Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Hidden Business Languages

              Recently I served on an interview panel and was reminded of some realities that are often hidden from those who are trying for opportunities to obtain employment, broaden experiences or secure a promotion.  I say “hidden” because there are specific languages that are spoken at each level in the business world.  And I’m not talking about the limited Spanish that would allow me to procure a watermelon for Queen Elizabeth if she and I traveled to Mexico. 
                These languages are those of management and if you don’t speak the language, you won’t get what you want or need from them.  And the languages have to do with your abilities, but not in the way you may think.  These abilities are not related to your intellect, education or experience.  These are related to those unspoken, sometimes unteachable traits that are often overlooked; relatability, reliability and availability.  Luckily, your Uncle Dusty is fluent in both management and leadership and he is here to help.  It’s what I do, people.  I’m a giver.
                 Relatability – when you are applying for a job, typically those who are granted interviews are the top choices and the interview is what decides the selectee.  However, more than interview skills can move someone to the front-runner position.  When qualifications are similar and education or experience are within the same range, the final ballot is often cast for the person with whom you relate, or “click”; the person who you want to interact with at least eight hours a day, five days a week. Personality plays a vital role, so does passion.  I’m not always swayed by the best answer; sometimes it’s the most genuine answer.  And if you flub an answer in the interview, simply stop and ask to start again.  A good interviewer will appreciate your candor and ability to respond quickly and adapt to a tough situation.
                Reliability – once you’ve been selected, you should always thank your new boss for the opportunity that has been given to you.  However, the way to show your gratitude every day is by being an invaluable employee; be on time, be energetic, be focused, be professional  and above all else be pleasant.  When you are the employee I can always count on, I start to give you more responsibilities and a larger role, offering you opportunities for exposure to more which enhances your ability to move up the ladder.
                If your response to this is, “But Uncle Dusty, I’m stuck in my area all day" or "How do I get experience when I’m just a clerk?”  First of all, no one is “just” an anything.  Be proud of your job, whatever it is.  Those who work should never be ashamed, regardless of what you’re doing.  Your Uncle Dusty has hauled bags of feed at a farmer’s co-op, was a telemarketer for a very un-fun two weeks, served as shift supervisor at McDonald’s for two years and sold Big and Tall men’s clothes at Dillard’s for over a year; the last two while simultaneously working full-time at the VA.  Experience is experience, y’all.  Work is work. 
                Availability – when I started at the VA (as a GS-4 Temporary Student Worker) I made full use of the opportunities available to me.  I volunteered for assignments.  I regularly went to my supervisor and asked to be trained on different programs.  I continuously looked for ways to do my job more efficiently and I was never afraid to share the outcomes with people, including my boss.  I always wanted to know more, to do more.  And I didn’t complain about “being so busy”.  When asked, I said yes.  When not asked, I asked if I could.  Trust me when I tell you that you will have very little competition when it comes to volunteering.  More likely you will be the only one who wants to do a particular project, which is fine.  Because you will become the “go to” person for those tasks which will put you into contact with people you need to know in your company and you will gain a reputation as a hard worker, provided you are, in fact, a hard worker.  If you push your way into the spotlight, you better perform; sing, dance, make a papier mache cactus, plant corn, something.
                I’ll give you a very specific example.  This past week, I chaired the Water Safety Committee at my hospital and there was a visitor, which was unusual for such a mundane topic.   Uncle Dusty is becoming a subject matter expert in water safety, y’all.  Try not to be jealous.  The visitor was a new administrative employee whose supervisor brought her to expose her to things outside of her position.  And I love meeting front line employees because I came from the front line.  I welcomed her and congratulated her on having a supportive supervisor.  And I encouraged the other supervisors to do similarly with their staff, reminding them that I am where I am because my mentors and supervisors took an interest in me.
                At the end of the meeting we were discussing the need for a permanent person to take minutes as it is a fairly new committee and this young lady volunteered.  I was impressed and readily agreed.  And now she will have regular monthly access to several departmental supervisors and the Assistant Director of the medical center.  See what happens when you make yourself available?
                And that’s all I’m saying for now.

Monday, April 20, 2015

This is one of those God/Last Nerve things I was talking about...

              Whenever I get the opportunity to speak publicly, I usually want to speak about leadership; whether it’s one-on-one or to a group.  I especially enjoy discussing leadership with young people.  It’s something about which I am passionate and when I’m passionate you cannot get me to hush.  When I am talking about leadership, I like to remind my audience, whether captive or voluntary, that the driving purpose and focus of a leader is not to develop followers, but to develop new leaders. 
                I recently started attending a book study at my church.  I no longer call them Bible studies as they are not studies of the Bible.  I was shown the error of my ways by my sweet friend Holly Nugent.  Holly is a six foot ray of sunshine coming at you bedecked in beautiful clothes and an even more beautiful soul; smiling with the light of Jesus, y’all.  And since the book is not the Bible, it shall not be referred to as a Bible Study.  Thank you, Ms. Holly.
                This particular book is about getting to know the God Jesus knows.  And that is someone I have wanted to know for quite some time, but for a litany of reasons, haven’t ever taken the time to meet; even when He was standing there waiting to be met.  If God had a last nerve, right?   In our initial discussion we talked about the definition of disciple (or follower) from the Jewish definition since Jesus was, you know, a Jewish carpenter.  I always want to ensure that as I am learning things I have the proper context to fully grasp and apply this new knowledge.
                As you may know (or not) the first five books of the Bible are the Torah, sometimes referred to as the Books of Moses.  Young Jewish men must memorize these books as part of their religious upbringing.  And I complained about having to memorize a few verses for Bible Drill.  The goal is ultimately to memorize all the scriptures but as they work through the stages, only those who are the best of the best are selected as apprentices, or disciples, of a particular Rabbi.  In order to become a disciple you must have a passion and talent for learning because the driving purpose of a disciple is to learn and use that knowledge to grow more disciples.  The driving purpose of Christians is supposed to be the same: to grow more Christians. 
                And I was immediately ashamed to admit, at first only to myself and then aloud, that I have never pursued my relationship with God as passionately as I have my quest to be a better leader.  This desire to read books and take classes and focus my energies to improve my leadership abilities to help grow the next generation of leaders has propelled my career far beyond anything that I could have imagined when I first started with the VA.  What then, I wonder, could I have achieved in my spiritual life had I given even 50% of that same passion to my discipleship with God?  What would that look like? 
               I cannot imagine but am disappointed in the opportunities that I have let slip by.  I am not a fearless person; I have fears that I find surprising.  One of those fears is completely trusting God because I don’t know what He has planned for me and it scares me a little bit.  I have worked very hard to ensure that I am not on financially shaky ground as I was growing up.  A fear of poverty has kept me working hard and sticking with a business that is not likely to fail. 
               Growing up my sister and I used to say we were okay if we had to be missionaries, just not to Africa or any continent or country where it was hot and we didn’t speak the language.  I guess what we meant was we would be missionaries in America or Western Europe but that’s about it.  Maybe Canada, but definitely not Mexico or South America or Russia (pre or post communism made no difference).  When I was fat I would have agreed to Iceland or Alaska. 
                I’ve always been taught God never gives you more than you can handle, but based on my life, I think God has a different view of what I can handle.  But He has always been right.  Even when I couldn’t see it in the moment, I always see it in reflection.  So why am I hesitant?  I've been told He gives us more than we can handle so we have to turn to Him.  And that makes sense, so why do I worry?
              They say if the source of your security is money, then the source of your anxiety will be money.  Truer words have never been spoken.  Well except for “life would be so much more rewarding and hope-filled if we’d just get out of the way and let God do His thing”. 
              So I’m challenging myself to focus my energies on growing as a Christian and trying to make my relationship with Christ one where I truly feel His presence and understand what’s it’s like to call Him teacher and friend.  Then I can start growing new Christians.  And I’m looking forward to this journey of sitting and listening; not asking but listening so I can hear that still, small voice guiding me.
                And that’s all I’m saying for now because I’ve got some listening to do.  And if you know me, you know that’s gonna be hard, y’all.  I’m so glad that God doesn’t have a first nerve much less a last one.  Amen?

Monday, April 13, 2015

John Grisham, Party Crashing and Dark Brown Champagne

               Not to get all Sophia-from-the-Golden-Girls on you but picture this:  It was 1991 and I was a junior at Mississippi University for Women and John Grisham had only recently hit the periphery of fame so he still lived in Mississippi and was available to speak at small schools like mine.  As one of the few young men serving as a Student Ambassador on campus, I was designated to drive the Athletic Director’s giant Cadillac and chauffeur Mr. Grisham to and from events for Welty Weekend, so named for our most famous alum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eudora Welty.  Once I get my book of blogs published, I fully expect them to change the name to Dusty/Welty Weekend or Welty/Dusty Weekend, or something hopefully more clever.
                This weekend had many illustrious guests and speakers including Ms. Welty herself and Roger Mudd (who was nice), cartoonist Doug Marlette (who was funny) and George Plimpton (who was neither).  I also drove Miriam Cruz from the Department of Education and a gentleman who was either the US Ambassador to Mexico or Mexico’s Ambassador to the US.  He was just some tiny dude in a tux who sort of sat there so I guess being interesting is not an ambassadorial prerequisite. 
                I picked Mr. Grisham up and was determined to play it cool.  I had been warned by all my jealous friends, most especially Tara Wages, that I was to be myself but a version of myself that was less, well, just LESS than normal.  Message received.  As there were multiple people in the car and even a Cadillac can only hold so many people in the back seat, Mr. Grisham was riding up front with me.  I told him I thoroughly enjoyed “A Time to Kill” (still my favorite of his) and was looking forward to “The Firm”.  We were having a lovely chat that was continually interrupted by the very pushy Miriam Cruz who from the backseat kept trying to insert herself into my conversation with comments such as “Hi, I’m Miriam Cruz” and other nonsense.
                When we arrived at the dinner, I made a point to drop them off at the side entrance so he could avoid the crowd out front as I had seen this in a movie. I was dressed in a tux (leftover from my choir days, tails and all) and Mr. Grisham asked if I were attending the dinner.  I told him that I wasn’t but assured him that we would be fed and eager to spirit him to the reception afterwards at the President’s Home.
                I ran around to the front of the convention center to assist my fraternity brothers who were serving as valets that evening.  This was where I interacted with the previously mentioned Misters Mudd, Marlette and Plimpton.  After the event which was fairly uneventful for those of us outside, we left for President Clyda Rent’s home to the Champagne and Chocolates Reception.  As I parked, Mr. Grisham asked if I were coming inside.  I told him that I hadn’t been invited and even if I had, I had no funds for the admission as my last $5 was earmarked for my 2 AM cheeseburger as I invented fourth meal long before Taco Bell used it in their ad campaign.  He told me that I was his invited guest and that if anyone “hassled” me to come find him.  I love me some John Grisham, y’all.
                We entered the party and I made my way to the outer edges as I was out of my element and needed to make an assessment of the situation and get myself mentally prepared.  This was back in the days when I could become overwhelmed in any environment more elegant than a potluck luncheon at a Southern Baptist Church. 
                Seeing no beverage other than white wine and champagne, which I soon discovered does not in fact taste anything like fizzy apple juice; I entered the kitchen looking for water or something.  I had been to the President’s House before, so I felt bold enough to ask for "water or something".  After giving me a confused look and shrugging their shoulders, the caterers told me to check the pantry if I wanted.  My search uncovered a stash of Diet Coke, which I summarily served myself in a champagne flute.  What?  I wanted to be fancy too, y’all.
                Newly-beveraged and feeling more confident, I strolled around the room trying to look as if I belonged and trying my best not to look confused when people kept telling me that they were really impressed by my position at such a young age.  Dr. Rent walked over and smiled and before she could even ask, I blurted, “John Grisham snuck me in.  Snuck is that right?  Sneaked me in!  I’m not drinking I swear! It’s Diet Coke!”  Compassionately, Dr. Rent smiled and patted my arm and said, “Don’t worry, Dusty.  Enjoy yourself.”  Suddenly feeling a little more best-friendy, I then asked her why she thought people kept congratulating me, she looked at my nametag, and then chuckled and pointed out that it said I was a Senator (at MUW).  Everyone else thought I was a Mississippi State Senator!
                I made my way to the quieter part of the living room and stood in the corner weighing my options.  I hadn’t noticed our Lilliputian honoree, Ms. Welty seated on the loveseat.  I was quietly laughing and she asked why so I pointed at the VCR and said, “It makes me feel better about people when I can see they aren’t perfect” noticing that the clock was flashing 12:00, like everyone’s VCR used to do.  She smiled and asked me to sit with her.  We chatted for a bit; I poured her a Diet Coke at her request and we people-watched.   Well, she watched people, I watched her. I had read about but never experienced anyone whose eyes literally sparkled with intelligence; hers did and I’ll never forget that.  We talked about my fraternity brothers who were the drivers and therefore waiting outside with the cars.  She asked me to bring them inside.  She wanted a photo because she loved the idea of MUW being co-ed, unlike when she attended.  We lined up in front of the fireplace with her in the middle and right before the snap, she kicked her leg a little to the side, stating that she felt like a chorus girl being surrounded by such handsome gentlemen.
                When Ms. Welty was ready to go home, she asked if I could take her and so I did.  I informed Mr. Grisham of my errand and he said he would be ready by the time I got back.  I made the school photographer take our picture to prove our friendship and then squired Ms. Welty to her hotel.
                When I returned Mr. Grisham was ready as was the ever-present Ms. Cruz and a couple I hadn’t met.  When I dropped Mr. Grisham and Ms. Cruz, the remaining couple asked me to take them to the train tracks.  I was uncertain where this was leading as I had not intended to be murdered in my show choir tux in a borrowed Sedan DeVille.  The husband quickly explained that he was the President of Amtrak and he had a private rail car (actually two).  When we arrived, they invited me in for a tour and I readily agreed.  I f I were going to be murdered it would at least be in stylish surroundings.  They gave me a tour and even offered to have their chef make us a snack.  I declined as my mother would have been horrified at “making that poor man wake up and cook for you Dustin Terryll”.  My father would have been equally horrified at the rebuffing of an offer of high quality food.  And he was when I shared this story.
                And that’s all I’m saying for now.