Good, bad and ugly
Q: As we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season, we often look back at the people and experiences that helped us get where we are. Who (and what) were your "game-changers," and how did they change the way you look at your life and career?
To a large degree, we are each a collection of the experiences and choices we have had. Thanksgiving -- aside from being time set aside to honor our Pilgrim forebears and to overeat -- is an appropriate time to acknowledge the teachers and the critical actors in our lives. So many people have influenced my professional development, I hardly know where to start. But this Thanksgiving, three gifts I have been given need a public thank you.
The Good --
When I was 25, I signed up for a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Certification class taught by Otto Kroeger. I went to fulfill a work goal, and I chose his company only because it was closer to me than any other option. The training blindsided me and changed my life.
I saw that a sensitive and powerful tool in gentle hands communicated in a warm and funny presentation could change the way people saw themselves, interacted and worked together. For a couple of years, my goal was to be Otto Kroeger.
In a few years, with some perspective, that goal became wanting to do what Otto did. Within three years, I was one of his Associates. Within eight, I was his business partner, and within fifteen, I bought his business and helped him to retire. I owe Otto Kroeger much of my career. Thank you, Otto, for showing me how to be happy and entertaining while stretching minds and changing lives.
The Bad --
I moved around a lot as a kid. By the fourth grade, I had gone to five different schools.
My first day of fourth grade -- well into the school year -- was a trauma. Late that night, I went grocery shopping with my mother, who was working multiple jobs and raising me and my sister by herself. I felt myself on the verge of tears, and I started to tell her about my awful day, my isolation and all my tales of woe when she looked at me and said that we all have jobs to do -- the fact that I was only 10 did not make that any less so.
Her responsibility was to keep all the jobs she had and to keep the rent paid and the cabinets full. My responsibility was to make the most of the job I had, which now was making this school year work. While I did not get the sympathy I wanted in the aisles of Safeway that night, my mother gave me a great gift that has come back to buoy me in times of stress and trouble ever since. Life is not always easy or fun, and when it is not, you drive on and make the most of it. Do what you have to do, and don't whine about it.
There has been so much bad news I've had to deliver, so many downsizings I have had to decide and announce, and so many tough decisions to come to and stand by. Thanks, mom -- for giving me the steel in my spine that I've needed to always get my work done.
The Ugly --
One of my favorite books on Organization Development from graduate school was written by Robert Quinn, so when I found out that a prospective client was interested in me because Mr. Quinn was proving too challenging to work with -- he kept asking questions and trying to slow down the kick-off event -- I was flattered to say the least. I was in a league with my grad school professor.
The money was good; the leaders were senior, and they wanted me. I accepted the job and thought I had arrived. Actually, the event had not long been underway when it started to unravel. The stated goals were not the actual issues that needed to be wrestled with, and when the group started to get contentious, I was not prepared to help them. My lack of contracting and planning made me look unprepared, green and ineffective. It was ugly.
Today I am a good and careful contractor, largely because I rarely speak to a prospective client that the sting of that painful consulting and training day does not echo in my mind. I thank that client and those critical senior leaders for giving this consultant some much needed humility and caution.
Thanks to all the teachers and influencers out there -- the good, the bad and the ugly.