27 February 2011

The King is Dead! Long Live the King!

"... we choked 'em with those words. We've done the impossible, and that makes us mighty. Just a little while longer. Our angels are gonna be soaring overhead, raining fire..."

- Malcolm Reynolds, Firefly (pilot episode: Serenity)

Most people will recognize the title of this post from various period films/shows/theatrical productions because it is usually used by some background character to announce the death of a regent. Historically it was used less as an announcement of death and more to assert the continuation of the dynasty, i.e. though the current king is deceased, his heir stands ready to assume the mantle. Well, that is exactly what happened this week at work.

I will warn everyone that what follows may sound a bit arrogant, or worse self-important horn-tooting. I don't like that, but even with my grasp of the English language there was no way around it.

I'll not go into details about my employer, or all the specific grievances that the other employees and myself had with our boss. Suffice it to say that there was a serious lack of real leadership. The above quote perfectly reflects how the ball got rolling on the situation. The crew went to our boss' boss and poured out their problems. Our customers did the same. When the upper echelon finally had the information, I was told you could see the fires of rage in their eyes. There were, of course, policies/standards/procedures that had to be followed (they didn't just walk in and channel George Carlin saying "Get the FUCK OUT OF HERE!"), but once all the t's were crossed and lower case j's dotted the individual was terminated. Unlike the last time my direct superior had to be removed, I had little-to-nothing to do with it. Was it a mutiny? After a fashion, I suppose it was.

Now all of this would not have been possible if I had not said that I would assume the boss' duties. There is currently a dearth of qualified (read: trained and ready) individuals to take the job, so the reality was that either I reluctantly took over, or continued to suffer with the rest of my people. I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment.

I said above that the core root cause was a lack of real leadership. While I don't feel that I am the picture-perfect representation of such, I will go into what I feel are the simple rules for effectively leading a group of other human beings.

1. Put yourself last.

I was raised on the notion that the "officers eat last". This is not just a literal meal time rule, but an ideal for prioritizing your needs. Your people should always come first, even if you must starve yourself. This applies to your family, your job, and anywhere else you have a leadership role. Real leaders suffer so that their people may succeed.

2. Place trust and respect in your people, until such time as they breach that trust.

This is more a job-specific rule. Trust and respect should be earned in life, but in a situation such as being thrust into a leadership position with a new group of people you will have to throw out freebies. Whether your people respect you or not in return is an entirely different matter.

3. Never ask your subordinates to do anything you will not/have not do[ne] yourself first.

This is self-explanatory. If you're not willing to get into the trenches and get your hands dirty, how can you honestly expect anyone else to do it for you? This goes a long way towards building upon the trust you hand out from rule #2.

4. Maintain high expectations for your people, but hold yourself to a higher standard.

Personal accountability is something that I feel is lacking in today's society. That's not to say it is gone altogether, just misplaced. Push your people to do better, and often they will out of a sense of personal pride (this goes back to the blanket respect clause). Just remember, whatever standard you hold for them, your personal standard must be higher. You must set the example.

5. With great power comes great responsibility.

Channeling my inner geek here, Stan Lee's immortal words (like most universal truths) ring true in many situations, but most especially in leadership roles. You are not there to rule as a tyrant. At best you are a guide, showing people how to get the most out of themselves. Further, you must be willing to put yourself in harm's way to protect those under your command.

6. Maintain a friendly, but comfortable distance.

You may have to remove someone for the betterment of the group. Getting too close can cloud your judgment. Take a genuine interest in your people, sincerely care about their lives, but always keep in mind that the survival of the group as a whole must always be the primary concern. Objectivity is difficult to maintain, but paramount.

7. Know when it is time to step aside.

Going back to the title of this post: There always comes a time when the reins of leadership need to be passed on. Death/dismemberment/incarceration/retirement, these are just a few extreme examples. Suffice it to say that if at any time you feel you can not fulfill the above rules, get out and let someone else do it.

I am sure there are other things that could be said. There are enough books on the subject to fill an entire library. I prefer to keep it simple. I hope that it's enough to carry me through the coming weeks and months, or however long this position is entrusted to me.

Tune in next week for some off-kilter fun posting. Not sure exactly what, but nothing so serious as this.

Until then, keep your heads low everyone.

23 February 2011

Busy week...

I was going to fill this space with my treatise on leadership, but given my circumstances this week it will have to wait. Stay tuned. If you haven't already seen the show, go watch "Firefly". Great example of effective leadership in Mal Reynolds.

13 February 2011

Soothing the savage beast...

I've noticed that since changing my news feed options on Facebook, a lot of people I know like to put up links to music videos. While it's not as great a method of finding new music as say, Pandora, but it does give me insight into what makes others tick. For instance: if you were to link up the latest Lady Gaga video, I might have to assume one of two options. One, you are an idiot; Two, you were bitten by the pop music bug (insectus notalentus) and in the resulting fever lost all grip on reality and were driven to link up the track for all your friends to see. (It's okay. We've all put something on social venues we probably wish we hadn't in hindsight.)

Continuing on the subject of music, those of you who've known me long enough are aware that I am extremely particular when it comes to what I listen to. It all boils down to this: I know what sounds good to me. You will probably disagree with me as much as I will disagree with you. When it comes to base genres I will not listen to contemporary country, and Christian-themed music in all its many forms (Gospel, Rap, Rock, etc.). Everything else I will give a chance before I say "meh". (Yes, even pop.)

Here's an example: My dear friend Rich became enamored of the rave scene years back (though I think he's outgrown most of that crap). As such he was always introducing me to new forms of electronic/techno. Ninety-five percent of it I could not stand. The remaining five percent belonged to the much-maligned subset of "Big Beat" techno; e.g. the Chemical Brothers, the Prodigy, Aphex Twin, et. al. While most would ask "what's the difference?" I could not then or now give you a rational answer. It just feels "right" and everything else feels "wrong".

There are a few core elements of what I feel is right, though. Unique instrumentation in non-traditional settings, like Korn's occasional bagpipes and Cornershop's heavy use of sitar. Harmonized vocals, whether it is multiple singers (the Beach Boys) or layering of one voice (Queen). Unusual timing (think Tool and Nine Inch Nails) I also find to be quite enjoyable. Also, older is not necessarily better, but I tend to enjoy a wide range of periods from early medieval (Mediaeval Baebes) to classical, and all the way through modern arrangements.

Well, I think I've rambled long enough. Now I'll share a few tracks that I've been listening to heavily for the past few months. Maybe in another few weeks I throw some more up.

1. Puscifer - "Indigo Children (JLE Dub Mix)" from V is for Viagra: The Remixes (2008)

This is one of those rare tracks where I prefer the remix to the original album cut. For those who don't know, Puscifer is Maynard James Keenan's (lead vocalist for Tool) other side project.

2. Peter Gabriel - "The Tower that Ate People (Remix)" from the Red Planet OST (2000)

Yeah, another remix, but this one stands alone better than the original.

3. Cocteau Twins - "Love's Easy Tears" from Love's Easy Tears EP (1986)

Just a beautiful track. You can't make out most of the lyrics, but for me that is part of the appeal. You may recognize Elizabeth Fraser's unique vocal stylings from the more recent "Teardrop" by Massive Attack (a.k.a. the "House" theme).

4. U2 -"Numb" from Zooropa (1993)

Yes, Bono's a piece of shit. We all know that. On this track, however, he is relegated to backing vocals where he belongs.

5. The Jesus and Mary Chain - "Snakedriver" from The Crow: OMPS (1994)

The whole of "The Crow" soundtrack is solid. This is just one of my favorites.

6. Afro Celt Sound System - "Life Begin Again" from Volume 3: Further in Time (2001)

The Afro Celt's third album featured two tracks with famous guest vocals, "When You're Falling" featured Peter Gabriel (another favorite) and this track featuring Robert Plant.

Hope you enjoyed that short playlist. Until next week, kids!

06 February 2011

Things I've Learned This Week

I hope this week finds everyone well. I am currently reading D. Harlan Wilson's "Codename Prague", and Bradley Sands' "It Came From Below the Belt"(Hurry! It's out-of-print and Amazon has only 2 copies in stock as of this post!). D does not disappoint in this second book in the Scikungfi Trilogy (I'll review it in full when I'm finished), and contrary to what this e-anthology has to say Bradley Sands is not a dick. Well, maybe he is, but his writing is great.

And now for something completely different:

I may not be the most religious man in the world. In fact, as you can probably tell by the title of this blog and previous posts, I prefer to make fun of religion as much as I can. Does that mean I think your faith is ridiculous and stupid? No. Everyone believes in something greater than themselves (even atheists!) and that faith can be a good thing. Keeps one humble for starters, but I digress. The point I'd like to make is that no matter what foundation your faith is built upon you can agree with me that in all probability when you shuffle off this mortal coil, if there is a life hereafter the least you get to take with you is your life experience and knowledge. So for me, knowledge is more important than anything else.

With that in mind, I'd like to share some of the things I learned this week.

First, I got a five minute education in the details of the United Kingdom:

Feel smarter already? Well, let's keep the ball rolling! Shall we?

Next, a friend on Facebook posted a link to something on Moveon.org's site concerning a Republican congressman who wanted to change the definition of rape. Of course, being conservative, I was intrigued. It turns out that House of Representatives Bill 3: The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act is an appropriations bill, or rather a lack of it. Put simply: the bill wants to make sure that taxpayer dollars are not used to pay for abortions. I'm sure you figured that out from the title. The "rape definition" comes from Section 309-1 which is actually saying that they WILL pay for an abortion in the case of rape or incest. Now, in trying to argue that this was not a change in criminal law I learned a lot about the federal government's take on rape (namely U.S.C. Title 18, Part I, Section 109A). Seems to me that the feds have the same opinion of rape that most civilized people do, i.e. it's not a good thing and should be punished by death (or at the least a lengthy prison sentence).

In doing all that arguing I also learned that I hate women, that all women want to carry babies, and that I don't consider incest a form of rape. Hold on, no, that was somebody else somehow implying from what I said that I believed all that. Silly me. (And no, I will not repeat the conversation. It is long, drawn out, and full of ignorance.)

Well, I hope everyone has learned something useful from this. Class dismissed until next week.