just wallow in quicksand till you’re stuck, and suffocate. At least have the good grace to run off and join a circus. Live an interesting life.

Which leads me to my other problem with prompt #2: Unlike so very many people, I don’t find quotations particularly compelling, 95% of the time. I make exceptions, now and then. Mere platitudes don’t speak to me, and I’ve been known to return fortune cookies–to insist on more interesting and relevant ones. Ever since reading the joke about the fortune that says, “Help! I’m trapped in a fortune cookie factory!” I’ve even toyed with the idea of going into the fortune cookie business, just to keep diners at Chinese restaurants from dying of boredom between dessert and the check.

Down the Rabbit Hole

I decided to look for more context for the quotation. It has been so many years since I watched The Lion King, with my children, but I figured there had to be more to that scene – something more memorable than “learn from the past.” I found this clip, on YouTube:

There we go. There’s the inspiration I needed: Don’t sugar coat it, just smack me over the head with the Inspiration Stick.

A Lesson in Leadership

I have been fortunate, in my career, to work for good managers. One of them mentored me through a period of being in over my head in a job for which I had none of the requisite skills beyond an aptitude for learning new things quickly. Twice, I made silly little mistakes that could have had major repercussions. I was sure that I’d be fired, and sure I deserved to be. I went to his office and confessed what I’d done before even having time to compose a dignified letter of resignation.

He looked at me for a long moment, then quietly asked, “Can you back your ass out of it?”

I was 20, or so, and wholly unprepared for a manager, especially one who had always struck me as a gentleman, to ask me such a blunt question. (Umm umm umm um…He said “ass”!) I struggled not to look too shocked and not to laugh. “Yes, Sir, I already have.”

“Good. Did you learn something from it?”

I had learned from my mistakes, both times this happened: The first time, I learned to be more careful and not just function on autopilot. I had known what I needed to do, but skipped a step out of carelessness. The second time, I learned that some of my coworkers thought it was safe to joke with me when telling me to do things – they had assumed I knew more than I did, like not to “delete anything from the drive that hasn’t been used in the last ten minutes” just because they ordered me to do it. (That coworker came with me to the manager’s office, prepared to take full responsibility. In hindsight, had anyone been fired that day, it would have been the guy with the professional experience to know better.)

“Yes, I did.”

“All right, then. Are you ever going to do this again?”

“No, Sir.” I’d be far too humiliated to make the same bone-headed mistakes in question; decades later, I wouldn’t make those exact same mistakes, again. I’m glad he didn’t say, “Are you ever going to screw up this royally again?” because I’d have been lying to promise I wouldn’t.

“Great. Now get back to work. The matter is closed.” We never spoke of it again.

I wish that more managers handled issues this way. Be kind, be a mentor, and offer absolution for mistakes that are instantly regretted and fixable. I think that, more than anything, cements employee loyalty because it builds trust and allows people the freedom to learn, to try things that may be outside their comfort zone, and lets them work without unreasonable fear of being whacked over the head by some monkey in a suit carrying a big stick.

, , , , , ,

6 Responses

  1. I enjoy stories like these that show pretty good leadership. Too bad I don’t see them all that often; sigh… He did the right thing and I can tell that even all these years later it made a very positive impact on your life. Yay!

    • Yay, indeed! I’ve often wished I could get in touch (tried to, recently, at that) and tell him just how much of a positive impact he had. He also gave me great advice about being kind to people who hadn’t had my advantages or education. I don’t always bat 1000 on that one, but when I’m failing, I can still see him saying it. We were at a team happy hour. I remember it like it was yesterday, even if I had absolutely no clue what he was talking about or trying to tell me, at the time.

  2. rummuser says:

    That breed of Managers are too few in real life to wish for more. I understand from many young people in the workforce now that the kind that they come across most is the KTTand KTB. That stands for Kiss The Top and Kick The Bottom. Some also use F instead of K in the second part.

    • Unfortunately still true many places, and worse in some industries than others. I’ve been lucky. I think I’ve only had one and a half bad managers. (Half, because I learned good things from one and worked well with them as a peer. As a manager, I think they MEANT well, but the execution was flawed. The other was just a really bad manager. Most have been great, though.)

  3. Mike Goad says:

    Bad managers/supervisors are usually the reason people quit. It’s not the pay or the working conditions — it’s the people one reports to.

    I only had one supervisor that I considered to be a bad one. I retired two years earlier than I had planned largely because of him. A year later, I went back as a contractor, doing largely the same work and working for the same supervisor as my contract manager. I don’t know why, but It was like night and day. I went back for five more “short term” contracts of varying lengths over the next ten years before finally calling it quits last December.

    • Maybe your “bad manager” was unhappy in his job, too. Maybe he didn’t much like being a manager. Maybe, when you agreed to come back and give him another chance, he tried to be a better manager because he knew he was the reason you’d left, and had a year to do some soul searching. Who knows? People do grow and change, if we let them. Maybe, being on a short term contract and knowing you weren’t “stuck”with the guy, or totally dependent on his whims for your career and paycheck, made YOU a different person and changed the relationship enough to let you see him in a different light. I think that happened with me and the “half bad manager.”

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: