Monday, March 25, 2019

Always On the Go

I had a day this week that defied logic. In the office at 7:00 AM, on the road at 9:30 AM, a conference presentation at 11:30 AM, back on the road at 12:30 PM, a conference call in the car at 1:00 PM, a planning meeting back in the office at 3:00 PM. And all throughout, checking and responding to emails, Tweets, and LinkedIn posts.

I got it all done, and I did it with grace and skill. I'm not trying to toot my own horn; just commenting on how normal things that are actually crazy seem. And craziest of all, while I was driving down the freeway at 75 miles an hour, connecting my hands-free phone to the conference call, I found myself looking forward to the advent of driverless cars so I could be even more productive on days like that.

Funny thing is, I did this all to myself. The conference presentation got booked first. I was invited, I accepted, and I put it on my calendar. It was only 90 minutes away by car, and, at that early date, there was nothing else on my calendar. I could drive down and spend the day there -- or so I thought.

Then the conference call came about. It was the only time and date in the next three weeks that would work for a particular Board member. Sure, no problem. It's after my presentation, so I can easily break away from the conference and take the call. Go ahead and schedule it.

And then the planning meeting. It's part of a new partnership we've been working on, and the day of my presentation was the only one that week that would work for the folks in the other organization. Can you possibly meet with them that day? Ummm, sure. If I leave the conference at 1:00 PM, I should be back in the office and ready to meet at 3:00 PM. Oh, wait. There's that conference call. Well, I guess I can do that hands-free in the car. Let's go ahead and book it.

There was a time when this level of productivity (if that's what you want to call it) would have been unthinkable. No, sorry. I'm giving a presentation at an out-of-town conference that day. We'll have to find other days for both the conference call and the planning meeting. But now, with the communication and transportation tools that we have at our disposal, days in which I give a conference presentation, participate in a conference call, conduct a planning meeting, and spend three hours in the car, are not only possible, they are increasingly the norm.

That's a good thing, right?

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
https://www.autotrader.com/car-tips/buying-used-car-why-are-highway-miles-better-225870


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Dragons - Chapter 6 (DRAFT)

Whenever I tell someone about this stuff, I always have to spend some time talking about the strained relationship that developed between me and my son. I’m not proud of it—I acted like a real idiot—but it’s important for me to include it, because it’s one of the things that eventually made me realize something was desperately wrong and something had to change.

He’s seven now, my son, but he was four when I was going through this, and I still didn’t know anything about being a father. I mean, I didn’t even know simple stuff. Stuff like you can’t expect four-year-old kids to tell you what they’re thinking. And stuff like they’re unique individuals with their own thoughts and desires. And stuff like the more you try to force them to be who you want them to be, the more you wind up pushing them away.

I remember this one time I took a vacation day so we could make a trip to one of those railroad museums that seem to dot the country. I think just about every state has one, usually located in some weed-choked old train yard. Anyone who’s ever had or ever been a little boy has more than likely visited one and seen their rusty collection of old engines and train cars.

This one had some extra attractions, including a gigantic model railroad display, with lights and switches that the kids could operate by pushing buttons all around the track, a couple of giant train sheds supposedly housing antique rail cars, and outdoor train rides in these dopey-looking open carriages pulled by miniature locomotives. For me, it was nothing special—certainly not worth the forty-five bucks it cost to get the three of us in the place, nor the twelve-fifty more every time we turned around and wanted to do something. For my son, however, it was like he died and went to heaven, and he went completely apeshit with excitement the whole time we were there.

Now, at this time things were starting to get uncomfortably busy for me at work. We’d already lost one of the department heads, and I was struggling to do both her job and mine while looking for a replacement. So, instead of spending a relaxing day with my family, like a dork I was checking my voicemail every ten minutes and worrying that someone important would find out I was gone and start raising hell. And every time I looked up from the cell phone, it seemed, I would catch my son doing something odd or stupid.

Jacob—that’s his name—has this nervous habit. Every time he gets excited about something he starts jumping up and down and flapping his hands like a scrawny, half-grown bird trying to take its first flight. It was kind of cute the first few times he did it, but he still does it even today, and I sometimes wonder if he’ll be doing it when he’s a teenager—getting ready to go to prom, perhaps—or even as an adult, waiting at the altar for his bride to come down the aisle. It sounds silly, I know, but he does it so frequently, and in so much disregard for the number of times that I’ve asked, demanded, or begged that he stop doing it, that I have very little trouble imagining him doing it fifteen years from now in his rented tuxedo and overshined shoes.

I think this trip to the train museum was the first time I’d seen him do it in public. We were inside the pre-fabricated building where the model train exhibit was kept. I was on the phone, and had gone off to an ill-frequented area—a poorly lit and evidently forgotten place where the state’s history of railroading was shown through a series of hand-built and dusty old dioramas—to listen and respond to a long and rambling message from one of my board members. When I returned to the train exhibit I saw my wife, Jenny, and Jacob, standing amidst a sea of other young boys and their parents around the display, strollers parked like a circle of besieged wagons around the perimeter, and Jacob jumping up and down like a salmon trying to get upstream before all the good mating partners were taken.

Now, I’ve got to be honest. That’s what I’m here for, right? At first I didn’t recognize him. I guess my mind was still back in the office, and I remember wondering in my ignorance who the retarded kid was that couldn’t stand still while the rest of the boys simply watched in thunderstruck admiration. And then, of course, I realized who it was, and I felt such an intense feeling of shame and anxiety that tears actually came to my eyes. Shame that I would think such a dismissive thought about my own son, but more so anxiety over the paranoid worry that maybe there really was something wrong with him—if not retarded, then hyperactive or autistic or something. Anything that would keep him from being accepted into normal society and living a full life.

First I composed myself, and then I went over and put my arm around my wife’s shoulders.

“Everything all right?” she asked me, referring to the phone call I had just been on.

“Uh huh,” I said weakly, thinking more about Jacob than anything going on back in the office. He was my son, but so unlike me in so many ways. So unlike anything I wanted him to be. He was still jumping up and down in place, hands still flapping on the ends of his wrists like flags on a windy day, oblivious to everything except the source of his joy. His eyes followed the moving train cars, and noticed neither my return nor the stares he was beginning to draw from some of the other fathers. “He sure likes trains, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does,” Jenny said, her lips initially smiling, but then turning into a frown when she saw how serious I was. “Alan, don’t. Just let him be.”

Back then Jenny always took things more easily than I did, especially wherever Jacob was concerned. We were both somewhat irrational about being parents—she wanting Jacob to remain a little boy forever and me wanting him to grow up too fast—and, initially, she managed to get into fewer confrontations with him than I did. Now, she was trying to steer me away from another one.

“Jacob, buddy,” I said, as kindly as I could. “Do you want to go see the big trains?”

Jacob gave no indication he had even heard me, still jumping in place like he was being punished in boot camp. I remember one year at Christmas he jumped so much and for so long we had to wring the sweat out of his clothes before washing them.

“Jacob,” I said again, a little more sternly. “Let’s go see the big trains.”

Still nothing. I looked around nervously and caught the eye of another father, a short and bald guy in an “I Love Trains” t-shirt and a pair of plaid shorts. For a moment he had a sour and disapproving look on his face, but then he turned away the way strangers are supposed to when they’re caught staring. I disengaged my arm from around Jenny’s shoulders and clasped Jacob’s arm as gently as I could. It kept him from jumping to the heights he had been before but he still fought against me like a fish pulling on my line.

“Ow, Daddy! You’re hurting me!”

This was something else Jacob does with a fair amount of regularity—complaining that he is being injured when he is not. Just like he used to complain the bath water was too hot when I was in it up to both elbows, or still that I’m yelling too loud when I’m not even raising my voice. Back then, Jenny thought he was just sensitive—and she probably still does. I always suspected he was deliberately manipulating every situation to his own advantage, not like some master strategist, but more like a semi-intelligent ape acting mostly on instinct. I thought he was using the only tools he had at his disposal—his tears and his shrill voice—to combat the obstacles keeping him from fulfilling his primal desires. Turns out we were both wrong.

Aware of the eyes upon us and not wanting him to cause a scene by throwing a tantrum in public, I let him go and he went back to full-on jumping, laughing and gurgling in the back of his throat every time a train swept by. Like I hadn’t even interrupted him. Like I was no longer of any concern.

We eventually got him out of there by bribing him with an ice cream treat. Like most new parents we had learned through some difficult trial and error that nothing else has the allure of something sweet on the tongue, and Jacob was an absolute fiend for ice cream.

Later, I did take him out into the train yard to see the old engines and train cars they had on display. I don’t know why I wanted him to see them so badly. I had never been there before so I didn’t know what to expect, but I had seen the tremendous train sheds when we first arrived, and thought they had to have something interesting stashed away inside them. Jenny was tired by then and didn’t want to walk all the way out there, so she started looking at the multi-colored junk in the gift shop, and that was just fine with me.

Ever since I had first attempted to use the “big trains” as a lure to get Jacob out of the public eye, I had somehow fixated on the idea that exploring the train sheds together would be a perfect opportunity for Jacob and me to build some memories. You know, like he would always remember the time his father took him to see the old steam locomotive. Like something out of a picture book—oiled and shiny in the slanted light of the afternoon sun. I remember even entertaining the idea that maybe he would someday bring his own son here and pass the special memory on to another generation.

Well, the sheds didn’t have any steam engines, only a few old and dirty diesels and a dozen or so decrepit train cars from the golden days of cross-country passenger rail service—dining cars, Pullman porters, observation cars—that kind of thing. None of them had been maintained at all. They were all fading paint, cracked housings, and dirty windows on the outside and torn upholstery, exposed wires, and smelly carpet on the inside. The place resembled a graveyard much more than a museum, and I’m not sure we were even supposed to be there. The ends of the sheds were open to the elements, and there weren’t any signs or ropes to keep us out or off the cars, but they were so broken down and full of safety hazards I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to open themselves up to that kind of liability. Despite all the money I saw people shelling out, I remember thinking the museum owners must not have been clearing enough profit to get any decent lawyers to advise them.

But, of course, Jacob didn’t care about any of this. As soon as he saw the train cars huddled together in the gloom of the abandoned shed and realized what they were—honest to goodness, bonafide, real train cars—he wanted to go on them, and me, his father—the adult—was too wrapped up in the idea of trying to create some honest to goodness, bonafide, real father and son bonding to worry about the likelihood of lacerations, bacterial infections, or rabies shots.

Jacob laughed when I lifted him up into the first car and we started exploring, moving from one train car to the next by hopping hand-in-hand across the two feet of empty space that separated them. Every step was a new adventure for Jacob. He loved hiding behind the musty drapes in the sleeping car, running down the narrow service corridors in the kitchen car, and climbing over the backs of the passenger seats, one after the other for the length of the coach. He wanted to go everywhere I couldn’t fit, giggling and grinning back at me like some kind of fairy creature, proud to show me what he and his little body could do, testing his limits but never straying too far from my approving gaze. We were the only ones there—another sign that we probably shouldn’t have been doing what we were doing—and for a while everything else seemed to fade away and the world was just me and my son.

When Jacob got tired we took a rest in one of the dining cars and I sat him at one of the booths behind an old Formica table that was bolted to the floor. It had one of those wavy metal edges on it—like they have at some twenty-four hour diners—and it was broken in a couple of places, and the tabletop itself was chipped and stained about six different shades of green. But Jacob was happy as hell, his big ears flushed red and his smile practically cracking his face open like he was some kind of jack-o-lantern with the front teeth missing from its grin.

“Daddy,” he asked me. “Can we go for a ride on this train?”

“No,” I told him, laughing in the back of my throat. “Not on this train, buddy.”

“Why not, Daddy?”

“Because this train doesn’t run any more, Jacob. It’s old.”

Jacob looked around, his eyes wide and full of wonder, and in a strange moment of clarity for me I knew he wasn’t seeing things the way I saw them. He couldn’t have been. I mean, think about it. What did he know? He was four. He’d never been on a train before and, as far as he could tell, this might be the way all of them looked. He had no idea that the carpet beneath his dangling feet wasn’t supposed to be moldy, or that the padding in the torn cushion he sat on wasn’t supposed to be shredded by some nest-building rodent that had long since died or moved on. There was a kind of glassy fascination in his eyes, like everything around him was pure and beautiful.

Looking at him and knowing he was completely blind to the grim reality, I found myself torn in half with conflicting emotions. Some small part of me could actually feel the joy he felt—could feel it perhaps because it radiated off him so intensely—and, as sappy as it sounds, it filled my sick old heart with love and pride, and I felt like together Jacob and I could conquer the world. But most of me was too encrusted with well-worn cynicism to be entirely seduced by Jacob’s fantasy. We weren’t really surrounded by anything pure or beautiful, after all, just by things old and used up and forgotten like we’re all destined to be some day.

I don’t know. Jenny jokes in her semi-serious way that I have a habit of throwing myself off the cliffs of happiness, always finding the jagged rocks of despair more alluring, and this was probably one of those times. I guess I was still caught up in my worry that Jacob would grow up into some kind of misfit that I over-interpreted what was happening. The anxiety I had felt before returned, but this time it felt more like panic, and I was overwhelmed by how much there was for Jacob to learn and how far away he seemed from learning it. He was so clueless there on that broken down train car, clueless and happy the way the disabled sometimes are, I didn’t think he could ever adjust to a world that was moving so quickly around him. I was suddenly convinced it would someday crush him, this big and scary world he would never fully understand, and I, his father, would not be able to help him or stop it from happening.

His wayward eyes returned to me, his face still very much that of a toddler and glowing with the rapture only they can possess. “Daddy? How fast can this train go?”

I thought about his question for a moment. “Not fast enough,” I remember telling him, thinking more about the race no one or nothing ever wins, the one against time, and as he looked at me in his untutored confusion, I pledged to myself then and there that I would help him. God damn right I would—I needed to, or he wasn’t going to make it. At the time I was utterly convinced that Jacob needed to be more normal, that he needed to be more like everybody else, and that I could somehow make that happen through some strange alchemy of role modeling, incentives and coercion.

I know. You don’t have to look at me like that. Like I said before, I didn’t know a thing about being a father.

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“Dragons” is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. For more information, go here.

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
http://lres.com/heres-why-amcs-need-to-pay-close-attention-to-looming-regulatory-changes/businessman-in-the-middle-of-a-labyrinth/


Monday, March 18, 2019

Engineering for Eighth Graders

My association sponsors an outreach and education program for eighth graders. We call it the Fluid Power Action Challenge, and we've positioned it as it part of a series of programs to introduce the technology my association represents to young people and then to provide a pathway of activities through high school and college that brings them into careers in our industry.

We often talk about the difference between its perceived and actual value in strategy sessions with our leadership. We know it touches several thousand students a year, but other outcomes are hard to come by. Do any of those kids fall in love with fluid power and decide to pursue it as career as a result of their participation? We don't know, and frankly, we probably wouldn't like the answer if we could learn it.

But I'll confess, regardless of how many students the Action Challenge bends towards our industry, the program retains a special place in my heart. I helped launch it within our organization eleven years ago. In that first iteration, we had a total of twelve students, competing in three teams of four, who were only there because I had met a middle school teacher at one of the conferences I had attended and had pitched him hard on the idea. He called a friend and the two of them brought some of their students in for the experiment.

And, as I have told the story many times in the intervening years, I knew we had something special when, after the pizza lunch had been delivered, we had a hard time tearing the kids away from the task of building their fluid power machines so that they could eat. Fluid power was more compelling than pepperoni!

This past Friday, I attended the latest of these Action Challenge events. What was once twelve kids in a middle school classroom was now two hundred kids in a tech school gymnasium. And that event, while the largest in the state of Wisconsin, was only one of dozens that are being held around the country every year.

As the program has grown I've stepped away from it as its primary organizer -- that task now resting firmly in the hands of my staff and a dozen or more members of my association. But I still try to go to at least one such event every year and, if you watch the video I've tried to post below, maybe you'll understand why.


Eighth graders built this. They designed it and then built it, cutting the wooden supports and gluing them together, and positioning the plastic syringes in just the right places to create the movement they sought. You can see that their task is to pick up the wooden cylinder and place it on the platform -- repeatably, and as many times as possible in a two-minute competition.

And, of course, what makes the machine work is fluid power. Each syringe is connected to another by a thin, plastic tube, and each of those systems is filled with water. As each student presses in or pulls out on the syringe in their hands, the water, acting as a hydraulic fluid, transmits that action to the corresponding syringe attached to the machine, making it move in its precise, engineered direction. One movement clamps down on the cylinder, a second lifts it into the air, and a third swivels the whole machine so the cylinder can be placed on the platform.

I find it hypnotizing. Not just the graceful movement of the machine and the choreographed directions of the students, but also the forethought, smarts, and skill that went into the machine's design and function. Of course I hope these kids grow up to be fluid power engineers, but in a way, that's beside the point. Whatever it is they decide to do, something tells me they're going to excel at it, and that gives me hope for our future.

That's what I find more compelling than pepperoni pizza.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.


Saturday, March 16, 2019

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves

For a variety of reasons, a short slew of business books recently came to the top of my reading list, and this is the first.

Its premise is that Emotional Intelligence (EQ) -- your ability to both understand and control your emotions and to be aware of the emotions of others, and to use that awareness to productively manage your relationships -- is the single greatest predictor of “professional success and personal excellence.”

Is it? No idea, but the book is chock full of strategies that you could theoretically use to amp up your ability to perform in one of the four key areas of EQ. In fact, for each area, the suggested strategies are provided in a handy index: 15 for self-awareness, 17 for self-management, 17 for social awareness, and 17 for relationship management.

And the best part? Unlike a lot of business books I’ve read, that will explicitly or implicitly state that you have to employ all 66 of these strategies in order to improve, the authors here are giving you the option to pick and choose. Their prescription is to first pick one area, then three strategies in that area, and master those before moving onto something else. Refreshing!

But, as always, I have a bone to pick.

The mass exodus of Baby Boomers from the workplace has already begun. According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, between 2006 and 2010, Boomer retirement will have robbed American companies of nearly 290,000 full-time experienced employees.

Note the future tense there. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is copyrighted 2009, so I can only assume the authors were writing about data on generations in the workplace as it existed in that year -- nine years previous to the year I read it.

Silver hair, pension funds, and personal memories of the Kennedy assassinations are not the only things our struggling economic engine will lose when Boomers settle into the quiet life. Boomers hold the majority of top leadership roles in the workplace, and their retirement creates a leadership gap that must be filled by the next generations. The question is whether or not the Boomers’ successors are up to the challenge.

Oh boy, you know where this is going. Hourglass Blog, anyone? You can bet I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting to see if they come through.

We wanted to find out. We broke EQ scores down into the four generations in today’s workplace -- Generation Y (18-30 years old), Generation X (31-43 years old), Baby Boomers (43-61 years old), and Traditionalists (62-80 years old). When we looked at each of the four core EQ skills separately, a huge gap emerged between Boomers and Gen Y in self-management. In a nutshell, Baby Boomers are much less prone to fly off the handle when things don’t go their way than the younger generations.

Okay. Maybe that’s a slip of the editorial tongue. After all, they did mention Generation X as one of the four generations in today’s workplace. And Generation X is shown on the chart that accompanies the text. Let me try to faithfully recreate it below.



Wow. That is a huge gap. It looks like Generation Y scored a 65 and Baby Boomers scored a 71. But, wait a minute. What’s going on with that y-axis? Why are they only showing me the range from 64 to 74? I wonder what the data would look like if I scaled that axis to include all the possible scores, for 0 to 100?



Hmmm. Where’d that “huge gap” go? I probably shouldn’t have done that. It kind of destroys their point. But let’s go back to their text and see if they mention anything about that mystery generation that lives between Generation Y and the Baby Boomers.

It may not appear that this should create any real cause for concern. After all, retirement has been a fact of life ever since FDR signed the Social Security Act. The generation that designated Dennis Hopper as its unofficial spokesman proved capable of filling the superhuman-sized work boots of the Greatest Generation. So how hard can it be for the leaders-in-waiting to replace the Easy Rider Generation?

Without well-honed self-management skills, it might be a lot harder than we think. Of course, while Gen Y’s approach may be different from the Boomers’ approach, many would argue that it isn’t any worse. Actually, when you consider how knowledgeable and technically proficient Gen Yers are, they might even have a leg up on their predecessors in the Information Age. However, it should be clear by now that there is more to leadership than being a walking Wikipedia. So, if Gen Yers can’t manage themselves, how can we expect them to manage, much less lead, others?

There’s more, but I’m going to stop transcribing it. Over the next couple of pages, Gen X is mentioned (in passing) once, but the overwhelming focus is on Gen Yers and whether they have (they don’t!) or can develop (they can!) the “right stuff” to take over the leadership reins from all those Dennis Hoppers.

Maybe all I can do is cite my own organization, in which someone from Generation X took over the corner office when his Baby Boomer predecessor decided to retire. And that Gen X leader now has members of Generation Y working for him.

Radical, I know.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.





Monday, March 11, 2019

Staying Ahead of Your Members

There's an old saying among association executives. To be successful, you need to stay ahead of your members ... but not too far.

What most people mean by this, generally speaking, is that the association executive that doesn't act until his members make their collective desires known will wind up leading his association into either obscurity or oblivion. He won't, in fact, be leading. He'll be following, and people will question what he's in charge of and why the association is paying him so much.

However, the association executive that charges out too far ahead of her members will frequently find herself in similar trouble. She may think that she is leading, that she has read the broader marketplace around her association and is bringing needed reforms and innovations to the association and the industry it represents, but if the members aren't on board (or worse, don't understand) they will think she had gone rogue. Too big for her britches. Whose association is this, anyway?

Success, then, lies somewhere in the middle. Lead the organization. Open new doors and take your members through them, but make sure they know what's on the other side and are excited about going there.

For all those association executives out there who may be wondering how well they are walking this line, remember that your association's Annual Conference is an ideal opportunity to check yourself. To show not only that you are leading the association, but also to connect with the members and make sure they understand and support the direction you're going.

My Annual Conference was this past week, and it afforded me exactly this opportunity. Speaking from the podium, laying out the strategies we're pursuing and the reasons why, and then chatting with members during the breaks, receptions, and dinners. Do you agree with what we're doing? Are you finding value in our activities? Is there something else you think we should be doing? It provided a kind of one-two punch. Lead first, then connect. And, of course, adjust based on the feedback received.

It's one of the best ways I know to successfully stay ahead ... but not too far ahead ... of your members.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
https://zoeinspirational.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/setting-the-pace/


Saturday, March 9, 2019

Dragons - Chapter 5 (DRAFT)

It started early on with little things. Things like the timesheets. Everybody in the company had to keep track of the hours they spent working for each client, and at the end of each month, we had to tally up our time, write it down in neat little boxes on our timesheets, and turn them in to the financial department.

When Ryan ran the company, he used this information to negotiate service fees with our clients. He didn’t care how many hours you worked. He wanted to know how many hours you were working so he could make sure the company was billing its clients appropriately, but he didn’t make any value judgments about your performance based on the number of hours you were reporting. He had other benchmarks for that, things connected to your project and development objectives.

But Mary was not Ryan. The things Ryan judged you on were just too fuzzy for a dedicated number-cruncher like Mary. When it came to evaluating people’s performance, Mary wanted something that could be counted, something that could fit precisely on one of her spreadsheets and be analyzed. Something like how many hours you were reporting on your timesheets.

It was amazing how quickly it happened. I remember sitting in the lunch room one day, just a handful of months after the change in leadership. I was with a group of my fellow department heads—people like me who directed staff and programs in a particular functional area and who, like me, had previously reported to Ryan and were now reporting to Mary. These were all people I would later come to supervise when I got my much-publicized promotion to deputy account executive, but that day they were just peers, on the same level of the corporate ladder as me. People like Gerald Krieger and Bethany Bishop.

Those are just a couple of names to you, I know, a couple of names no different than any others you might pull randomly out of the phone book. I’ll tell you more about them later—they both actually have a pivotal role to play in the drama that’s about to unfold—but forgive me if I can’t help but stop here for a moment to reflect on how funny life can be.

You know how sometimes people pass in and out of your life, affecting you profoundly one day and then it seems you hardly think of them the next. Mary, and Gerald, and Bethany—it’s almost like they’re characters in a book I read a long time ago and usually have trouble remembering. But sitting here talking with you, it’s like I’ve taken that book down off the shelf and I’m starting to page through it again, and I’m remembering not just these characters and their names, but the parts each of them played in the story, and I realize that the story wouldn’t be the story without each of the characters making it so. If I leave any of them out, the story won’t be complete, and I’d have to make up a different ending.

Okay. I suppose that might be a little too heavy on the psychoanalytical bullshit, so let’s just put that aside for now. We’ll have plenty of time for the deep end of the pool later, whether I swim out there myself or you push me in.

The point is we were a bunch of middle managers having lunch together, too high up the ladder to have lunch with anyone else, but not high enough to get away with not eating in the lunchroom. It was a day like any of a hundred others, the table cluttered with our soft-sided thermos lunch bags and microwaveable meal trays, until Bethany Bishop asked me how many hours I reported on my timesheet last month.

I looked at her blankly. Even though I had just turned in my time report that morning, I wasn’t sure what she was asking me. The procedure had become so routine, adding up the numbers from my calendar and writing them down in the correct boxes on the paper form, I had come to retain little memory of the exercise itself, much less each set of calculated results. She might as well have asked me how many teeth I had brushed that morning.

“I don’t remember,” I said, distracted, as I often was, not just by her question, but by the odd shape of her nose. Bethany is an attractive woman, don’t get me wrong, at least five years younger than me, but her nose is too wide for her face, with a tip that turns up and twists to one side. I always thought it gave her a sort of backwater beauty queen look, like the prettiest girl at the county pageant who doesn’t stand a chance at the state fair. Eventually, I told her I thought I had reported a hundred and eighty hours.

“Is that it?” I remember Gerald scoffing. He was older than everyone, just a few years away from retirement with an ego larger than his bloated 401(k) account. He’d recently joined the company, recruited specifically for his business world experience to help turn around an ailing department. He always wore this pair of ridiculous designer eyeglasses—you know, the kind with a row of sparkly white gem stones embedded in each golden ear strut. In meetings he would often lean way back in his chair, his steepled fingers poised in the air before him, and look at the rest of us through those glasses like we were members of an alien species. I remember him saying, “You’re not going to get anywhere in this company reporting numbers like that.”

“How many hours did you work last month?” Bethany asked him.

“Well,” Gerald said evasively, like he always did when he was working one of his angles. “I reported two hundred and forty.”

“No way,” Bethany said. “That’s sixty hours a week. I’ve been putting in extra time and you’re never at the office later than me. You’re not working that much.”

“Hey,” Gerald replied. “It’s not about how many hours you work. It’s about how many hours you write down on your timesheets.”

And, of course, Gerald was right. Long before any of the rest of us realized the game had changed, Gerald had already figured out the new rules and was playing to win. Mary Walton wanted allegiance to the company above all else, and she measured that allegiance simply by the number of hours of your life you were willing to sacrifice to it. Gerald understood that first, but eventually we would all come to understand it—and we would all react to it in our own ways.

If you ask me, the wiser ones would be like Gerald, adroitly skipping across the surface of Mary’s quagmire, keeping their shoes as dry as possible and looking for the firm ground that lay beyond. The less experienced would be like Bethany, believing the lie that hard work would be rewarded, and diving deep in hopes of finding treasure in the murky depths.

And then there would be the handful like me, who would eventually decide to trek across the swamp and fight the dragon in her own lair.

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“Dragons” is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. For more information, go here.

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
http://lres.com/heres-why-amcs-need-to-pay-close-attention-to-looming-regulatory-changes/businessman-in-the-middle-of-a-labyrinth/


Monday, March 4, 2019

Looking Back From a Feeling of Triumph

My daughter plays the piano and the violin. She's an eighth-grader now, and every year for the past three years she has tried out for our state's Solo & Ensemble Music Festival, in which school children across the state prepare and perform a piece on their instruments, which is judged by a professional music teacher or instructor. Those judged worthy are then invited to participate in the festival, where they again perform their piece, are judged again, and can win ribbons and trophies.

My daughter likes her piano and her violin, but like a lot of kids her age, there are other things she likes even more. In her case, those things are drawing in her sketchbook, composing music and coding online, and playing video games with her friends. If she has a choice, these are the activities that are going to fill her free time, not practicing her piano and violin pieces for the state music festival.

Today were the tryouts for the festival. As I drove my daughter to the high school where the tryouts were being held, I asked her if she thought she was ready. She said she wasn't. When I asked her why, she said she hadn't practiced her pieces enough, and was worried that she was going to make mistakes during the performances.

So I told her a quick story.

On Friday of this past week I had a business meeting in downtown Milwaukee. It was a meeting of one of the committees of my association, a group of technical experts who would be using their expertise discuss and decide some important matters for the organization. My job was to be the facilitator -- to guide the committee through its agenda, ensuring that all voices were heard and helping to codify the consensus view into a clear and representative document.

It was the kind of thing I had done before, but I was still nervous about it. Given the subject matter of the meeting, I was a little out of my element, and I had some lingering worries that something unproductive would happen. The committee members would reject the premise I had constructed, or would drive the discussion in directions where my deficit of understanding would become apparent.

As a result of these worries, I had spent a fair amount of time preparing for the meeting. I had done my homework, reading the previous reports of the committee and brushing up on my understanding of the trends and technologies they would be discussing. There were things I would have rather been doing with the time that I had dedicated to these tasks -- reading a book, perhaps, or watching a movie on Netflix -- but I had kept myself focused and put in the time necessary to get myself as prepared as I could possibly be.

And when the meeting was over, and things had gone well, I realized something about my own motivations. I had done something I didn't want to do not just because I was afraid of my own public failure, but also because the feeling of success, the feeling that came from doing something difficult and doing it well, was worth the extra effort.

Not in the moment, certainly. In the moment, whether it was reading technical papers or practicing a piano solo, the extra effort never felt worth it. There would always be something more enjoyable tugging on the corners of our minds. But in retrospect, looking back from a feeling of triumph, only then would it become apparent that laboring over every technical term or chord combination was absolutely worth the investment of time and attention.

The trick, then, is that when the going gets tough, to put yourself forward into that envisioned feeling of triumph. Knowing how good that is going to feel is what can give you the motivation to push through with something you know is necessary but would rather not be doing.

My daughter's a smart kid. I'm sure she understood the message I was trying to send her. At least when I asked her if she did, she did me the courtesy of not rolling her eyes.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at eric.lanke@gmail.com.

Image Source
https://www.videoblocks.com/video/close-up-of-teenage-girl-playing-violin-in-orchestra-practice--american-fork-utah-united-states-s1golmlhiporl7w6