I had an interesting experience the other day. There’s a job open in my department. We have interviewed and interviewed and interviewed and interviewed and… hm? Oh. Sorry. Got caught in a mobius strip there.
At any rate, we were still looking for just the right person when I got a knock on my door. It was Fred, a fellow who has worked for us for a long time, as long as I’ve been here, in fact. Fred’s a good guy and a reliable, creative player at his job function. Never saw him as a manager, though. There are many, many great people like that, who slice through their job functions like hot scimitars through camel flesh, but you just can’t imagine them leading a pack of wolverines into the hunt.
Anyhow, Fred was standing in my doorway and he said, “You found anybody for that manager slot yet?” And I think, oh no, this is going to be a bad deal. I like Fred. I don’t want to hurt Fred’s feelings. But Fred as a manager? Come on.
“May I come in?” said Fred. So of course what am I going to do. “Sure, Fred,” I said.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about this job you’re trying to fill and I think I could be pretty good at it,” said Fred. He had a file on his lap and he opened it and referred to some notes. “I think there’s an organizational issue at the center of the problem this job would address,” he continued. I noticed he wasn’t one bit nervous. Usually Fred seems a little nervous to me and this was sort of interesting.
There was, all in all, something new about him all of a sudden. He was going on in a very rational fashion about the need for central control over a function that so far had enjoyed, at best, what Tom Peters would call “simulaneous loose-tight properties” in that ridiculous way Peters has of saying dumb things that stick in your mind for decades.
But Fred was continuing. “I’ve been here for a long time,” he said. “And I’m finding that thinking about even the possibility of getting this job has energized me in a whole new way. I’m getting all kinds of ideas on how I could do new things to do my own job better, and also how all of us could work together more aggressively to make the most of a really great team we’ve got here.”
Why not? I thought. We had no real answer yet. And if not Fred, who? Hadn’t he in a sense earned the right to try this new thing, even to screw it up if it came to that? Why don’t we ever see the good things that display ourselves too closely to our eyes? Why is a prophet never honored in his own country?
“Okay, Fred,” I said. He stopped and looked at me with very big eyes, eyes gleaming with ambition and hope. “We have a couple more people to see, but I assure you that I’m going to think very seriously about what you’ve said.”
“I have a lot more to tell you about if you want to hear it,” he offered.
“No, Fred,” I said. “I like what you’ve shown me today. Let me just think about things a little.”
Fred rose to his feet with a somewhat timid smile, and a flash of the old fellow I knew popped out. I like him too. Then he left.
And now I’m thinking. If Fred hadn’t been able to envision himself in the new role, I wouldn’t have seen him that way either. But since he does? I do too. I don’t really know what I’m going to do yet, not at least with the left side of my brain that thinks it’s in control. The right side? I think it’s already made up its very subjective little mind.