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Saturday, May 13, 2023

A Hazard to Your Contentment

     It's sort of a downside of retirement, this gradual dawning of the truth. It happens when, freed of the consuming confines of worklife, you have the time and leisure to actually think. It can be hazardous to your contentment. 

     Example: As a manager, I fired very few people, but maybe I shouldn't have fired any. I faintly recall the tight, combative feeling that develops when that final straw drops like a lead pipe, and you unholster the ultimate management weapon. I hated that feeling. I never hated the person I was rejecting/ejecting, though. I felt I was reluctantly administering just desserts. 

     Now, from the purgatory sanctuary of an easy chair, the retiree can shake the dust from such memories and honestly assess the garment itself -- the underlying relationships. No question those particular relationships were not good, and I identified the precipitating causes at the other end. But how about how the situation developed?

     Two of the histories occupy my attention today.

     The first is that of a headstrong young man who had flatly, and repeatedly, rejected suggestions and admonishments. His direct supervisor came to me with a demand that he be fired. He had been quite offensive and the supervisor was really angry. 

     Then, as the three of us sat down, he pulled out a note he had worked out for himself about how he was promising to change his ways. I shoved that aside and proceeded with the dismissal. I thereby may have missed an opportunity to help that young man mature a bit, and to deepen my own skill set. Maybe we could have worked from the new start he was offering..

     That same supervisor later created a growth opportunity for me in a related circumstance. She gradually developed an rebellion against management restraint. There was a confrontation, then a follow-up session at which I conditioned her continued employment on an explicit understanding of the management order. In short, it must be made clear that she worked for me. She couldn't accept that and walked out. 

     In effect, the event resulted in a more constructive tone in the office. Sloppy, unintended and overdue, but for the better.

     I made my "him-or-me" demand of my own boss in a later conflict with an incompetent,  bullheaded colleague, -- and got the offending guy fired. 

     The final few decades of my career were devoted to project management consulting,. I realize now that at that time I was handing out more advice about navigating personalities and relationships than about network diagrams and risk management. 

   And so, nowadays completely on the outside looking in, reading the histories and thoughts of other people from other workplaces. It's still a learning experience. 

     Learning what?

     I find myself reverting to a fundamental view of management: As a manager, I was responsible. How did I conduct my part in the initiation of each individual relationship? Did I thoroughly examine, thoughtfully consider and wisely manage the beginning and the various events and moments along the way?

     As the most responsible party, what did I do or fail to do as my various relationships grew? Did I lead, advise, instruct, initiate, respond, support, critique effectively? Did I learn what I needed to know in order to conduct each activity and invest in it appropriately?

Doing such an assessment in these silent moments of maturity is a long process, maybe an open-ended one. It can be  uncomfortable. Sometimes there's a shocking flash of enlightenment, delightful or horrifying.     

     As it continues, you get to know yourself. Work at it. There are many roads to this journey, and some of them can end in deep satisfaction.  


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