Pretty much everyone in my racing category is a grizzled veteran in more than one way. The only guys without grey hair don’t have any hair. As far as bike racing goes; anyone on the downhill side of their fifties is fast or they don’t bother pinning on a number. If you think the 55 plus racing category is like a social group ride you are dead wrong. These are tough guys with more time to train and they have egos that have been fed by decades of winning. Serious MoFos all.
Likewise in my professional career the decades have given me lots of experience and a well-developed set of skills.
My experience and skills form what I heard the Silver Fox describe as “T-skills.” That is great depth (skill) in one area and a little depth across a broader area. If I may be so bold I would say that in addition to the broad technical expertise I have, I also possess the ability to lead, communicate and facilitate amongst my peers.
This dangerous combination gets me thrown into a lot of challenging situations. Sometimes I rely on my technical skills to find the solution and other times it takes all of my leadership and charm or persistence and force of will to find a happy ending.
What has been consistent is my ability to achieve my objectives. This gives me a positive reputation which is both good and bad. My track record means I get adoration from my clients as well as their nastiest projects.
When Doug comes my way he is usually bringing a figurative flaming bag of shit.
In this spirit I was pulled into a messy situation and asked to facilitate. The company was at a crossroads and was evaluating two paths forward. The company solicited proposals from two outside suppliers and internally two groups aligned, one with each supplier.
I knew there were strong personalities involved but management believed a review relying on facts and data would drive a logical conclusion. They asked me to champion that event and since we really don’t say “no” I found myself in front of a divided room.
The senior leader defined the objective, asked everyone to work together (also knowing the personalities), pointed to me to run this and left the room with purposeful haste.
I would be diplomatic if I said the participants were passionate. I would be more accurate if I described them as belligerent and petty. In my role I don’t have the organizational authority or responsibility to correct individuals’ behavior and my defined objective was technical in nature so my belief was it wasn’t my responsibility.
I would ask one group for a technical answer and they would respond with the answer and include a personal jab aimed at someone in the other group. My focus was to dig out the technical solution so I captured the fact and ignored the jabs.
I wasn’t the target of any of this and I certainly didn’t throw any stones. I did make some efforts to diffuse the situation but I did not let it distract me from my objective.
Over the course of two intense hours I managed to wrangle agreement for a single path forward. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say one group reluctantly conceded almost under protest.
In terms of achieving the objective of agreement on a single plan I completed the task. Indeed over the next twenty-four hours I was complemented several times by virtually all of the participants as well as the senior leader who had conscripted me into this mess.
I refuse to count this as a victory.
Despite lacking organizational authority I should have claimed authority as a human being and stopped the petty behavior that made the meeting of a group of people, all of whom (except me) work for the same company behave like scorned lovers.
I recall thinking their parents would be ashamed watching them. Then I realized they all were old enough to have children or grandchildren who would be embarrassed watching this. Nobody in that room had cause to be proud. Even the one or two that remained silent should have spoken up.
I have always felt my ability to sift through the bullshit to get the facts was a skill. The lesson I learned here was that at some point the bullshit really does overtake the facts and my job is to demand civility and respect.
I did my job as a professional just fine. I need do a better job at being a person.