Saturday, September 15, 2012

"At Least I Tried"- The Sunday Collage

Imagine seeing the following ad.

Help Wanted

Small non profit is looking for someone to work crappy hours, often on call and with short notice. You will be receiving very little pay with no benefits. Training is poor and inadequate, the equipment you will be using is old and out of date- and any attempt to upgrade it will be met with icy silence. Your supervisors have no management training or management skills. We have no human resources nor do we see any need for that. You will be required to be loyal and obedient. If not, we will use gossip and innuendo to make disciplinary decisions. Your immediate supervisor is sleeping with a co-workers son. The director of our firm is sleeping with one of your co-workers. We treat our clients and our staff poorly because we can. We have no competition and a captive stream of drug addicted clients paid for with taxpayer funds. This will be one of the most dysfunctional environments you will ever work in. Our employee turnover rate is around 50%. Despite all of that, we are a really great place to work! Come join our team. Please call 000-0000 for an application.

How could anyone in their right mind pass that gig up? Had I known all of that back in January, I would never have applied. I am amazed I made it as long as I did.

The reason you don't read about people and bad jobs is because quite often- it's all very hard to sort out. What exactly is a bad job? If you've been breathing air for long, chances are, you've worked a shitty job or two.

As I scroll my memory banks, I think I have worked at least 30 jobs and certainly no less. A lot of these jobs were college and part time jobs. My first job was picking up range balls at age 12. By the age of 15, I had worked as a janitor at a clothing store and as a dishwasher. I was a bag boy and a freight thrower for Albertson's grocery in college. I also worked as a drill hand in the oil fields, a bowling alley attendant, a gas station attendant, and a truck driver and deliveryman. Later on as a young adult I worked as a Deputy Sheriff. (Both apprentice and then paid) I worked as an advanced EMT, on a golf course part time, and even as a loan officer for ITT Financial Services in Las Vegas. *The most crooked job I ever worked. I also worked at the Flamingo in Vegas. Eventually I landed on law enforcement. I worked a total of 24 paid years, 16 of them as management. The last 7 years I spent as Chief of Police managing a department of 17 employees serving a town of about 8000 people. I refer to that town lovingly as, Moonbat City. It is a very wealthy, liberal town. I retired in 2007, meaning I could not go on. Physically and spiritually I was ill. I was drinking way too heavily and I was depressed. I was overweight, I smoked, I had health problems, and I was getting divorced. I knew it was time to say goodbye. That's just how it was.

It is those last 7 years, and then the intervening 5 years that I want to talk about. That's where I learned the important stuff. You can't connect the dots until you've lived through them. Please endure a quick list of credentials, qualifiers.

I've had literally thousands of hours of college and on the job training. I probably had 1000 hours of management training and then another 500 hours in Northwest Traffic Institute's Command College. That specialized training, coupled with my 17 years experience, left me barely adequate to run the police department. For seven years, I felt like I was hanging by a thread. During my time as Chief, I thought I was doing a good job. Passable job, maybe. Our ego tricks us into a state of unconsciousness. Tells us we are good and deserving. That of course, is bullshit.  

Nobody is born a leader despite what your mother or your 5th grade teacher might have told you. Leadership is an acquired skill. Leadership requires being a decent human being first- and then learning the skills of effective leadership. If you have no empathy, no sense of fair play or you are a dishonest person - it will not matter how many initials you have behind your name. You will not be an effective leader. People may fear you but they will not like you. And the only people that work for hostage takers- are obedient servants. Our world is awash with both. Just look at our dysfunctional President.

If all managers asked these five basic questions of themselves- they would be light years ahead of their competition. Is what I am doing ethically, morally, and legally right? Is it fair? Is it the right thing to do for everyone involved? People just want to be treated fairly and decently. 

I'm not kidding. I have found one, maybe two men that actually live to those standards. I would crawl over barbed wire to go to work for them but that's no longer possible.

Our bad management problem is steeped in ego, our culture, and ultimately, our moral decay. Since retiring in 2007, all I've found is bad management. It's like an epidemic- like obesity in this country.  How do I know what bad management is? Because I've been a bad manager. I know one when I see one.

Oddly enough you can't be a good manager until you realize that you are inadequately prepared to manage people. Just because you can kiss the owners ass and land a promotion does not mean you are prepared to be a leader. Often, it just means that you were more desperate than your co-workers. Once in awhile, people get promoted on merit. But merit doesn't translate to people handling skills. I am amazed at how long bad managers can find a way to cling to their jobs. How do you know you are a bad manager? Good managers always ask first, "what did I do wrong here?" Often the issue ends there.

Bad managers never do that. They always seek to blame others. Bad managers can always find something wrong with others while absolving themselves of any guilt in the matter. Good managers take responsibility for employee errors and because they can- they will often find the good in employees. They improve. Admitting your own mistakes makes you much more tolerable of others' mistakes.

Employees do not come to work hoping to make mistakes.They do the best that they can. Often I have found that improperly trained employees make mistakes. Improperly trained employees are almost always- management's fault. I learned that truth when as a manager- I began to ritualistically ask myself, did we fail to train here? Did we forget to explain this? Time and time again, we had. 
After 40 years in the workplace, I know a little something about the difference between good management and bad management. I've worked for both and I've been both. Bad managers are everywhere. Good managers are rare.

Why is that? This epidemic of poor leadership...where does it come from? I have a theory that I think makes a lot of sense. It actually speaks volumes about something I mentioned earlier. It is about morality, ethics, human decency, and doing what's right. It about empathy and a sense of fair play. It's really about self-less behavior. It's about humility. We don't teach those important things anymore. I dare you to find those important things in any curricula of any prep school, high school, or college. And if you don't have those values- you're going to suck as a boss and as a human being. I don't care how many years you spend in management training.

If you don't teach those core values- then by extension- nobody thinks they are important.

So how do I know all of that? I've been living it. I've been working for these unconscious, self centered hostage takers since I made my escape in 2007. My best friend tells me that's the way it is. The new status quo. Horrible bosses, obedient and disposable workers. Managers bent on ego, power, and money. Rarely do managers seek to improve the lives of their workers with new equipment, new efficiencies, a sense of fair play, or some sort of due process. He says that's Idaho. The great at will state where employers can fire you without giving any valid reason at all.

Maybe that's just the current culture. The haves are crushing the have nots. The haves definitely have the upper hand. So how do you know you are about to take a bad job? There are some clues...   

If the plant and facility are run down and in disrepair. If everything is done as cheaply as possible. If the equipment is old and not updated then you know management does not care about it's employees. That's a place that shows no signs of being progressive. If there is little training or inadequate trainers and training, employees will make mistakes and likely be blamed for them. Here's another couple of very good indicators for a toxic work environment. Normal, national job loss and turnover runs at about 5% annually but can be as high as10%. (Maybe higher in the restaurant or fast food biz) If you are about to take a job that is experiencing turnover and job losses that are in the 10% range or greater annually- be extremely wary. This is a bad workplace. Almost always and without exception- high turnover is an excellent sign that this is a bad place to work. If you don't mind potentially damaging garbage on your resume- go ahead and take your chances.

If all of the subordinates working at a place are extremely obedient or scared. Or if they treat the clientele poorly. Dysfunctional belief systems are always a reflection of the boss. Employees mirror their bosses behavior. They will behave in a fashion consistent with their boss. So if they treat people poorly- its because the boss condones it. That's been my experience anyway.

In 2007, I promised my sponsor- Father Des- that I would go into service work. He died a month later. If I can summarize my life of service work since then- I would have to do so using the movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." I laughed out loud as I watched clips from this movie. This one seemed most appropriate. Damnit Des, at least I tried. It's time to say uncle.


Fredd said...

Naw, good 'try', Brian. Trying. It's admirable to a point. But if nothing is gained, we call this failure.

Or, as Yoda said in Star Wars, 'Try. There is no try. Either do, or do not. There is no try.' I paraphrase. But the point is that trying against reasonable chances of succeeding is simply hooplah.

McMurphy 'tried' to rip out the plumbng fixture, but he was a puny 5'7, 170 pound weakling. At least he tried. Chief, now Chief was 6'6, 260, and he got the job done. Trying to walk on to Duke and start at center, well trying will just not get you there. You gotta have the chops, and then trying makes sense.

Trying without chops is just Hollywood. Fake. Irrelelvant.

Anonymous said...

Yep, you've certainly been around the block and I can very strongly relate to what you've said. If you and your readers don't mind, I'd like to share a brief glimpse of the mind-numbing, soul-sucking cesspool of anguish, misery and despair that I toil in. A real shithole.

I've worked in a large municipal government outfit (consisting of thousands of employees) for nearly 25 years. Back in the early 1990s, a white fellow in our group who'd been there for some time was paired up with a black fellow (the white guy was the mentor, the black guy his apprentice). After the white guy had introduced himself to the black guy, the first words out of the black guy's mouth were "you're a racist." Stunned, the white guy asked why? The black guy responded that because of the white guy's ethnic background (German), that's how it was. All Germans are racist and therefore the white guy, being of German background himself, was also a racist. The white guy then told the black guy to f**k off, that he didn't need the black guy's bigotry. Faster than you can say abracadabra, the black guy phoned the supervisor and reported the white guy as being racist because the "f" word had been used against him. The white guy was forced to apologize without being allowed to tell his side of the story, he was placed on probation for 3 years and then ordered to undergo psychological evaluation to determine why he was racist toward black people (never mind that the white guy was/is married to a black woman). The white guy underwent the evaluation (he had to or he'd be fired) and was informed by the shrink that he harbored murderous tendencies towards his supervisor and was certainly racist. The white guy was sore, complained to the company's Human Rights department about what he felt was unjust treatment, and was told that racism was always white against black and that blacks were always the victim. Always, always, always. The white guy referred to the Human Rights department as idiotic and was suspended for 3 days. The white guy later suffered an aneurysm which left him crippled (he still works there) and when he suggested to another member of management that he believed his aneurysm was stress related because of what he'd been through, management simply laughed it off. The black guy, meanwhile, is doing just fine and has even been promoted, with no bad marks against him. Nice place, eh?

How do I know all of this? Because I'm the white guy. I see and have live the shit that goes with incompetent, cowardly, bullying, power-tripping managers. Funny you include a clip from Cuckoo's Nest, since that is exactly how I perceive my workplace: that management is insane and the nuts are the ones with their heads screwed on right.