I recently finished Adam Savage’s maker’s memoir, Every Tool’s a Hammer. I always enjoyed watching MythBusters back in the day, though I wouldn’t say I was a diehard fan – I caught episodes as they aired, but didn’t follow the show. As an adult, I wish I had followed more closely, because I’m finding that I’m drifting towards the maker ethos, and it would have been good to have been mentored in real-time to the show’s airing. I guess that’s why we have reruns and syndication.
Anyway, the book has many great insights, one of which is concerned with giving praise and making sure the recipient of the praise is acknowledged.
Adam reflects that all of his growth came from feedback from his mentors. In the role of a boss, he questions why would he shy away from feedback if he wasn’t happy with something (e.g. someone’s performance or the product of their build). This moment of empathy is a valuable insight to me, because as a leader I often hedge my feedback, wanting to avoid hurt feelings or awkward interactions. But there is a difference between providing feedback for growth, and being cruel. I’ve had many great bosses that helped me grow through their feedback, even if that feedback made me feel less than great. But their feedback was never cruel or meant to belittle me – it held me accountable and showed me what to do for next time.
He also mentions praise – people want to be acknowledged and recognized by the ones signing the cheque. Even if it sounds corny, he says, it goes a long way towards building up your team both in terms of morale and skills.
Last week, I hit a new milestone in my ongoing fitness journey. Since the start of the year, I’ve been following an exercise regiment that is having me progressively adding distance to weekly targets that I run on our elliptical at home. I plan to post a more in-depth explanation of how and why I set the system up in the future, but the main gist is that for each week of the new year, I add one mile on the distance I have to cover for the week. As of writing, I’m in week 22 of the year, which means I will be running 22 miles this week.
On Friday, I still had just over 10 miles that I needed to cover to hit my target for the week. I had initially planned on running half on Friday and half on Saturday. As I started my run, I felt that I was in a good groove, and decided to run more than half the distance for the session. Five miles turned to six, then seven. Around the eighth mile, I figured I could easily go the full ten to close off the week.
Then I had another thought. When we first purchased the elliptical, I thought it might be a good goal to try and run a half-marathon. The furthest I ran on the machine was 10 miles, so it wouldn’t be much to go the extra three. With me being so close to the target, why not?
The hardest mile was probably going from mile ten to mile eleven. The display on the machine only shows three digits, so 9.99 miles became 10.0, meaning it took longer to see progress getting counted.
A mantra started to form at the top of each mile – “just one more mile; you can do it.” This was something I learned from my army cadet days. During a particularly hard summer, I felt extremely dispirited with having to last six-weeks on a challenging leadership course. I learned to focus less on the whole six-weeks and instead focus on just getting through to the next day. It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me and try to apply anytime I’m faced with a seemingly insurmountable task.
Instead of running 13.1 miles, I focused myself to just completing the next mile. And when I finished that mile, I focused on the next; then the next.
Ten miles gave way to eleven, then twelve, and finally thirteen.
Running a half-marathon on an elliptical isn’t the greatest of achievements. However, it was an excellent application of focus and drive that affirmed to me that a.) I’ve come a long way since January; and b.) progress is made by focusing on the next goal, not the end goal.
As with many other people right now, I have chosen to go back and re-watch favourite television shows. I decided that with Star Trek: Picard’s recent release, it would be a great time to go back to the beginning (of the modern era, anyway) and revisit Star Trek: The Next Generation. I had probably watched every episode in my teen years, but I had always watched it in syndication, so this is my first time going through the show in order.
Approaching the series in my 30’s has been a real treat. I have more life and cultural experience to draw upon as I watch these incredibly written episodes play out. I knew the show was amazing, but I never appreciated how well it engages with moral issues.
I want to highlight one excellent episode from the third season – episode 7, “The Enemy.” The characters provide us with a moral issue about autonomy, and a good lesson in leadership.
The story centres on the conflict that arises when the protagonists rescue an enemy officer from an out of bounds planet. The officer, from a race of people called Romulans, is gravely wounded and requires a blood transfusion. There is only one member of the crew whose blood could be usable, but that crew member, Worf, has a history with the enemy’s peoples – Worf’s parents had been killed during a Romulan attack when he was a child. Worf, still carrying his anger for their death all these years, refuses to give his blood.
Meanwhile, a Romulan ship is en route to recover the officer. There is a tenuous peace treaty that prevents an all out war, but the Romulans have a history of subterfuge and deceit. It is believed they will cross the border and assume an antagonistic stance to provoke a war. Worf’s Captain, Jean Luc Picard, is seeking any means that would avoid an armed encounter, and decides to plead with Worf to reconsider his decision.
In this moment, it would be expedient to Picard and his crew to order Worf to donate his blood. He is about to contend with an adversary whom has no issue with breaking a peace treaty by provoking an attack (whether or not his side is initially in the wrong). Picard is seeking to recover a still-stranded crew member on the planet below, keep his ship safe, maintain the territorial sovereignty of the Federation, and maintain tenuous diplomatic relations with a rival group. This is all threatened because the one solution to his problem, keeping the enemy officer alive, is being blocked by a crew member whose personal history and honour motivate him to not help the enemy.
There is a beautiful scene where Picard appeals to Worf for him to reconsider:
Picard: So, there is no question that the Romulan officer is more valuable to us alive than dead. Worf: I understand. Picard: Lieutenant, sometimes the moral obligations of command are less than clear. I have to weigh the good of the many against the needs of the individual and try to balance them as realistically as possible. God knows, I don’t always succeed. Worf: I have not had cause to complain, Captain. Picard: Oh, Lieutenant, you wouldn’t complain even if you had cause. Worf: If you order me to agree to the transfusion, I will obey of course. Picard: I don’t want to order you. But I ask you, I beg you, to volunteer. Worf: I cannot.
In silence, Picard slowly walks back around his desk and sits in his chair.
Picard: Lieutenant. Worf: Sir? Picard: That will be all.
We then learn from the ship’s Chief Medical Officer that the Romulan has died. Picard has lost the only bargaining chip he had to keep things peaceful with the approaching enemy ship.
Picard could have chosen to order Worf to allow the blood transfusion. Instead, he chooses to respect his crew member’s personal wish, and as a leader deal with the hand he’s given. He also knows that making an order against the personal rights of a crew member under his command sets a dangerous precedence – that anyone is disposable if the captain judges it. Instead, he accepts that this closes off options. He knows that this places him not just on the back-foot, but also with his arms tied behind his back as he prepares for the possibility that his ship will be destroyed. However, the burden of command requires him to take these realities as they come and make the best decisions that he can. Events are being shaped around him that are beyond his control, but he strives to make the best decision that he can. He’s not perfect, but he becomes a role model in striving to do the right thing.
Even if the right thing might mean the death of he and his crew.
It’s a wonder piece of science fiction that I’m glad to be discovering anew.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve been onboarding my replacement at work. On the one hand, it’s great to finally offload the extra tasks that I’ve been juggling since assuming my new position. On the other hand, I’m having to experience a new world at work in the form of management and performance coaching. It’s one thing to do the tasks yourself, but it’s an entirely different thing to anticipate another person’s tasks, teach those tasks to the person, the follow-up on the progress with feedback.
While I am not the direct manager for the new program assistant, I share some of the responsibilities for ensuring she’s successful in her new role by virtue of me being the last person who occupied the role. I suppose I’m over-thinking this a bit, since employees move on all the time and are not accountable for the new person’s performance. Nevertheless, between me still working in the same office and me being a team player, I feel that it is my duty to help the new employee succeed until she can run under her own steam. Afterall, the program assistant position is a job that was developed over the course of four years, so it’s a lot to take in all at once.
I knew prior to her starting that I would need to reflect intentionally on how I could teach someone to do the job that I have built over time, and figure out how to deconstruct the tasks and portfolios so that it makes sense to a fresh set of eyes. Since this is my first time doing this, I took a stab at it and realized that there was a lot more I could have done to prepare for onboarding her.
One example is at the end of her first day. I met with her to do a mini-debrief on how she felt her first day went. She admitted it was a bit overwhelming, but was confident that she would learn more as she did the tasks. She then asked for my input on what she should do the next day. I hadn’t anticipated this question, so I floundered a bit, suggesting that she should take some time to read through the relevant policies and procedures I’ve got stashed away in a binder, as well as reviewing the committee minutes from the past year for an upcoming meeting she will need to plan.
After work, I reflected on this and realized that I didn’t do a good job of setting her up with concrete tasks for her to fill her day meaningfully. Don’t get me wrong – at some point she will need to read over all of that stuff as it will be important to her job. However, I realized there are better ways she could be utilizing her time. Instead of reading over abstract documents, I need to get her working on tasks that are directly related to what she will be doing over time.
The next day, I jotted some ideas down and met with her in the afternoon to discuss how things are going and give her concrete tasks to start figuring out, such as responding to program-based email inquiries, learning where to find reports, typing up committee minutes so I could critique them, etc. I also coached her on setting up meetings with the program Chairs to 1.) introduce herself more formally, and b.) to learn from them what their needs and wishes are. I seeded some questions with her on topics she ought to cover, and left it to her to arrange the meetings. In the background, I also spoke informally with some of the Chairs to let them know she was doing this, and to suggest ways they could help onboard her to their program areas.
This was a much better way to onboard her, and she was busy over the rest of the week learning various systems. She would stop by my office a few times a day to ask clarifying questions or ask advice on how she should approach a certain task. She was learning by doing, and seems to be adjusting well to her new role. I’ll leave it for her actual boss to determine whether she is meeting targets, but at least I know she’s able to work with us as a team behind her.