Hard and ruthless

I watched the first episode of a new TV series last night. Succession seems loosely based on the Murdoch family – and aging patriarch and media mogul, a brood of clever and ambitious children, and the wrestle for power. Only episode one but it was very good.

As I was watching, I had a nagging sense of recognition watching the patriarch, played by Brian Cox. Something in him reminded me of my father, I wasn’t sure what. Perhaps it was the sense of quiet but undeniable authority, wrapped though in a declining body. The will still strong, the body becoming frail – though the last time I saw dad he couldn’t be described as frail.

It wasn’t just my father I saw in him though, but who the other is I’ve yet to identify.

While I watched, I reflected on something that had happened earlier in the day. For context, as I have explained previously, one of the projects I’m running is to upgrade a chatbot. It’s quite frustrating often as I get very little support, have no resources, no budget, and most seem indifferent to it. There’s a dotted line to a senior manager who has no real practical involvement, but who seems to be conducting a guerrilla operation promoting the upgrade – I feel almost surreptitious in my role.

I’m dealing with vendors who are well intentioned but must be micro-managed – I can’t presume they’ll know to dot the i and cross the t, I must be explicit in instructing them. This is time-consuming and very often frustrating. Despite my best efforts, I can’t get anyone interested in what I once believed to be basic project management principles and tools. And I’m doing this while trying to carry on with my usual role, which is particularly busy right now.

Because I’m practically solo the design is almost 100% mine. To get to that point has required a lot of analysis and consideration and – wherever possible – consultation. I think it’s pretty good, but my aim is to make it great. Always is.

It’s getting towards the pointy end and I’m reviewing what’s been done and making refinements. Problem is that I’m too close to it to be truly objective now. I asked my offsider to go through it and he made some useful observations but still, he knows the business too well. So I popped upstairs to speak to the manager.

I wanted to discuss with him the option of getting some focus group testing. He’s ex-marketing and I made the assumption that they do that as a matter of course and he would be know how we go about it.

What happened instead is that after I asked him he called me into a room. You’re coming to me with problems instead of solutions, he said. I’m telling you this for your own good, he went on. He went on a bit, all on the same theme, while I remained silent. In truth I was bemused. I watched carefully, leaning forward, fascinated by what he had to say. Gradually I got pissed off – I have a low tolerance for bullshit these days. At the end of it, I told him the solution was that he should tell me who I needed to speak to to make it happen.

By now I was quietly seething. I could have said a lot, but didn’t. I’d have happily punched him in the face for his patronising manner, but didn’t do that either. Fact is – as I could have told him – is that I’m dealing with problems all the time and finding a way to solve them. I’m on the phone to the vendors 2-3 times a day, and probably by email another couple, fixing things up and resetting direction. The whole bloody solution we propose has come out of my head. I’m not someone who runs for help, I find it myself. If I come to him seeking assistance then it’s legit.

By now we’re out of the room and he has given me the answer he should have given me five minutes before – speak to so-and-so. Now I’m discussing another issue with him and it’s clear that he has no real idea and sees me bringing up such things as obstructive. True, they’re pointless as I realise, as he knows too little to be of help – but the things I raise are legitimate and must be sorted out and require someone at a management level to intervene. By now I have become very steely. I cut him off. I take it up to him. In front of his staff, I’m now dictating the conversation. Are we on the same page? I ask in conclusion. Yes, we’re on the same page he answers.

I walk away and think, what was that? And I’m almost a little concerned at my manner. I can’t really disagree with much I said – I was restrained – what I worry about is how absolutely implacable I was. He couldn’t touch me. I listened, I watched, and I was absolutely clinical. In the end, it was the force of my being that had him back-tracking.

Is this the man I’ve become? It seems incongruous given my recent efforts to be home and honest and vulnerable. It seems strange when I think how delicate I was on the weekend with someone who wanted to share with me, and generally how affable I am at work, how kind and compassionate I can be. Yet, it seems, I can be all these things.

I also watched an episode of Ray Donovan last night. There were times when I was struggling when I would watch Ray and relate to him somehow, even while wishing I could adopt his direct manner to deal with some of the issues in my life. This season’s Ray is more vulnerable than before, more inclined to gentleness, and as he heads that way I become more as he was – at least in certain aspects.

I’ve always said I treat everyone the same. What happens after that depends on the other. It’s useful perhaps to be so ruthless sometimes, but I’m not sure it’s good for me.

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