Contemplating Leadership

I never thought I would write about such a topic, but here I am.  For the first time in my life I’m entering management.  I’m co-team lead of a team of roughly thirty people and our job is to make sure that those people have enough work to do, have the resources they need to do that work, and also get rewarded when they do well.  If they do poorly, then they need the support to get back on track.

Always before I have worked under someone else, having no one but myself to be responsible for.  However, I have thought about leadershp a lot and have always wondered what kind of a leader I would be.

So I’m doing some things to improve my chances at doing a good job.

-I’m listening to the wiser heads around me and trying to absorb what advice they have to share.

-I’m trying to believe them when they say ‘you’ll do great, you can handle this.’

-I am going to keep a record of everyone’s name and something about them so I can create connections.

-I’m going to be present, saying hello to everyone in the morning, and saying goodbye in the afternoon, walking the rows so that I’m seen.

-I will use all my resources so I can be organized and get everything done that I need to, so that I have more time to be a resource for my people.

-I will learn who is good at what, so I can continue to tailor tasks to individual skills.

-I will delegate some of the things I currently do so I have more time for my team.

-And finally, I’m going to learn everything I can about what they do so I can understand their challenges and help anticipate any problems that might come up.

Christmas is saved…!

Last week I was looking forward to the holiday season without a care in the world.  Then I got the sad news that my grandmother passed away.  While I was still recovering from that, the very next day my car lost power just as I got to work, after deteriorating all the way there.  I work around ten miles from home so it wouldn’t have been a possibility to just turn back.

It being between pay periods, and having just bought presents for people, I was a little short on cash.  My awesome adopted work brother helped me go to a battery place at lunch and we got a used one in hopes that the alternator was still good.  Then there was a mad hunt to find a socket set so we could change out the battery… which we finally did.  My car started up and ran fine.  I was relieved.

The next morning, the car started up again and I thought everything was great.  Then, partway along the trip, I started having the same electrical problems.  I barely limped in to work, having had the engine almost quit on me several times.  It was undoubtedly the alternator.  Now, the battery had been old so that was also likely to fail, so it was good that I’d replaced it.  Yet, what in the heck was I to do without an alternator and someone to help me put it in?  They aren’t easy to reach on my car, you have to put it up on jacks and take out the oil filter.

My sweet cubemate, who has been really amazing, offered to help me get home from work.  Her husband brought a charger and extension cord so I could at least get somewhere if I had to, and we charged the battery enough for me to get home, though the trip was nerve wracking.  It was the greatest feeling to pull into my driveway!  Then they dropped the bomb.  They offered to buy the alternator and help me put it in – and I could pay them back after my next check.  Then my work brother said he’d take me to the store on Christmas Eve to pick up dinner so we didn’t have to make do with our emergency stocks.

I am very happy right now.  I intend to pay my friends back in the best of ways and continue my tradition of paying it forward.  Like my cubemate’s husband said, “This is what Americans do for each other.  Or should, anyway.”

That’s how Christmas was saved for me this year.  Miracles are what we make for each other, and I know my Grandma is watching and is happy with what they did.

 

In Memorium

You hid animal crackers

and bananas

in my pocket

when I was young…

You told me that you loved me every time

and kept a treasure-box with which I played.

You kept your house so clean and neat

your collection tidy, all in place

I wrote thank you notes on every holiday.

Fly now

Free from your tired and weary husk

Young, new-born

Possibilities before you.

See what you could not see in 97 years

that the world is such a beautiful place

and your adventure is just beginning.

Good journey, mother of my mother

I love you too.

The walking, talking blood pressure pill

I’m not the only one who’s stressed out.  There’s busy traffic, suicidal pedestrians, work pressures, bills, unexpected life events, medical concerns, judgemental people, cats trying to trip you, price fluctuations, eternal questions about life, the Universe, and Everything.  I’d make an exhaustive list but quite frankly, Dear Reader, we don’t have that kind of time.

I (and practically everyone else on this planet) often seek ways to reduce stress.  Perhaps a Zen koan, a few moments of meditation, some soothing tea, a relaxing game.  A hobby.  Creating a refuge.  Baking.  Once again, there are so many things to try that we don’t have the time needed to list them.

I rediscovered an old favorite, someone with a voice that’s like a mug of warm cocoa and a hug for the ears.  I feel my blood pressure dropping as he speaks.  I feel whole, like I’m okay, like I’m Just Enough, like I can do anything when I listen.

I’m talking about Bob Ross, of course.

During his long career as a painting instructor on PBS he taught a lot of people to make art.  But he also tried to tell everyone that they could believe in themselves.  The paintings he gave away after each show have been sold to make money for charity.  He was like Mister Rogers for adults.  Once a hard-ass Sargent in the Air Force, he had a dream of never having to yell or scream at anyone again.  He found ways to make art.  He learned the wet-on-wet oil painting technique that let him create whole paintings during short snatches of time, when he escaped the rigidity of the Service to create his own world.

I came looking for Zen and I found Bob.

I don’t paint with oils – too messy.  But I can use some of his techniques with other media.  I want to learn to keep that vision and that peace that he offers through his show in my heart.  To continue to strive for excellence, but temper it with gentleness and playfulness.  So that no matter what, art stays fun.

From now on I’m going to try and watch at least one of his episodes per week, as a meditation but also a way to learn to create that kind of hopeful world within my heart.

Here’s to you, Bob.  You left the world better than you found it.

“There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.”

Unrepentant Bibliophile

Books have been a part of my life since the beginning.

As a child, the public library was always my “happy place,” where I would go for socializing and for fun.

Books provided friendship, escape, knowledge, peace.  I gathered libraries for myself in my room, checked out tall stacks every week.

When I was old enough to pick out a university, I chose the one I did largely because of it’s fantastic, beautiful library.  It was built like a cathedral to knowledge, with stained glass windows and a giant, leather covered, metal studded door.  Come to think of it, I should have spent a lot more time in that reading room.

I met my wisest kendo teacher in the undergraduate library at that same school.  If you happen upon this, Bolling Sensei, I hope you may understand someday what you gave me.

Libraries are places of hidden treasures, ready to be uncovered with a watchful eye.  As I gather facts, I feel like a squirrel gathering nuts against winter’s chill.

When I got my first house, I looked forward to gathering a fantastic library.  I made a good start of it then had to give up almost every book when I had to move five years later…

…it left a hole in my heart, of a size I’ve barely begun to fathom.

I collected ebooks, bought a reader.  It helped.  I wanted a library small enough to fit into someone’s prosthetic leg.  I still have that reader, old as it is.

Two more moves.  Heartache, saving, worrying, and then the break came.  A better job, a very kind offer from my folks, and finally a new home.

As I looked at my fledgling library tonight, I felt a sense of peace and wellbeing come over me that I’ve not felt in quite some time.  At first, I hardly recognized it.  Then I knew I had to share it.  It was the feeling of being around books again.

I was truly home in a way I’ve not been in far too long.

Viva books!

Voyage into Suburbia – and bonus recipe!

I’ve bounced around a lot, lived in plenty of different places so far.  I’ve lived in small towns, in huge cities, in a cabin deep in the woods, in a tent in the desert, on an Indian reservation (what they themselves called it, by the way), in a trailer at a trailer park, at a small airport, in college dorms, in apartments both good and bad.

Now I embark on the strangest journey of all.

I recently moved into the suburbs.

It’s a strange world of single family houses, personal mail boxes, polite neighbors, friendly cashiers at the grocery store, remodeling, painting, grilling on weekends, commuting to work, pool care.  Dogs being walked on leashes, people going on jogs voluntarily, kids playing in yards.

Of course I’ve seen many of these elements before but having them all together is quite amazing.

Home Depot and Lowe’s have never been quite so exciting.  With my intrepid spouse at my side, we plan what we will do with our house, and how to make it a home.  We think about painting the living room white and hanging black curtains, or turning it into a small dojo.  We plan our study and our art studio.  We set up our kitchen and actually choose a decorating theme.  We fret over the HORRIBLE colors of paint the last owners put up, and wonder how any sane person could actually like those shades of dirt-green, off-white and off-pink.  We worry about yellow algae in the pool and termites in the beams.  We celebrate every time I manage to grill a good piece of meat.  We have no landlords, no surprise inspections, and no neighbors sharing our walls.  There’s breathing room.  And huge lizards in the shed, and dragonflies skimming over the pool in the morning.

There’s moonlit nights and there’s quiet inside our brick walls.  There’s peace in our hearts.  This isn’t an end to worry, or to trouble, but it’s a different world than I’ve ever known before.

As a reward for reading all this, I’ll give you something.

If you like corn at all, you owe it to yourself to try it grilled.   I haven’t been much of a corn fan but was shocked when I tried it.  I’ve never tasted corn that was so sweet and flavorful!  Here’s my simple recipe.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

You will need:

Corn on the cob, out of the husk and silk picked off

Butter or margarine

Freshly cracked black pepper

Sea salt or kosher salt

Aluminum foil – approximately a square foot for each ear

A grill – gas, charcoal, yours, a friend’s, whatever you can find

Here’s what you do.

Lay out your foil, shiny side up.

Spread butter on the corn, lay it on the foil.

Sprinkle on salt and pepper.

Roll corn up in the foil and close the ends.

Roast on the grill for about twenty minutes.  You can put it on indirect heat next to your main dish if you want.  Turn a couple of times.

Carefully unwrap the corn and eat.  You’ll find that it’s juicy, sweet, and the heat really brings out the flavors.  Enjoy!

 

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Someone else’s drudgery might be your dream job

A job that someone else might consider a shallow waste of time might be your best place for this moment in time.  A job that you find shallow might develop hidden depths as you think about it.

Anyone in the working world has experience with grindingly boring jobs.  Some of us have always had satisfying, fulfilling work but we have witnessed boring jobs.  Okay, now the rest of us (99.999%) have had one or more boring, unfulfilling jobs.

The strangest thing is, I’ve learned that kinds of work I’ve heard others complain endlessly about, and haven’t expected to like, are actually boatloads of fun for me!

For example, I pretty much always thought I wanted to be an artist or designer for a living.  However, I didn’t know what that meant.  I’m not good at being creative each and every day, and I’m not always the best with deadlines.  Also, I hate selling so I’m not the world’s most amazing self promoter.  I recognize these things about myself and I’m okay with that.  I know what I need to work on.

I thought that data entry could be about the most mind numbing job imaginable.  Call center work was scariest and most horrible, but data entry had to be the most boring.  Fast forward quite a few years and I find that call center work is actually pretty fulfilling if you work inbound lines, and I just took a job as a claims analyst that involves a lot of data entry.  Yet, it’s great!  It’s like doing a hundred puzzles a day and it’s always new and fresh!  I never would have found this out if I’d clung to my old ideas about the perfect job.

The moral of that story is to stay in tune with the kinds of work you like, and your personal strengths, so you know what you’ll actually be a good match for.  That way you won’t take the job that everyone else wants but you might hate.  Here’s an example.  I thought I wanted to be a trainer at a call center.  I thought it would be great – I’d be off the phones, I could share my experience and help mold my students into great reps, and oh, did I mention I’d be off the phones?  Once I knew more about the position I realized I’d be going slowly crazy there.  A job where I was assisting other reps on the phone as they asked me questions about product and navigation was a whole lot better for me.

What if you hate your current job and can’t get out of it?

Been there, done that, got the lame corporate T-shirt.  I’m not sure what you should do in your situation but here is what I’ve done to make it easier on myself.

See the humor in the situation.  There’s something funny about everything, even if all you do is sort frozen fish on a  conveyor belt and throw out the green ones.  How funny is a green fish?

Find the places where you make a difference.  In my dull customer service jobs, one thing that’s kept me going is knowing I was making a difference in many people’s lives.  Even if I was just telling them why their pills were going to be late.  At least I could give them one more positive interaction than they would have had.

Find ways your current job can build your skills.  I would sometimes take on extra work or do extra training if I knew it would develop me.  This has gotten me into better and better jobs.

Always look for opportunities.  You won’t see them if your eyes are closed.

 

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