Like a Boss

Back in the zenith of 2012 – the penultimate month of November – I somehow landed myself a supervising job. I say “somehow” because…I didn’t remember actually applying for it. Later, I found out that I hadn’t. Rather, my mother had applied in my stead because I was too chickens**t to do so. Even after thinking I’d botched the interview, I still landed it. Given that this was the first time I’d ever landed a leadership role of any kind (with pay), I went in with a few preconceived notions…and a few unrealistic goals.

One of those was to be “the cool boss”.

You, fine reader, know the type I’m talking about. The manager that everyone likes and respects, from the top-tier down; one of the guys but still manages to get the job done. All without ever losing their cool. I had no idea how to pull this off, but I’d seen enough movies to garner a rough idea. I thought…

For the first couple of months, I seemed to be pulling it off. It was a hectic gig, but one where gratitude was bestowed. I answered to a departmental head, and – in turn – took over their duties whenever they were absent. The staff appeared to like me well enough, and when I was in charge, I kept things a little more informal. A balance of sorts was struck.

By the third month, the unthinkable happened. I was nominated Employee of the Month. Whatever I was doing, it was apparently working. Staff and superiors congratulated me. It was the first time I’d ever earned that coveted prize. In all my occupational “glory”, I was often quite far away from that lofty goal. Not anymore.

There was only one drawback to this apparent success. I was exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally. When I returned home, I simply collapsed and vegetated. Other responsibilities took a far-flung backseat to blissful decompression. No job, to my knowledge, wiped me out to such a degree.

It hit me about a month later what the problem was. Granted, supervisory/managerial work was more complicated and occasionally more difficult, but was it supposed to be the job of three people? Two months later, I got a talking-to about not meeting some of my core responsibilities. I was flabbergasted. How?! And where was I supposed to find the time to improve?!

Another thought occurred to me. In my pursuit of being the “cool boss”, I’d lost sight of the ability to delegate responsibility. If something extra was added to our department, I tried to take care of it myself. If an employee missed a task, I attempted to rectify it myself instead of sending them back. So fearful was I of stepping on anyone’s toes that I’d lost my stride.

I brought up my concerns about meeting my responsibilities within the right timeframe to my general manager. Compounded with that, I also outlined what I was doing to make the jobs easier for those on my staff. He simply laughed and said, “If I’d known that, I would’ve slapped you long ago. Your job is not to do their job.”

“I just don’t want to be the bad cop,” I replied.

“It’s not about being good cop or bad cop,” he corrected me. “It’s about being indifferent cop. Firm but fair. The important part is that they respect you, not like you.”

Whoah, maybe I’d been going about it all wrong. I thought it was important to be liked. Everyone has at least one boss they’ve liked. I’m one of the lucky ones that can name three or four. They were examples I tried to emulate, but was I really earning any respect?

The following week, on a particularly busy day, I tried to put this to the test. The day ahead promised to be exceptionally busy. There was no way I was going to make quota if I tried to do everything myself. I huddled everyone together in a little powwow, and explained how the day was going to progress. If certain tasks weren’t completed to specs, I would be sending them back. Not completing it for them.

This…backfired. Horribly.

Three employees outright lied to me about tasks being completed, I counted at least fifteen times when I had to send people back (sometimes twice), and two people outright snapped at me over the request to redo certain assignments.  Something about my approach wasn’t working. Was it that they weren’t used to me expecting them to complete their jobs themselves…or was it something else?

Respect. I didn’t have it. I hadn’t earned it.

My own staff didn’t view me as an authority figure. Hell, I barely viewed me as an authority figure. I wasn’t a boss. I was “like a” boss. All of the responsibilities, but none of the authority.

This came up during a birthday party for a friend. The conversation went like this:

Friend: “Can’t you write people up?”

Me: “Nope, don’t have that authority.”

Friend: “Do you make the schedule? Could you shorten the hours of problem employees?”

Me: “Nope, don’t have that authority?”

Friend: “So, you have…a badge, and that’s it?”

Me: “That’s it.”

Friend: “I’d stop caring if I were you. Just try to be their friend.”

That was directly counter to what the general manager had advised me to do. But given that I could issue no consequences short of “…or else”, what “else” could I do? Could I get by on not giving a damn?

For your information, the answer is “No.” The inner dilemma all came to a head on Sunday (the day before the time of this writing). One employee called out sick. Two were due off the schedule by noon. My immediate manager couldn’t make it in to assist. Our tasks had grown by thirty percent. And I was caught in the middle. I ended up pulling a fourteen-hour day.

That’s when I said to myself, “I’ve had it.”

In closing, if you have – or if you are – one of those magical/mythical beasts known as a “cool boss”. Hug them or yourself. Time with them will be fleeting. They will either cripple under the pressure, or realize they are worth more than where they are. Or they will succumb to dick-bossedness by sheer necessity.

Me? I didn’t succeed. I didn’t fail. I’m simply postponing any direct conclusions by looking at cat pictures on the Internet…

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Monday, August 5th, 2013 Musings 4 Comments

Making Time for “A Tea Reader”: A [NOT] Book Review

I am a slow reader by design. It takes me an inordinate amount of time to dive into a book. Most can devour a hundred pages in an hour (I would guess?); I can only manage thirty-three. I think that’s my record to date. Attempts to speed read were always met with failure. Suggestions to pursue a career in editing went ignored for this very reason. The time it would take for me to read, let alone edit, a book could be measured in seasons.

Mooched from the Blog of Patrick Rothfuss

Mooched from the Blog of Patrick Rothfuss

That said, I still enjoy leisure reading but don’t do enough of it in my spare time. The times that I do, however, have been chronicled on my website. While not exactly professional literary critiques, they provide my thoughts in as succinct a manner as I am capable (which might not be saying much).

A call went out by a very talented tea blogger – Katrina Avila Munichiello- in my “TeaTwit” circle to review a book she was putting out called A Tea Reader. The concept was genius in its simplicity. It’s a collection of vignettes and short stories – spanning centuries – about how tea inspires. As the books tagline (and, by proxy, the author) states: “This is not a book about tea. This is a book about people.”

I was beyond elated and honored to be chosen to review the book in advance of its official release. And I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous that Mrs. Munichiello beat me to such wonderful idea. She succeeded where many of us tea writers only daydream…er…over a cup of tea. The approach she chose to take for the narrative was also inspired.

Now I just had to find time to read it. Several factors hindered the timeliness of my perusal. One: The aforementioned slow reading pace. Two: A very active “oooo shiny!” gland. And three: Georgia.

I’ve mentioned the last one in passing before. My cat – like many of her ilk – is not one to be easily ignored. She makes this point abundantly clear during feeding time. However, she also voices her displeasure in creative ways when something else holds my attention other than her. Y’know…like a girlfriend. A very…hairy…girlfriend.

Note: This photo wasn't staged. Seriously

Note: This photo wasn't staged. Seriously.

In the case of book reading, “G” will stroll in front of the book while I’m reading it. Attempts to shoo her away are interpreted as play time. Even when I relocate to someplace she wouldn’t normally go – like the couch in the living room – she’s only a step or two behind me emitting her usual growl-purr.

I found moderate success with the couch camping, though. It was easy to position myself in such a way she couldn’t interrupt. Eventually, her tiny little mind forgot what she came there to do. The couch also offered up an opportunity to successfully put myself in tea-reading mode. If there was one thing I learned, this book had to be read with tea a-brewin’.

But there was a second obstacle – the damn dog.

Note: This wasn't staged either.

Yes, folks, there is also a dog in the mix – a very large, year-and-change-old Saint Bernard named Abacus. He belongs to my brother. Every time I brew tea – and I mean every time – he is instantly drawn to my electric kettle. Add a gaiwan to the mix, and he’s enraptured. I can’t really fathom why. Maybe he just really likes oolong a lot. Dunno.

Those were obstacles to my reading Zen that I could not prevent. The preventable ones were the major problem. I blame the Internet. All of it. As one entity. I don’t blame myself. Okay…maybe a little.

Before I knew it, two months rolled by. Here I was, a week past the release date of the book…and I’d only made it halfway through. It wasn’t as if another book had taken its place; I had read nothing for the whole of Fall. I lamented my reviewer FAIL.

Then a thought occurred to me – not so much as a metaphoric light bulb but as a very cheery glowworm. This book was tailor made for distractedly slow readers such as myself. Let me explain: The beauty of anthologies is that they can be devoured a piece at a time. A reader can pick it up and put it down at their own pace, even the molasses ones like myself.

A Tea Reader is even more suited to this than the average anthology because the average vignette is, maybe four-to-five pages – essays, really. Tightly written ones, too, for the easily spacey. I didn’t really have that problem, though. The different viewpoints were ultimately fascinating. Particular standouts (for me so far) were: “I Don’t Drink Tea” (the tale of a coffee drinker’s denial), “The Mistri-Sahib” (about a Scottish engineer in India, what’s not to love?), and “Immersion” (about a woman’s first flight with gongfu).

Each thematic section is divided into “steeps” rather than books or acts, providing one with a figurative tea expression to go along with the read. The author herself provides commentary to bridge each steep with her own thoughts. Her tone is relaxing and concise, marking the perfect lead-in for stories “steeped” (har-har) in the esoteric and evocative.

Which brings me to the book’s one principle flaw…if it can even be called that.

This is not a book for the uninitiated, and by that I mean non-tea drinkers. Tea appreciation has its own language – its own lexicon, if you will. And this book is imbued with it. Part of that is due to the inclusion of older essays as well as new and their dispersion throughout. The author does her best to include footnotes to some of the more obscure terminology, but at times it can be jarring. I, however, didn’t really find this to be a flaw.

As I said earlier, this is a book that screams, “Read me with a cup of tea, damn it!” To not do so would fail to capture the full effect, as far as I’m concerned. What’s the point of reading a book about people inspired by tea if you aren’t reading while drinking tea? That’s like going to a baseball game without a foam finger on one hand. Can’t be done.

In summary, I’m at the “glass-half-full” point of the book, and I’m loving every self-styled-slow minute of it. I start a new vignette with a cup of tea when I have a spare minute between distractions and pet mayhem. I hope to do a follow-up commentary on it once I’ve finally reached the end, but I still felt I had to put something to “paper” in appreciation. Just as these contributors and their maven did…all over an inspired cup of tea.

For more information on the book, go HERE.

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Monday, October 31st, 2011 Reviews, Steep Stories No Comments

I work for tea money.


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