The merry go-round

I don’t want to talk about work, but so much is happening that I must.

I hopped along to the interview on Monday feeling a tad sour because I didn’t want to be there. I’m sure it showed for the first 15-20 minutes, but then I got interested, as predicted. The job sounded interesting and not as full on as I thought it would. It’s a big organisation too and – this counts for me – housed in a great piece of architecture. Somehow I had presumed that the guy interviewing me would be a stuffed shirt, but he turned out to be a younger than I expected, a personable, humble guy, clearly switched on and interested in my take on a lot of the challenges he’s encountering.

What he was particularly interested in was my consulting and stakeholder management experience, and how I managed to influence change in that capacity. That’s his challenge, but he has a team of technocrats good at the technical stuff but with no aptitude at selling it.

I walked away more enthused than I went into it and with an open mind. The money is good which makes a big difference. I doubt it will happen but should have an indication by end of week.

Then here at work I’m flat out, including having to present at an ‘expo’ showcasing all the developments coming through the business. There were a bunch of us in the room and me in the corner with my laptop doing my bit. I didn’t know about this until the Friday before, but given my name was on the banner clearly it was something organised prior to that.

I did my spiel feeling parched by the end of the session. ‘Customers’ came through at regular intervals an in big batches, like Chinese tourists infesting a souvenir shop from the tourist bus outside.

I returned from my stint and an hour or two later a job was advertised internally which had me cocking an eye at. Business Transformation Lead was the job title. Within a few minutes my phone was ringing. A mate on the other side of the building asked if that was my job. He seemed to think that’s effectively what I’m doing now and basically it was mine to be had. Then my offsider said just about the identical thing.

I was very curious about the mechanics of the whole thing. The job hadn’t been mooted to me, though I’d stood beside the Ops Manager at the expo. On top of that the job is very similar to that I espoused a few weeks back and had ultimately rejected. What did this mean now?

I wondered if I was being set-up for this. I’m in the good books right because of my work. It’ll pass, but just for the moment, there’s a decent crowd who think I’m some kind of wunderkinder thanks to my recent work. On top of that, there’s a good argument that I was asked to do the expo in order to expose me to a bigger crowd. The Sales Manager, who did a presentation of his own, whispered to me that this was a great opportunity. So maybe it wasn’t an accident.

I’ve had my fingers burnt before, so while I’m willing to believe that I’m a good show for this – perfect if my experience and CV count for anything, I don’t take anything for granted. I’ll put my name forward, but if I don’t get it I’d feel very pissed off – so pissed off I don’t think I could continue here.


No stomach for it now

Tomorrow morning at nine I have a coffee meeting with a CIO about another potential job at another iconic Australian organisation. When I got the call I said yes, naturally, I’m interested but, you know what? I’m not.

I go tomorrow with a degree of reluctance. It doesn’t sit right in my stomach and hasn’t for days. I suppose I could call it off now, but I’m not yet at that stage.

It doesn’t take much for me to figure this one out. On the surface of things, I’m in the market for a new job. I want a more challenging role and a better salary. I’d like to work in a more professional and supportive organisation. No arguments there. What I’ve come finally to accept is that I have no real appetite for the great responsibility I would once come to grasp with both hands. This has been an uncomfortable realisation.

Right from very early on I was an unconsciously driven man. It was rarely an overt thing with me. I didn’t proclaim it, I didn’t think about it much, and if you met me you’d probably come away thinking that yes, I was pretty switched on, but also pretty laid back.

It was an unconscious thing because I didn’t really know anything different. If I was to do something then, of course, I’d do it to the best of my ability. I was drawn to better and more challenging roles largely because they were more interesting, and why wouldn’t I want to do something more interesting? Then the perfectionist in me wouldn’t allow me to stand by and watch as things were done not so well so I’d step forward, put my hand up. All these were innate to my character but combined they propelled me onwards and upwards. It worked well because my ego fed off that. Never in my life did I refuse a challenge, which mostly I took as an opportunity to test myself. I relished this. It was like adrenalin to me.

When I returned to the workforce after my break I wondered if I would be the same. I was relieved to discover I’d lost none of my smarts, and the edge remained. In many fundamental aspects, I’m no different. I still strived, I still wanted more, I was still impatient to achieve.

A lot of things underneath had changed though. I still had the energy, the focus, even the fierce intent, but the passion had subsided. I always wanted to be ‘the man’ before. I always wanted to be number one. Number two meant there was someone ahead of me. This is the thing though. Like the job a few weeks back, the job I’m meeting about tomorrow is a full-on, high-profile, demanding position, the sort I’d have loved before, but which – I know now – I have no stomach for.

In a lot of ways, it’s a tough realisation. You carry on with attitudes out of habit sometimes, and when habit begins to wane you do it out of attitude. Like I said, I’ve never turned down a challenge in my life – what does it mean if I start doing it now? It felt wrong, even unmanly, just to consider it.

In my mind I understand it better, my id if you like – it’s the ego I have to overcome. But then its the ego I’m trying to overcome in many aspects because it’s time.

I’ve had a bunch of jobs pop up lately, including two on one day last week. I wonder why it’s happening now, but I expect little of it. I expect at some point tomorrow in my conversation I’ll be enticed by the prospect of taking the reins again. The imagination will get going conceiving of what I can do and my mind busy figuring out the how of it. In concert with my imagination, my ego will whisper in my ear. I’ll be tempted, I know that much, but right now I go there because I said I would, and because – as a salve to my ego – to prove I still can.

Assuming I survive tomorrow’s meeting I have to consider what this means for me. Some of the reasons I find roles like this less alluring now is the work/life balance, and the belief that I should be writing. That means I set my sights lower. I can still earn a perfectly good salary and do good, interesting work without putting myself on the line.

It’s funny I speak of the ego here for I’ve been contemplating a bold and uncomfortable act that will expose me to many. A few of us are having mini-profiles of us published in the office. One of the questions relates to revealing something of yourself which is true but which no-one would believe. Originally I wrote about how I memorised pi to 155 decimal places when I was a kid. That’s a typically glib response from me.

Somewhere along the line, I wondered if I should reveal I was homeless, but wonder if it’s inappropriate for such a forum and self-indulgent.

The thought of everyone looking at me and knowing that of me is very uncomfortable. At the same time, I want it behind me. I’ve found that revealing these things goes a long way towards defusing them. The bloke who sits next to me is very open about how he ended up at AA and I marvel at such casual candour. That ain’t me – never has been, never will. I need to be more open though as I so often repeat.

I know I think more than most people, and I think that leads to more feeling too. Contrary to outward appearances, I feel a lot. For most of my life, all of that has been contained within me. I’m trying to let it out, but it’s slow and awkward. I think maybe it needs something like this, something more dramatic not to break the container, but to put a crack in it at least.

I’m very much in a dilemma about this, but must have it figured out by lunchtime tomorrow.

No small things

I went to the footy at the MCG with Cheeseboy on Saturday afternoon. We had a fine day sitting high up in the members stand watching an exciting game, and adjourning to the nearest bar for a quick pint before the game and at half time. The only downside was the result.

We caught the train back afterwards with it full of folk like us in their footy regalia returning home as we were. There were as usual a lot of families, generally fathers with their sons, though occasionally a complete family out for a day at the footy. It’s good to see and very familiar to me. I’ve been on trains like that a thousand times before and looked upon happy, smiling kids cavorting in the colours of their favourite football team. As a kid I don’t recall ever catching the train with my dad to the footy – we always drove – but later as a teenager I would be travelling solo among them.

Sitting behind us was an old man who opined on the game we had just attended. Like me he was an Essendon supporter. I didn’t set eyes on him, and presume he was old – somewhere north of 70 – by his voice and manner. Every so often I would listen in, finding little to disagree with. I imagined him a tall, spare, dignified man on the edge of austere. It was in his voice, which was assured and intelligent. I liked him. I respected him. In my imagination he had a lifetime behind him of barracking for the same club as me. He had paid his dues and along the way learned a thing or two about the game. As I got off the train at Hampton I thought, that’s me in 20 odd years.

Walking onto the platform at Hampton I felt a moment of unexpected emotion. That doesn’t happen to me much. I’m sensitive, but it leads more often to reflection, even contemplation. As you know, I think things out. Saturday I didn’t have time for that. Ahead of me was a trail of people having got out of the train ahead of us. It was a well-known scene. I cast eyes upon them then I felt a brief but intense mistiness. As I followed Cheeseboy it cleared and I began to wonder at it. It didn’t take long for me to realise that I had hit another long delayed milestone that day.

I used to go to the footy 18 games out of 22, and for near on 35 years, from when I was just a kid. By the time I encountered my difficulties I’d slowed some, but still probably managed 10 games a year, most of them at the MCG – my MCC membership was one of my most cherished possessions. Once my difficulties hit it slowed more. I couldn’t afford to go as much and my MCC membership lapsed, plus I was living a pretty unsettled life. I probably went to 2-3 games a year.

Now things have improved I’m not going to any more games really. A lot of it is that I still don’t have the spare cash, but much of it is now habit. I watch every game, but it’s from the comfort of my home.

In May this year I finally got my MCC membership reinstated after nearly 5 years dormancy. And this is the milestone, which I was oblivious of until I stepped onto the platform at Hampton railway station. Saturday was the first time in 5 years that I’d attended the footy as a MCC member. Watching the footy from the salubrious surrounds of the members was not the point – the point was that I had regained something I had lost, and thought lost permanently at different times. The milestone was that I had reclaimed one more small thing along the way to reclaiming something of the life I had lost and hope to regain.

It was one of those days Saturday. Getting off the train – all happening then – Cheeseboy invited me to have dinner with the family at a nearby restaurant. I visit them at home regularly, but am wary of intruding too much upon their time or hospitality. Not unusually I made my excuses at first, claiming I couldn’t afford it. Don’t worry, he said, we’ll shout you. Still feeling a little tender I agreed.

I sat with them and had dinner and what this means to me is hard to explain. I’m close to them and they have been great friends to me over a long period of time. I’m very grateful to them. These days it means much more because I don’t really have a family of my own. I’m familiar with the forms of family life because for many years I was well and truly immersed in it – family lunches, birthday celebrations, mothers day, barbecues, Christmas, and so on, my life was full of such occasions. As you do, I took it for granted. Then, with the death of my mother, all of that ended. If there was any doubt then the rupture with my sister terminated all bit the most random contact. Effectively I have been cold turkey on all forms of family contact for about 6 years.

I’m a resilient dude. It is what it is, I accept it. I don’t mope or feel sorry for myself. Still, sometimes I miss it, and certainly on the key dates. The Cheeses aren’t my family but I can feel something of that by proxy simply by sharing in some of their occasions. They’re very good like that, especially Mrs Cheese. I sit their feel it and remember and it’s very pleasant just to be amid it.

It was like that on Saturday night, which was really a low-key event. I felt humbled by it. Yesterday I sent them a message thanking them for sharing their life with me. It’s no small thing.

So it goes

I’m posting something here I wrote for Facebook, but never published.

I’ve got into the habit of being quite candid on Facebook, which is quite different from being candid here. On Facebook, they know my name, and the people I’m connected to know me, either intimately or more distantly.  Once upon a time, I was someone who would never post anything personal on Facebook, but that was who I was as a man. I’ve tried to change that because I’ve tried to change myself in key ways. One of the best ways to do that, I thought, was to expose myself in ways that made me uncomfortable. In time it gets easier, but it feels good too.

This time I’m not posting it because it raises speculation about others I’d rather not discuss. Personally, I’m happy to speak about these things all day and all night, but when there are other people involved it’s unfair to post things that people will read who also know the other.

To be fair, it’s a bit long-winded for Facebook anyhow:

So I’m sitting here on a Sunday morning thinking as I have been lately, and as always I do. I’m listening to Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye and Etta James and munching on a bolognese roll for an impromptu brunch and wondering, among other things, if I’m in love. The answer seems immaterial somehow. It’s just a word, a state of being that arrives sometimes and departs often.
“If I were but a simpler man,” I think, which is a bit like a grandfather clock wishing to become digital: it won’t happen because it can’t. And like all of this it just is, a moment in time, which brings me to Vonnegut because I watched Slaughterhouse 5 again recently, the book of which I read, when I was young, left me pondering for weeks.
It seems to me as I get older that my view of things becomes simpler, even if I do not. In the book, we learn that every moment, past, present and future, have always existed, and always will. Elsewhere he said we are what we pretend to be, so must be careful what we pretend. He also said in a quote most now know, that we should enjoy the little things because one day we’ll look back and realise they were the big things.
It’s good to be mindful, this, here, this moment. This is what I know and feel. This is how I yearn and this is what I wonder. This is what I cherish. What happens next I don’t know. I can only be me and true to whatever that means, and honest, which is harder yet. Nothing counts until you put it on the line.
Time soon to let some secrets go which may make more sense of these words, but not yet. Till then, let me leave you with another Vonnegut quote which is eloquent in its brevity:

First steps

H is in a benevolent mood today. It’s been a productive week at work, and while work isn’t everything it keeps the embers aglow. I’m of the type that needs to achieve things to feel satisfaction, muddling through or ticking boxes or cruising on auto-pilot is not my thing. It’s a bonus if the things you achieve are of a particularly clever nature. That feeds the ego and justifies ambitious expectations.

I had a break-through with one of my projects yesterday which should make a big difference. It means I can probably wrap it up a lot quicker than anticipated. It was a leap of imagination that did it, enabled by finally having some obstacles removed from my path. Some way to go but on the right track.

Satisfying as that is, more satisfying were the first few steps towards building a greater engagement in the office.

It may surprise some, but this is something I’m pretty passionate about. Everyone deserves opportunity. Everyone deserves a chance at being their best self. Everyone should have access to a work environment that is safe, welcoming and empowering. Everyone is an individual, and everyone deserves to be recognised as such.

I get really sour sometimes in places like this were staff are either treated as children, or as drones. It comes down to poor leadership and management mostly, as I touched upon yesterday, but there are structural faults that allow for it as well.

I’m lucky because I have a strong sense of self and am naturally independent, I don’t fit into any moulds. Not everyone is as fortunate and it’s common for people to be squeezed into round holes, never to emerge. I just don’t believe in that. This is a human life! We should be free to find our own shape and speak our own words – and you know what, most organisations would benefit from it.

I’ve achieved a lot over my professional career, including much I would describe as clever and creative, and sometimes things much against expectation. All of that, as I said, is good for the ego. None of that factors in to what my most satisfying experience has been – taking a dysfunctional, underperforming team and turning them into a happy, driven and successful team of achievers. It sounds corny, but the pleasure I got from the pleasure of my guys then was like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s a cliché, but the term heartwarming is very apt for the sensation I experienced back then – and now still, as I reflect upon it.

Managing a team of people is different challenge to creating an organisational environment in which people can thrive, but there are common elements.

About 10 years ago I worked in a place where the IT manager, a buffoon, was fired on the spot by an exasperated CEO who could take it no longer. Both the manager and his team had underperformed for ages and were disdained throughout the organisation. I was called into the office straight after, had explained what had just happened, then asked if I was willing to take the job on (as well as my current job).

Was I ever! I had watched on with dismay as the IT function had been ground down into a virtual irrelevancy. I had my own ideas of how it should operate and what could be done and so I was in like Flynn.

First thing I did was to undo some of the constraints. These were all IT professionals, everyone of them competent in their own right and willing to do more, but inhibited by a demeaning structure. I sat down with each and every one of them and spoke to them man to man to get an understanding of what they were feeling, why they got into IT initially, and what they wanted to do. I asked for their ideas as to what was wrong and what we could do to fix it.

I wanted them to be part of the solution. Nothing would work without their buy-in, but the cost of their investment was trust and recognition – these were pennies well spent and easy to give over.

I gave every one of them a responsibility. I made them accountable for something. That something was aligned to their skillset, their experience, their desires. One guy became responsible for infrastructure. Another was given application management. A third was told he was going to be the SharePoint guru and these were the big plans I wanted him to get started on. The younger guys were given helpdesk, but told they were responsible for the efficient management of it, and given responsibilities shadowing the other guys. Each person walked out of that meeting knowing what was expected of them, and empowered by the knowledge that they would be exercising their expertise productively. They were delighted every one of them.

My role in this was to facilitate. I set agendas, I defined strategies, and I reached out to the business, but the guys were involved. I was by no means a technical IT expert and made no claims to be – I made it clear that I was relying on them, but they had my full trust.

Trust is a mighty powerful thing. I would support them every step of the way, but in return expected them to fulfil the trust placed in them. It’s rare that people don’t, but unusual for people – average managers – to understand. Trust is a gift given by me to you, and creates a hopeful obligation in the recipient. Few want to disappoint that.

I always the best sort of authority is no show of authority at all. It’s the mistake that many junior or managers make, feeling the need to demonstrate they are the boss. True authority comes with a sense of humility – in your hands are the lives of these people – but for many managers those people are playthings.

I never worried about being the boss. I knew they trusted and respected me. We got on well, could share a joke, and I took them all out for drinks soon after starting, but no-one was in any doubt that I was the man – and that’s how they wanted it. I was hard, but fair, but I took the pressure off them too and gave them space to do what they did best. In no time we turned the department around. By the time I left them morale was sky-high, performance had hit the roof, we had engaged with and earned the trust of the business, and had a bunch of exciting projects on the go.

For me I appreciated how much people want to be themselves. If that’s all you offer then people will be drones and the quality of their work will reflect that – but if you recognise them as individuals, each with unique qualities, and acknowledge them, then there’s no limit to what they can achieve. This encapsulates my philosophy on engagement, and indeed leadership, and explains why I’m so passionate about it.

This is what I want to introduce here. It’s a tall order but you have to start somewhere. This week I wrote and posted something to the constituents detailing what we’re about as an engagement committee and what we hoped to achieve. The possibilities thrill me.

Happily wary

All my finagling seems finally to have paid off, though in an incomplete and not entirely satisfactory manner.
Regular readers of this thing will recall that I proposed for myself an ambitious new role 6-8 weeks ago, which was ultimately scotched. Yesterday I got a whisper that something was afoot, and today learned a bit more.

The good news is that basically I’ve been appointed to a role very similar to what I proposed. This came about because there is a need for it, as I made plain, and because my mate the Digital Manager made representations that led to this. I begin on Monday.

The not so good news is that it’s only for a “month or two”, and they seem to have contrived it in such a way – because it’s only temporary, I presume – to give me the role without giving me any of the pay rise that goes with it. It’s all very sketchy and vague and the details may turn out to be different, but that appears to be the case.

I’ll be shifting desks, and indeed floors, to the surprise of my immediate manager. I’ll be sitting with a Sales team, though won’t be working for them. I haven’t always seen eye to eye with sales so that will be interesting. I’m to be handed a laptop and almost certainly will need to travel to Sydney occasionally.

What this provides me with is an opportunity and some exposure. While it’s only temporary at this stage I imagine there’s a possibility that it might spin off into something more permanent.

I’m happy, but wary. I wish I knew more. I’m very glad though to have responsibility over something that till now I’ve been managing as if I had one hand tied behind my back. I’m a partner in the process now, and not just the dude trying to make it work.

Being nice

I had my annual review the other day. I got a good report in general and had some very nice things said about me, as well as some very predictable complaints.

The complaints relate to my style and interaction with some people. It was noted that I’ve made good connections throughout the business and that I was popular and had good relationships with most of the consultants who inhabit the floor. My problem was with the team leaders, who I have little to do with mostly, and a frosty relationship in general.

I smiled as she told me. All this is true. The reason I have such a frosty relationship is that I despise them one and all. They have minimal formal authority but try to wield it like a hammer. I’ve observed this before: give someone a little power and often it is abused. Sometimes it is simple immaturity. Authority is best exerted softly, almost invisibility, but they don’t have the nous or experience to understand that. Sometimes it just goes to their head and the thrill of putting their foot down outweighs the crudity of it. I have little time for such people. There’s something ridiculous, almost pitiful about them. They possess little self-awareness and instead of appearing strong and impressive they generally appear preposterous – at best – and as mini-tyrants at worse.

My mode when I dislike someone is avoidance. It’s rare that I’m rude, though I’m often blunt. Obviously, there are times when we must encounter each other, at which time I try to keep it polite and professional. Otherwise, I’m not tempted to engage.

That’s not necessarily the most productive mode in a workplace and I appreciate that, but it presents a quandary. I’m strong on being authentic and true. I don’t like to pretend things that aren’t real, nor act in ways false to my nature. My compromise is to be professional and civil, but to be engaging? That’s asking too much. It feels hypocritical, and I can’t abide the phoney.

I said none of this to my manager. I knew she was right, but given her pragmatic nature, it was something she struggled to comprehend. Like many people presenting a persona, the persona has become second nature, to the point you could argue that the persona has become more real than the person inside. Her pragmatism sacrifices authenticity for reward. It’s a small price to pay for some – assuming they ever feel the cost of it – if it means progressing the career.

That’s one thing about me. You may dislike me, but you could never accuse me of being dishonest.

The funny thing is that this feedback lit something in me. I contemplated it from a philosophical perspective, as I am wont to do. I accepted that sometimes I judge too harshly. Regardless of the qualities I despise, these people may possess other attributes more admirable. It’s just that I don’t ever bother to look for them once I’ve made that judgement. One strike and they’re out.

More than anything I was roused by the challenge of being nice to people I dislike. Strange it is that such tricky demands excite me. I thrive on challenges, that’s ever been the case, but this feels a test of patience and tolerance. It might even be good for my soul.

That night I posted something to Facebook along the lines of this being my next challenge – being nice to those I don’t like. A tough gig, I conceded, given I struggle sometimes to be nice to people I do like.

That attracted a number of comments, most of which either asked why would I bother or came out in support along the lines that I was fine and had no need to change. Among the feedback was an angry face from my manager, which made me laugh.

So here I am, trying to soften myself and give them a second chance.

There was another interesting comment in my review, none of which I could argue with, but which – clearly – I have a different view of from my manager. As I am wont to tell people, I’m critical but not negative. I’m a can-do guy. Things can be better, and should be – and I say it.

She scolds me lightly for these things, not wanting to know – that pragmatism again. I tell her these are things that need to be said and more people should be saying them. It offends my standards when people who are paid to know better so often display incompetence and unprofessionalism. IThe resulting stuff-ups are almost comically predictable. No-one wants to rock the boat and point out the obvious, but it has to be done.

She made mention that I had told her that “I’m always right”. That made me laugh, too. Did I really say that? I knew I’d thought it. I figured I must have said it, but just to stir her up.

I give her credit – I think she knows that I’m just being provocative. I actually think she sort of enjoys it and between us have defaulted to opposing personas. I’m the dissenting voice, deliberately outrageous at times, though with tongue in cheek. Come in spinner I think, while she patiently forbears mostly, and occasionally not so patiently, muddling along in her pragmatic way. As I’ve told her before, she can be the good cop, and though she mightn’t recognise it, she needs me to be the bad cop.

In any case, I smiled and leant forward confidentially. “Just between you and me,” I said, “I’m not always right.”

“I know,” she said.