On Leadership

Will you build people up? Or tear them down?

Back in August I was asked by the commander to write some words on leadership for the monthly drill newsletter. When I sat down to write, of course I found I had nothing to say. I had many thoughts and feelings on the subject, but lacked the requisite words to actually get across those thoughts and feelings. I wrote a couple of generic paragraphs on staying strong in the current social/public health/political environment. But the subject, clearly, has stayed on my mind.

I’ve thought more and more about it over the weeks, and really, the kind of leader you are or want to be depends almost entirely on your actions. You may not be the smartest, fastest, or strongest, but that has almost nothing to do with how you lead. Your people are a reflection of you as a leader.

Do you build people up? Or do you tear them down?

Do you push them to better themselves? Or do you allow their worst habits to fester?

Do you give them the freedom to make decisions? Or do you restrict their autonomy?

Do you seek and accept input from those with experience? Or do you reject information that goes against your preconceived notions or personal ambitions?

Are you truthful and forthright? Or are you deceitful and condescending?

I could go on.

What kind of leader do you want to be?

But more importantly, what kind of leader do you want to follow?

Questions and Answers

Sometimes if you [receive] an answer, the question might be taken away.

Old Thrashbarg, “Mostly Harmles,” by Douglas Adams

Getting the right answers is only possible when you have asked the right questions.

Fortune Cookie

Shortly after I graduated university and began working, a project manager came to me and asked me to give him a pressure profile at a specific location in a pipe. He was very specific about what he wanted. After about a week of work he came back and was a little irritated that I still wasn’t done and had burned nearly a week of his project’s already limited budget. I showed him what I had, but confessed that I did not think I could do much more as I had only been working with the software for a few months and also did not have a PhD in fluid dynamics. He was perplexed as to why I had done all this work as it was not what he had asked for, or at the very least, did not seem necessary for his ultimate goal. I pulled up the email he had sent me with his very specific request. After a little more discussion I managed to figure out that all he was looking for was a graph showing the pressures at the various system modes. Something infinitely easier than he had originally asked me. After another hour of work parsing the data from the original analysis I had run, he had his graph and I had learned a very important lesson:

If you’re not careful, you can get the correct answer to the wrong question.

Distract From Home

I never thought I’d be one for working form home. I always liked the idea of going to the office and then going home. They were two distinct places and never the twain shall meet…mostly. Even that mostly was never that big a deal. Obviously home life would find it’s way into the office and the occasional day working from home always felt somewhat liberating for not having requiring a commute. Yet for the past 14 years of this pandemic, working from home is exactly what I’ve found myself doing. And you know what? It’s not that bad.

I have found myself well positioned to handle not only the economic impacts of this pandemic (of which I am grateful), but also the social and familial aspects. The economic side is quite simple: With the exception of ops shifts where I have to be physically present in the TSC (the days where I get to make things happen in space), I have a job that can easily be done from anywhere. Again, very grateful for this. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though. I have found myself to be equally productive at home as I am in the office, though the impediments to productivity are different and thus have required some adjustments.

Prior to the lockdown I could probably count on one hand in the last couple years that The Peanut (through Flower) called to ask me a question or tell me about some new and exciting bug. Now all he has to do is come downstairs. So now I know exactly when packages or mail arrive. Or when a truck starts tearing up the street. Not only that but there are all the other home issues that suddenly crop up. “Oh, it’s lunch time. Hmmm. Better clean the kitchen from top to bottom before making a sandwich.” On the upside though, I have finally cleaned up the basement which, in turn has become my work enclave. Also there’s a bar.

But these distractions, while different in nature, are really no different than being in an office and having someone stop by to shoot this shit, or ask a question about a problematic and difficult to deal with project. Though I suppose the latter still happens regularly…

Probably the biggest downside has been all the conference calls/Teams meetings. I have never liked conference calls to begin with. I find them tedious and difficult to pay attention to, and that’s when I’m locked in a room with other people actively engaged in the conversation. And, of course, it doesn’t help that I work on not only a work laptop, but also a fancy new gaming desktop that I built at the beginning of this whole ordeal. Though if I’m being perfectly honest, it’s actually that old office standby Microsoft Solitaire that provides the majority of distractions during ‘working’ hours (which these days are…well…anytime?).

While the work side of things has required some significant adjustment, the family side didn’t change all too much. On that front I know that I’ve lucked out amazingly. First off I’m not single, living alone. While I would have no issues overall with that, I also know myself well enough to know that there would be no schedule. There would be no plan. Day and night would be meaningless. Even a roommate would necessarily counteract that. But being married, at least there’s someone there to kick your ass out of bed…eventually. Probably the biggest saving grace, though, is that the boys are still too young for school. The Peanut was in a preschool program but we decided not to send him for the fall. Even when he was in it it was a half a day. It was easy to tell him that school was over for the season and then just move on with our lives. It did get a tad difficult because after a while it became patently obvious that he was getting cabin fever from not being allowed to go anywhere. You know things are bad when a four year old begs to go to the grocery store and get out of the car and go in the store (he also knows he gets a cookie there, or at least did). I started taking him to Petco with me because even pre-pandemic it was always relatively empty.

Oddly enough the boys actually helped keep me, not only on some semblance of a ‘normal’ ( for me) sleep cycle, but Flower and I both agreed that their very existence meant that we couldn’t start happy hour 15 minutes after waking up. I didn’t work for the entire month of May due to funding issues, and I can tell you, as I’m sure a lot of other people are feeling, those days just blead together in to some kind of day mush that never really seemed to have a beginning or an end. The downside to having kids during this time is that I was unable to sit on the couch playing video games all day partly because one must limit a small child’s screen time, but mostly because Assassin’s Creed and Gears of War are not appropriate games for a four year old to watch…or so I was told.

Probably the biggest thing I’ve missed, and one thing I’ve slowly been trying to scrape back, is the small little ‘routines’. I used to try to spend early Thursday mornings at Rising Star, and though I may still stop by for a coffee here and there, I can’t sit and read/write/stare off into space as I previously could. I suppose I could have taken the coffee down the street to a park and done that there, but it just didn’t have the same feel. Gazelle, The Materialist and I managed to keep Breakfast Club going by moving to Zoom until patio’s opened, but now it’s getting cold and patio’s are going to be closing. And also The Materialist is leaving Cleveland so now we must find our third. But other things like lunches with Clarabel, or Friday Lunch Group are no more. At least for now.

This is, hopefully, a once in a lifetime event and though the world will be inevitably changed by all this we keep pushing forward. Somewhere, sometime, is the other side of this. What we’ll look like when we get there, who knows. But I suppose we’ll find out eventually.

Next Week’s Post Last Week

Recently I started contributing to the Pateron of a webcomic I’ve been reading for over a decade. I figured why not? The guy’s more than earned it. One of the perks is that you get the next days strip the night before. This got me thinking about the entire concept of early access, especially for a serial.

Many moons ago, during the days of the Contest of Chairs HBO began offering those who signed up for their streaming service the chance to view the next weeks episode the week before. I saw a flurry of tweets and facebooks of people so excited that they got TWO episodes that first night…and then never again.

During basic and tech school there were a lot of people making a big deal about USAA making military pay available a day early. Despite my best efforts and Kavanaugh levels of calendar use I was unable to convince one guy in particular that the number of days between paychecks was still the same. Though unlike Kavanaugh I didn’t cry. Also I wasn’t lying.

Perhaps that’s my own personal failing.

Living in the Moment

Two Mondays previous I was in DC with The Cheese Puff to see my all time favorite band. I had been supposed to see them here in Cleveland at the beginning of November as well, but that’s a whole other story with a lot of glaring looks and friendly ribbing over Polish beer and an unnecessarily large charcuterie board.

Continue reading “Living in the Moment”

The Illusion of Luxury

Companies and marketers have often used tricks to make us think that something is more valuable or scarce (and thus more valuable) than it actually is. Psychologists have been studying the marketing phenomenon since Don Draper and his band of Merry Mad Men invented marketing in 1960.

Whether it’s adding useless parts into a product to make it feel heavier and thus more valuable or paying for private clubs or ‘exclusive’ ‘credit cards’ we are drawn to things or experiences that make us feel as if we have something no one else does. As if this moment, right here was made just for us.

Yesterday I got a replacement credit card. Marriott rebranded their rewards program, and thus their co-branded credit cards. Previously the “Marriott Premier Plus” card had been made of metal. It was a normal thickness, had a slight weight to it, and allowed me to use it in exchange for goods and services. This new “Marriott Bonvoy Boundless” is just a flimsy piece of plastic and also has a stupid name.

Until yesterday I did not know that I cared about that.

Tales from the Inside: Week 7

In the fifth week of basic there was something called BEAST week. It was the Basic Expeditionary Airmen Skills Training course. I did not go. At the time the doctors though I had stress fractures in my tibias. An MRI showed that I did not. I simply had the worst inflammation/shin splints that the doc had ever seen. I gently reminded him that my feet were flatter than a level surface. Unfortunately I did not get these results until the middle of BEAST (I didn’t go and was staying with a sixth week flight at the time). Fortunately all I really missed was an excessive amount of time in the sweltering heat in MOPP 4.

Thankfully this time I was able to participate in the field training. Double thankfully no MOPP gear was involved.

Continue reading “Tales from the Inside: Week 7”

Tales from the Inside: Week 6

Sometimes a week will come to an end and I’ll try to remember what I did that week and I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast 15 minutes earlier. And that’s just in average every day life. In a training environment like this that effect is amplified. This was definitely one of those weeks.

Continue reading “Tales from the Inside: Week 6”