or is the boss working for you?

Are you working for your boss or is it the other way around?  Think about it for a second. No? Nothing?  Okay, let me explain.

A few years back, I worked with a guy who had a pretty sizeable ego and a strong personality to match.  When we started working together, I was his peer and to-some-degree, a mentor.  Then one day, I got a promotion (just my title, same pay), which meant I was in charge of him now.

Initially, this resulted in some awkwardness.  I heard a few remarks like “What qualifies you to be in charge of me?” or “What kind of butt-kissing have you been up to?” or “Don’t even try to boss me around”.  All of this seemed like a bit of an over-reaction.

Prior to the promotion, I was asked by my boss, to do some soul-searching.  You see, I love programming.  It is fun and I love it.  However, I realized that my programming tranquility was often broken-up by things like { meetings, status reports, phone calls, documentation, testing, maintenance, troubleshooting, and lots of other non-fun crap }.  I found that, when these irritating distractions popped-up, it was best to focus on completing them, to the best of my ability and immediately.  If I just focused on knocking them out, they would get done and go away and leave me alone.  Then I could go back to programming peacefully.

Once or twice, I tried to hack one of these things out of the way (status report, or meeting) and I contributed a half-effort to resolve it, but it kept coming back to irritate me, repeatedly, until I hunkered-down and actually did it correctly.  Because of those experiences, I learned to just do them right the first time.  I would even anticipate these requests, do them early and send them to the boss, so he wouldn’t interrupt me while I was trying to concentrate.

What I didn’t realize is that everyone hated these things too.  So, when I seemed to do them correctly and promptly, (to get them out of the way), my supervisors got the impression that I was good at them and should do these unpleasant tasks more often.  Maybe I should even help my peers with these tasks or just do it for them.  It is just like dinner time, when you woof-down your vegetables, to get those nasty things off of your plate, only to have grandma give you seconds.  “Oh, you are such a good eater.  Good for you.”  Doh!

So, as a supervisor, my job was to take away all of the unpleasant tasks that distract the programmers, so their efficiency would go up.  As you might imagine, when that guy criticized me for my “promotion”, I didn’t accept his criticism very well.

Me: “Here you go.  You can have my bacon-wrapped-tenderloin and in trade, I’ll take your boiled beets”
Him: “Hey, how come Tim gets all of the boiled beets?!”
Me:  “Are you serious?!”

Did he honestly believe that my reward for “butt kissing” is going to be more boiled beets?  As soon as I offered to trade, he got pretty quiet.

Me: “Tell ya what, you are right.  How about if you go to my meetings and fill out these dozen reports by tomorrow morning and I will spend the rest of the day rocking-out some sweet code.”
Him: (studies my face for 5 seconds to see if I’m bluffing.)  “No thanks”.

Now, I’m not saying that being in charge was all bad all of the time, but the buck did stop with me.  If something wasn’t getting done, it landed on me.  So I had to get it done or end up in hot water.  Responsibility is no picnic sometimes.

Years later, during a job interview, the interviewer looked over my resume and said, “Gosh, you seem to have a lot of experience with leading and managing people.  Are you sure you will be okay if you go back to [just being a programmer]?”   This story rushed into my head.  I imagined the bacon-wrapped filet instead of boiled beets and nearly cheered out loud.  Instead, I managed to stifle my emotions, blink my eyes hard and say, “no problem”.

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About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in IT Psychology, Professionalism. Bookmark the permalink.

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