Tuesday, October 16, 2007

NPR - Couldn't pass this up

I saw this cartoon the other day in the Wall Street Journal. I thought it was perfect in describing how I felt when I told my boss I was retiring two years earlier than I had previously told him. And looking back it was in an interesting last year and especially last four months. Not something I would recommend but would if you have a boss like I had, all worth it.

And what is the story, if you're interested? Ok, not really, but I'll tell the story anyway. You can just click somewhere else.

My boss, who transferred from the Investigations Section in another (state) office, had almost no experience in the collection, production and management of basic data, and the management and operation of a basic data section with a $3.6 Million budget and 30+ people staff. To say he was in over his head is an understatement, and being about 10 year younger than many Data Chiefs who earn the job is a real understatement.

And add to that since he was under a one year probation period, meaning his boss could simply say he's failed and sent him back to where he came with the minimum of reasons, he spent the first 18 months focused on his boss than his staff, the work of the section and especially our customers. To get the $3.6 Million income we had nearly 60 contracts with about 40 different clients - some were different offices of the same agency.

This is where I was angry and disheartened. I had spent my whole career in basic data, in three (state) offices. I was in the top 3 twice for the job here - along with elsewhere for several places. I had the support and recommendation of regional and headquarters senior staff. You can guess my intent to be a Data Chief, and then to have a my boss selected. And then not see or talk to him but a few times in his first two years.

Needless to say I wasn't alone. All the managers who reported to him felt that way and almost all the working staff who never saw him, wondered what was going on. Well, once he got past his probation to be permanent, he went from being almost an absentee boss to a near-micro manager one. And I have to say, he was "the" best example of what not to do and how things can go wrong."

Am I being too hard? Well, a little, but in hindsight, he deserved it because he didn't think about the job when we walked in the door. He didn't think through his role, the responsibilities to the staff, obligations to his customers - both the public and contractors - and to being a human being. He simply decided he knew better than all the rest of us, and went down the road to tell us, in staff meetings and privately in performance reviews - the latter almost the only time he met with me during my time there.

He never learned to walk around and be present in the work and operation. To just listen, ask and learn. Don't act or decide, just learn and let people do their job. It's not rocket science to be a good Data Chief and a good manager. It's about being a leader, not a manager. And we routinely argued as I tried to explain things to him from my nearly 15+ years there and 10 years elsewhere, and teach him about being a Data Chief.

But he always insisted he didn't need the help and tried to explain things to me. Granted, I'm obstinent at times but I change if persuaded, meaning providing good sound reasons and logic than simply because "I'm the boss." And so at my last performance review he informed me I was getting an unsatisfactory evaluation from some work - one of the five elements. I refused to sign it and appealed it.

The (state) office Chief concurred with my boss, so I was left to go to the region. They sided with me and "instructed" the (state) office chief to reverse the rating, and give me a satisfactory one. Since it embarrassed her for concurring, she refused except to make it a satisfactory with reservations. But I won and signed the acceptance. I had humbled both bosses into the reality of the power an employee.

I took that and my told folks, "Sorry, life wins.", and filed my retirement papers effective December 31, 2005. It was free agency. It's been fun and enjoyable. Not always good or better, but always worth it. It's my life now, no one else. And that's the important part. I would't change it then or now. And it's all still with and ahead of me.

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