Monday, March 30, 2009

Walking the Perimeter

The man who runs this facility is a good leader. He might be fairly new to the field and that makes him ripe for rookie mistakes, but he is good with people.  I don't work for him, I advise people that work for him. The people I advise are far enough up the food chain to be considered 'inner circle'.  This puts me in the position of being expected to do 'inner circle' stuff- coffee with the big man in the morning, lunch later.

I usually avoid it and I am usually successful at avoidance. The advantage of having multiple projects going and multiple people to advise is that I can usually find some work pressing enough to skip lunch.

I don't dislike this man at all. In fact I think I have enjoyed every minute spent in his company.  Wise, gracious, educated and a true leader he has a lot to teach me.  But the idea of spending time with the inner circle puts me on edge. It always has.  Today I figured out why.

Today, as a special event, the greatest living vocalist of this ethnic group, a blind, white-haired old man, was going to sing with the inmate musicians.  Everyone was required to be there. I listened to the first two songs and slipped out.  The music was enchanting.  I'm not a musician and could never really explain the differences in tone and rhythm that make this music sometimes sound like the best of spanish guitar mixed with a Japanese music scale (but not quite) and plaintive sounds that feel like bagpipes but sound better.  I could hear this, alone in the desert, and it would affect me even deeper.  Great stuff. Still, I slipped out.

I wasn't allowed to. The big man noticed and summoned me back and made sure that I had a seat in the front row.  There was nothing authoritarian about it, either. It takes great leadership to make someone do something that they don't want to do without them feeling 'bossed'.

So I listened and got more antsy and...

I like the people. I liked the event. I didn't want to be there.  This wasn't new. Even being told how important it could be, I've always avoided socializing at work, always avoided meeting with all the brass. Half convinced myself that it was shyness (which is bullshit).

The thing was, if everyone was at dinner, who was walking the perimeter?  

It was never about not wanting to be with the inner circle- even in the old agency I liked most of them.  It wasn't an avoidance strategy like I had assumed it was.  There was a job that needed to be done.  Someone who didn't need supervision needed to either do or monitor the job.  That would be me.

I never felt a need for the bonding aspect, either.  When I took a job or joined a team, I was in. Never felt a need to get to know my buddy or develop rapport so that I would have a reason to do things right. If I couldn't see the reason I didn't apply for the job in the first place. At the same time, I recognize that this bonding is a pretty common thing.  It is one of the basic tenets of military training, that soldiers fight for each other, not for causes.  For most high-intensity teams, bonding is critical. So it was symbiotic, in a way.  The people that needed the bonding were free to bond and I could walk the perimeter.

It became such a habit that even here, where it is expressly not my job, something felt 'wrong'.  Stuff has changed. Time to change with it. I can still walk the perimeter on some stuff but it's time to learn some of the things I missed at the countless 'functions' that I was too busy to attend.


Steve Perry said...

Socrates and Plato used to kick that one around, didn't they? "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Never hurts to sort through all of it now and again.

Viro said...

You have an area of responsibility and so does the boss-man. Your leaving, an action that meant little to you, obviously sent off a loud alarm in the boss-man. So much so that he called you back inside and set you down in the front row.

Find out what local, social, cultural or institutional rule you violated and figure out how you can avoid violating it in the future.

Anonymous said...

I identify with your feeling of "not wanting to be there" for the lunches and the morning coffee.

I avoid mine when i get the chance and yes, sometimes it's unavoidable. To me the whole thing is fake, I find it a difficult task to fake interest in my co workers lives or feign interest in whatever their little snowflake is "achieving" this week.

I want to do my job and go home. I want my lunch breaks and my morning coffee to myself so I can re-charge. I don't want friends at work. Don't sh*t where you eat.

That's how I see it.

Molly said...

Or perhaps as the "new guy" the trust isn't automatic? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? maybe you have not been categorized yet.

You like him, and admire him - the coffees and lunches are his chances to assess your character - and character goes much deeper that work ethic and on the job demeanor. He may already admire you, give him a chance to like you, too.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the bonding is not to enable you to feel part of their group, but to comfort them, so that *they* can become accustomed to you.

Frankly, I'd rather do the job, walk the perimeter, and avoid the nice-nice, too, but that's not always an option.