Reflections After a Week of Brushfires

I'm up much too early on a Saturday morning, in a good cause: feeding my niece pancakes. My brother-in-law drove through whiteouts to bring M. north so that she can audition at a local college's excellent music department. (I went there myself many moons ago, as did R.). They are off to the adventures of the day, and R. has gone back to bed. With coffee in my veins, sleep would elude me, so I will grab the quiet moment to reflect on recent events in writing.

Work, work, work. It has demanded much of my energy and focus for quite some time as we have grappled with a reduction in funding and a structural deficit. This week, the board of directors affirmed the path we think will lead the agency through hard times, "we" being the six-person leadership team. I have to deal with the hardest task that is at hand: the elimination of a half-time custodial position. I am the direct supervisor of the individual who will be laid off. Alas, he is poorly prepared in many ways to deal with the consequences of losing his job with our agency, and I am concerned by what he is saying to me. My ability to give him real help is very limited. Compassion is a tricky thing - empathizing with someone's plight does not mean that I have responsibility for his or her poor decisions. Nor does it mean that I should feel guilty when I cannot do what I cannot do.

I've had to have a fire extinguisher by my side at all times this past week as one brush fire after another burst into flames. I badly need a low pressure weekend to chill my jangled nerves. The "Dilbert" comic strip depicts accountants as trolls, and the field does tend to attract a certain personality type that is comfortable with the concepts of "enforcement" and clearly defined limits. That outlook doesn't work, though, in an organization in flux where everyone is making sacrifices. No raise in 2010, and we have to clean the bathrooms ourselves. The hammer is not an effective management tool in such times, not if you want positive morale, creativity, and forward thinking.

But the hammer is so close at hand, and it's so easy to think of it first when you think something, or someone, needs to be straightened out, or put into place. I admire the management skills of my boss more and more. He's able to stay calm (mostly), to listen, and to wait. Waiting is highly undervalued in the culture of the day.

At least even the routine at work seems fresh again, seen through new eyes and a spirit of renewed dedication. Yes, for all that I struggle to get myself in the door of office each morning, I am dedicated. Yes, I go through periods of slackness, but I am able to pull myself together and deliver what is needed when it is needed. I am very pulled together right now. May I hold on to this focused energy as I move through the busy weeks that lie ahead: tax preparation and year-end closing are coming soon.

And, may I blog next on a topic other than work.


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