Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Uncle Dusty's Guide to Business Savvy

           Over the course of my career in the public and private sector I have met many people who are unhappy in their jobs.  I’ve tried to give them an opportunity to talk about what they dislike and what they hope will change and most of their issues are with people (boss, co-workers) more than job duties.  There are ways to lead up and lead sideways in order to establish a more conducive environment.  However, if the behavior exhibited by bosses or co-workers is illogical, I try to help them see sometimes you have to just let it go, like Queen Elsa, but without that whole frozen kingdom thing.
                I present to you Uncle Dusty’s Guide to Business Savvy.
  1. When someone shows you who they are by their actions, pay attention.  Maya Angelou taught us many things; this is one of the most important. 
  2. You cannot reason with an unreasonable person.  Stop trying.
  3. Adapt, adopt, abandon is not just for business processes.  Improve it, use it or get rid of it.  What ‘it’ is depends on you. 
  4. Abandonment is not a failure; it is a decision to stop participating in an activity which offers no sustained value.   
  5. You should LOVE your job or you should get a different job.  Someone else is out there waiting to LOVE your job but you’re in it.  They may be in yours. 
  6. Leaders should be talent scouts, always on the lookout for the next generation of leaders and thinkers. 
  7. Don’t be afraid to poach talent from another department, agency or business.  It’s up to their boss to try and keep them.
  8. Don’t automatically promote star employees. Some people are meant to be a star on the front lines.  Critically evaluate their ability to lead and manage. 
  9. Blame processes, not people, but verify the people are following the processes.
  10. When someone presents you a weak idea, have them walk you through their thought processes.  In the subsequent conversation, you can lead them to an improved idea and better critical thinking skills.
  11. You cannot achieve anything meaningful without a plan.
  12. Teach anyone who is willing to learn. 
  13. Highly effective people are lifelong learners; be willing to be taught.
  14. Demonstrate passion for your work regardless of whether or not people are watching you.  Be aware people are always watching, even when you think they aren’t, especially if you are the boss.
  15. Socializing is one of the best methods to introduce new ideas and concepts.  Chat about your idea before you formally submit your plans.
           These ideas have been road-tested and I have the scars to prove it.  I don’t always learn
things easily but I usually learn it the first time around.  And I share because I care about you people.  As ardent fans of ol’ Uncle Dusty, of course you will commit these to memory and practice with the quickness, right?
          And that’s all I’m saying for now.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Angry Inheritance

               Anger is a badge of honor for my father.  It is included in his version of what a real man is and I carried it with me.  Why was I angry?  So many reasons.  Righteous anger is being angry at what angers God .  We as a society feel pretty sure we have the right to this particular type of anger, but we are usually wrong with this assessment as we are usually wrong about what angers God.

                When I was born I looked very much like my father, chubby with short legs.  I would love to say I outgrew both of those, but sadly did not.  Growing up I tried to be like him, even going so far as to state my desire to be a welder in a sixth grade class report.  The very next year when puberty hit, a lot began to change and I realized how unlike him I was.  Still I tried to mimic him, to make sure he liked me.  Love is unconditional, I thought.  Like is a whole different story. 

                I now realize one of the few traits of his I was able to master was anger.  I have the characteristic temper from the Thompson family genes, mostly Irish with a supposed smattering of Native American but not enough to get scholarship money or casino dividends.  My temper was held mostly at bay by the guiding hand of my exclusively English and devoutly Christian mother, until I left for college.  Once there I began to explore the temper and companion salty language of my father’s people with almost as much passion as I pursued academics and social acceptance.  My temper ran parallel to my achievements and both increased at a surprising rate, considering I was a closeted, chubby nerd and life is not an after-school special.

                I assumed anger was my inheritance as nothing else in the way of property, money or mixed securities existed.  Mixed insecurities I had by the carload, which exacerbated my anger.  Often, for me at least, anger had its root in fear.  Fear of actually being gay.  Fear of being outed.  Fear of not fitting in.  Fear of rejection by family, friends, fraternity.  Fear of overstaying my welcome in any context including friendships, dinner or even talking to my academic advisor. My friends had no clue how often I fretted, worrying any glimpse of the real me would ruin my strategy to become a “regular guy”.  Truthfully, my feelings were mostly anticipatory fear which is much more toxic as it is based on imagination not reality.  My imagination is strong, y’all, and I can come up with all manner of terrifying scenarios, some of which unfortunately have come true; most, happily, have not.

                As this anger slowly seeped into my personality at work, it began to impact my career path.  I was known for results.  I could walk into a department, assess it fairly quickly and turn it around in a relatively short amount of time.  The success was career-enhancing but the psychological toll on some with whom I interacted was an unfortunate side-effect.  The casualties left in the wake of my leadership style were simply the costs of being awesome, I felt.  I found out later these costs were unnecessary. 

                God placed into my life two mentors who were brutally honest with me and encouraged anger management counseling.  It was marginally helpful from a management perspective but it provided excellent insight to the root of my anger.  I tried to heal, turning to God for relief and redemption.  I had decided in 2004 to leave behind the “gay” and return to church as I felt I had to choose.  When faced with the options of career or eternal damnation, I chose career.  Through prayer, support and leadership training I began to make solid progress.  I learned the difference between leadership and management.  I recognized I had been an occupant of a leadership position, not a true leader.  An uncomfortable truth but one I used to better myself.  I realized I had placed unrealistic expectations on myself and when I invariably stumbled, I was furious with myself.  I knew I wasn’t perfect, but I was none too happy about it. The anger I felt at myself was often misread by my peers and subordinates as anger with them.  I had been too pre-occupied to notice my effect on them. 

                Fear of failing at my experiment of being someone other than the white trash person I felt I was, caused disproportionate reactions to minor set-backs.  I was promoted from a GS-4 to a GS-14 in seven and a half years but felt I could have done it faster.  I wasn’t falling into the typical bad habit of comparing myself to anyone.  I was comparing myself to an unattainable ideal and punishing myself for failing to meet this artificial, self-imposed standard.

                Servant leadership training taught me to be confident in my abilities and unafraid to fail.  Once I started to practice these traits, my sense of calm returned and my anger dwindled.  When The Dad moved in with me, I was working to turn around a failing department in a new facility and it was a demanding job on good days.  When he would question me about my day and I would talk about encouraging people to excel and coaching them to improve, letting them share their opinions and valuing their perspectives, he would mock me and tell me about “when [I] was a boss…”  He only enjoyed the old stories of where I was the governmental equivalent of Charles Bronson.  When I would talk of collaborating with a problem employee, he would say, “You’re gonna look weak.  They’re gonna fire you” or “I can’t believe you let them get one over on you.  I thought you were gonna do something when you became the boss.”

                It would be easy to blame his generation but it’s more likely his attempt to pass down the only inheritance he received from his father, angry until his last breath.  When he tells me I’ve forgotten where I’m from and who I am, I don’t disagree, but it’s not the way he means it.  There are things I retain and cherish like common sense, an appreciation of fried foods and a quick joke.  But there are other heirlooms (holding grudges, closed-minded thinking and anticipatory stress) which are best left behind. 

I move on quietly, purposefully, attempting to go unnoticed to ensure I leave these permanently behind.  I don’t want to look back even though I realize my actions are certain to be misinterpreted.  I know this will be part of my legacy and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it, but I do know I’m not angry.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Could you outrun a Samoan on roller skates?

                Anyone who grew up in the 80s knew one of the most popular forms of recreation was roller skating.  We could not get enough of this sport.  We loved wearing pictures of them on our jeans, t-shirts and the backs of our satin jackets.  And roller-skating rinks were the place to be.  I celebrated my 9th birthday at The Big Wheelie across the river in Vicksburg, MS.  I have always had my finger on the pulse of what’s happening, even while wearing husky-sized Tuffskins on a dirt road, y’all.

                Many small towns had their own rink and Bogata, Texas, was no different.  It had a rickety wooden floor, scandalously shaky walls and a clientele of every socio-economic level, hence my semi-regular attendance during holidays prior to our move to this fair burg.  A week or so before the fateful event I had thoroughly enjoyed skating in a circle with all of my new friends.  I did not, however, enjoy the couple’s skate as I was solo and not in a cool way.  I have never been cool by even the broadest definition.  Awesome, sure.  Cool, no.

                I decided I would ask Marty Burns (and I apologize if I just totally embarrassed you) to skate with me during the allotted time.  My cousin Kendra heartily approved and the stage was set.  Unfortunately, the stage did not factor in inclement weather or my father’s definition of masculinity.

                One the night of the roller rink rendezvous, it began to rain, heavily.  As the rink had a reasonably sturdy ceiling, the downpour did not affect our plans.  As we were exiting the trailer to pile into the Suburban, I slipped and fell, the top step hitting me in the middle of my back, knocking the breath out of me.  When I recovered, I began to cry because it hurt.  I was 11 years old, cut me some slack, people.

                Well, no slack was cut for the oldest son of “Big Red” Thompson.  I was "big" and red but machismo is something I have never shared with my father.  Once I was returned to an upright position, I was informed I was to stay behind as the others left for fun on wheels.  The reasoning was, I guess, crying boys don’t get to do fun things.  I shouldn’t have cried, was punished for crying and then cried as a result of my punishment, which made the punishment even worse. 

“Men don’t cry” was his response when asked why he was punishing me.  No one bothered to ask his opinion on boys crying.  As the oldest son and scion to the family fortune, which consisted of a plaid couch and used station wagon, I was expected to carry on the Thompson name with masculinity to spare. My age was irrelevant. 

I grew up with a skewed view of what is meant to be a man.  Most of my uncles on both sides of the family were blue collar, farmers, carpenters, welders, mechanics and laborers.  I just wanted to be indoors reading, in clean clothes.  There are so many characterizations of masculinity, but I experienced none of them.  The one uncle who was typically in a good mood (and of whom we were not usually frightened) was handy when it came to fixing all things plumbing or electric, so again it was pressed home, this blue collar definition of masculinity.  My Dad’s characterization was specifically rooted in girth and stoicism in the face of physical pain. 

I know there are many facets to masculinity and myriad placements on the spectrum of what is means to be male.  I have learned to define being a man by my actions, not by my father’s opinions.  However, as I talk to him every Saturday (or rather I listen to him complain), I have to manage the reality of his designations.  One of them has been on-going since my weight loss. 

For those who don’t know, at the height of my weight (and sickness) I weighed 422 pounds.  Having lost 200 pounds and kept it off for 7 years, I am what I would consider a normal-sized person.  I am 6’ and weigh 220 pounds.  Due to our divergent opinions of big, my father often expresses concern about my safety.  He truly feels I am now “too skinny” to take care of myself.  He worries I will be attacked in the parking lot of the grocery store due to my tininess.

I’m not sure where he thinks I purchase food, but the only people who consider me tiny would be residents of American Samoa, some pro football players and possibly the stage crew for those hair metal bands squeezing every available dollar from their one power ballad.

And each weekend I assure him I am able to care for myself and remind him I haven’t been attacked, other than by a pigeon, since the one time in a bar by a lesbian during my delayed rebellion at age 25.  And I remind him I was victorious in that particular interaction.  Trust me when I tell you I am not proud of this fact.

And while I am still solo-skating through life, I am content and unafraid, coral chinos and all.  I don’t consider myself a target but I continuously promise him I’ll keep my eyes open for Samoans in the parking lot of my grocery store or The Dollar Tree. I feel fairly certain I could at least outrun someone that size should it be required.  Maybe I should keep some roller skates in the car.  You know, just in case.