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Management Prerequisite: Self Awareness

What has been going on lately, we all like to know?

Well, let us step back a few years. When I was a kid, I spent most of my time in institutions. There was pre-school, public school, after school, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, soccer … heck, when I graduated High School it only made sense to enlist in the Army. I was pretty good at institutions — no great responsibilities, and a clever guy like myself could figure out the game and mostly do what he pleased.

And so this led the way through college and in to work. I was accustomed to having bosses. I had more respect for the private sector than for education – a TA grad student was giving me instructions as part of a course that was ostensibly for my benefit. A boss or a manager was paying me money to affect certain outcomes. It was an exchange. For the bosses I would bust my butt, and get money. For the teacher … not so much. After all, I was there for my own education, right?

My biggest crisis in the past few years came from unemployment. I’ve been so accustomed to having other people telling me what to do, whether I was ignoring them, fighting them, or cheerfully serving them, that I was at a complete loss for what to do when nobody was demanding anything of me. In fact, I couldn’t find anyone to boss me around. For someone who had lived his life being bossed around up until that point … well, like I said, it was a crisis.

But, I adapted. The waiter job was probably the most educational – a waiter makes his income on tips. One night might see lots of business, and a lot of money. Another night … you’d have to suck it up because you weren’t bringing home enough. The busy nights were rough but rewarding, and the slow nights … you’d hope they were just enough to give you a bit of a break. The boss would have me cleaning out salt and pepper shakers, or other crappy but necessary business. A waiter is like a franchisee for his parent restaurant – he is an entrepreneur who assumes some of his own risk in doing business in his boss’ name.

When I got back around to having a real boss … well, I kind of missed my independence. But the money was good. Still, the second time I got laid off … that trip around the world. Oooh, gosh. A word of possibilities, and last year coming back to find the economy in even worse shape … I ate macaroni and cheese for a month before driving through a blizzard to Illinois. I ended up a barista, which was awesome cool, though there was the growing problem of my evil boss. In that situation I was sufficiently self-aware of our respective grievances that I managed to get fired, for the sake of unemployment benefits. Dubious, but cool.

Anyway, I found this new job, where I’m at now. At first, it was exciting to work, then that old frustration I had experienced before at having lost my hard-won freedoms. Well, I like to think I got that licked recently as well.

You see, I’m a manager now. Or should that be, I’m a “manager” now. Manager? Huh. I don’t know much for manager, but then when I went to work before, I didn’t know about being a SysAdmin. I learn by doing. There must be easier ways to learn, but I learn by doing. Well, it was kind of hard, at first, being a “manager” for a company that, well, I don’t name my employer here in part because “management” is one of those things that is still being developed. But then, when I was at Tellme, they didn’t have any systems administration either. I took what I already knew, and learned a whole heck of a lot more on my own initiative. In my present situation, I have taken what I do know about management, which aint a whole heck of a lot, and I’ve started researching what I could and hopefully should know on the subject, and I’m running forward with that.

For me, I see that I am completing an important process of inversion – from being lost without a boss, to realizing that I am pretty much my own boss, to learning now, how to be my own boss while simultaneously working with other people to attain other, collective goals. That’s what being a manager is about, right? You’re the boss, but you report in turn to your boss, and in between, you’re also your own boss. You can not manage collaboration with others without first having learned that you have to manage yourself as well.

After a period of ambivalence and trepidation on my part with this seemingly ridiculous situation, I’ve decided to just go for it, and find some books on the subject. I get to read Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and I’m all entranced, because his big story is that we move from Dependence to Independence to Interdependence. And, well, this book, what I’ve read so far, is complimenting my own self-awareness at this point in my life so nicely.

The skinny Buddhist kid on Queer Eye last week offered that “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Well, it is my hope that the student is already successfully finding sources of instruction. And it is just a feelin’ right.

And to my colleagues at work who are going along on similar rides of their own … if you read this, I gotta say thanks for the company. Let’s all take off together.

/danny

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