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I had committed to myself that I wanted to make the most of this experience. I had waited years to be able to attend the program, and now that it was upon me, I didn’t want to squandor it. I made a decision early on that helped that to happen.
There was going to be a lot of group dynamics playing out over the next four weeks. There was the larger group of 72 of us, from all different types of backgrounds and cultures, from all over the world, and then there was the smaller group of eight of us, plus our facilitator, who we were going to spend most of the first week with, and get to know each other on a much more intimate level.
On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) profile, I usually measure off the charts in two of the four categories. On the energy category – where you draw your energy from, either from other people (an Extrovert, or “E”), or by being alone to recharge your batteries through reading and reflecting (Introvert, or “I”) - I’m a flaming E. That can be a bit misleading, because I have learned, through time, to value alone time to read and reflect, and to write, but I have had to learn how to cultivate the energy to do this. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Left to my own devices, I would just charge into the day, and immediately begin interacting with people, because that is what off-the-chart E’s do. This is part of why Cowbird works so well for me, because I know that, as soon as I post a story, others will be reading it, and if I struck a chord of some sort, I might even get comments or a message from a reader. This is like gold to me. It gives me energy just knowing that my story will be read shortly after I post it.
In the decision making category – how you make decisions – I am a strong J (for Judging), as opposed to being a P (perceiving), which simply means, when faced with a decision, my natural tendency is to quickly review the facts at hand, make a decision, and move on. I feel good after making a decision, and don’t like to second-guess myself after having made it. That was the decision, and now I will live with it, and now it’s time to move on to other decisions. P’s tend to like to make sure they have reviewed all possible data, weighed all possible alternatives, before making a decision. They are not in a hurry. They like to dither awhile, before deciding – then, after deciding, they will continually review their decision and the process of arriving at it, to make sure they made the right decision. They love to second-guess the decision already made. They really don’t like the actual making of the decision. They might have left a consideration out. They drive me crazy – but I have learned the value of having a P on my team to balance my tendency to want to make a quick decision. A strong P will balance me, and help to make sure we’ve made a fully informed decision. I’ve learned to tolerate them, and have even cultivated patience with a more deliberative decision making process, myself. But, that doesn’t mean I like it.
So, my decision early on at the institute was to do something different. I’ve been through enough trainings and programs involving group dynamics, where it becomes obvious that I’m an off-the-charts E,and a decision maker, and all that happens is I dominate the group discussion, I drive the group towards making a decision, and I wind up learning not a damn thing to help me, going forward. I was there to learn how to be a better leader. So, I decided I would not take the bait and jump into the natural role during group exercises and challenges. I would force myself to sit back, observe and listen to others, and help to influence decisions in other ways. I would not volunteer to be on the entertainment committee. Let someone else do all that fun stuff. Just enjoy the entertainment, instead of being it.
I already knew that I was a good manager. I’d been managing for twenty-plus years, and had developed my own style of management that was very effective. People liked to work for me and thrived under me, as long as they came to work. If you didn’t bring your top effort to work regularly, you weren’t going to be very comfortable working for me, for very long. I expected, at the very least, your best effort. If I inherited you from a previous manager, and you simply didn’t have the appropriate skill set for the job you were in, I could work with that, as long as you were willing to make an effort, each and every day. I would try to find what your strengths were, and help you use them to maximize your effectiveness. I would also work with you to try to find your best place, a position that better played to your strengths. I was a good manager in this way, and people liked to work for me – unless they were looking for a place to just “do time”. Those types never lasted long with me. If I hired you myself, you usually were a good fit for the job, because I knew what I was looking for, and you were the closest to that among the candidates for the position. I would help you fully realize your potential, and knew that I would eventually lose you, because you were probably the type who would eventually outgrow the position and move on to bigger and better things. As a manager, that was the ultimate satisfaction for me, when that would happen. A big part of my job is to help you become all that you can be. (Damn, that sounded too much like an old Army slogan – “Be all that you can be.” Reminds me of an old Navy slogan – “the Navy – not just a job, an adventure”. When I was in, and when we would be feeling especially disenchanted with the whole idea of the Navy, we had our own version of that one – “The Navy – Not just a job – a B.J.”)
But, I had reached a point in my career where I needed new challenges, and had realized that I had a lot to learn to become a good leader. While I was really good at the day-to-day challenges of managing, I hadn’t fully developed the capacity to look ahead, to think strategically, and to lead a larger organization. I hadn’t mastered the “vision” thing. While I still wasn’t sure I wanted to actually do all of those things, I figured that since I was being given the opportunity to learn how to do them, I would do everything I could to make the most of the opportunity.
It would become a life-changing experience. I think that decision, to not just do what came naturally and easily for me, but to challenge myself to approach it differently, was a big reason that I got so much out of the program, and that it wound up having such an impact on me and how I approached my job.
I was in for the wildest ride of my career – one I am still on, six years later. I have no idea where I will be, or what I will be doing, in three months from now – and, I am totally o.k. with that, because I know that it will be interesting, demanding, challenging, and that I will have the opportunity to have a significant impact.
(Photos: (1)The Federal Executive Institute (formerly the Charlottesville Inn, where the cast from the movie “Giant” stayed during filming; (2) the swimming pool that had been installed at the Inn, at the insistence of Elizabeth Taylor’s people, and that is still there at FEI for anyone to use – James Dean swam in it, and so did I – every day that I was there; (3)Me, up a tree.)