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  • Friday was a good day at work. I've had a lot more of them the past month and a half, ever since I started this "detail" into the position I am currently in. I'm getting my "juju" back. I actually started getting it back months ago, but when you're stuck in a closet, hidden up on a shelf, you can have all the "juju" you want - you don't get to have much of an impact with it. You do what you can, and live with that, and it's o.k. But my good friend Joe left me the best of parting gifts.

    Joe was the CFO. Joe knew what was up with me. He had tried to help me out previously. He had requested that I be the point of contact on a critical project that his shop was leading. I presented his offer to my boss, and she said she needed to think about it. After a few days of not hearing anything back from her on it - this was typical how the communication, or lack thereof, went with her - I decided I would just "act as if", and do my bit on the project, help Joe out, and be making a significant contribution to the mission. This is how you have to play it, when you're stuck in a closet, on a shelf. My other projects had all wound up being busts, while this one had some juice. I was all set to dive into it, and squeeze it for all it was worth. To be involved in something significant that made a difference was getting my blood pumping again.

    I ran into Joe in the hallway, and told him my plan. Cara was there, as well. I had mentored her, back when I had gone into her division to start turning it around. She had requested me for that detail. She had been the last one standing there, as the leadership team had crumbled all around her. She was a relatively new Branch Chief, thrust into the role of acting Deputy Director, then just like that, four of the five person leadership team had abandoned ship, leaving her there, trying to hold it all together with chewing gum and baling wire. That was back when I had bosses who recognized my worth, who would let me go in and run divisions until they got turned around. I was a turn-around specialist. Give me your tired - your broken - your hungry - your disillusioned - your low-morale units. I'd tapped into the way to do it, and had demonstrated it several times over. I'd left a staff and two divisions in my wake, highly dysfunctional when I'd gotten there, now highly effective and efficient units, places where people wanted to work, where they hit on all cylinders, where they brought their A+ game to work everyday, where they "got" the mission of what we do, and were driven to excellence. I had found the key to leadership, and most importantly, had learned how to empower others how to lead from where they were. Cara had been one of my star successes. She had all the tools, just needed someone to encourage her to use them. Ensure her that they were the right tools. I'd been right about her. It only took me five months to turn the place around, and she had stepped in behind me and continued what I started, and made it hers. I'd done the same things with Sherri and Gabrielle in other units.

    But that was several years ago - back before I'd gotten put on a shelf in a closet. I was going to be working with Cara on this project. She was excited to have me on it, I was looking forward to working with her again. I told Joe my plan. The look on his face came and went in a flash - the man was a total professional, and he wouldn't trash anyone, but I saw the fleeting look, I caught its drift. What he said was, "Oh, P, I'm sorry - didn't she (my boss) tell you? She doesn't want you on this project. I went back to check with her, and she said you have too much on your plate." This is how you keep someone on a shelf, in a closet, and keep them from having a positive impact on anything, when you want to dumb a place down, and set it up to fail. I crawled back into my closet with my tail between my legs, climbed up onto my shelf in there, and licked my wounds, embarassed that Joe and Cara had to see me like that.
  • But, like I said, Joe left me with the best of parting gifts. He was leaving, to go run the finances at a military college that would bring him closer to his grandkids. He recommended me to the big bosses to go in behind his deputy over there, while his deputy came in behind him. It would keep everything moving forward until they found a permanent replacement. He'd come by my closet to let me know what he was doing, to make sure I'd want that, before he did. Typical Joe - considerate, communicative. I'd forgotten what a good leader looked like. I hadn't seen that, from inside my closet, for awhile. I looked at him, from my shelf, and said, "Oh, I'd love it, Joe, but I doubt that she'll go along with it. She likes to keep me here, where I can have minimal, if any, impact". He said, "Just leave it to me. I'll get you out of here. We need you over there. We need your leadership."

    And, he was good for his word. I went from supervising nobody, like I had for two years, to supervising twenty-two, while helping Mike lead the unit of 120, running the finances and budget for the 10,000 employee agency. Impact - significant. I knew what to do. I wasn't sure if I still had it - I'd need to shake a little rust off, and dust off my confidence a little bit, see if I could find my work ethic, which hadn't been required for some time. It all came back, without a further thought about it. Just like riding a bicycle. I also got Joe to leave me a copy of his book on leadership before he got out the door. That was his first one. I downloaded his second one on my kindle. I've been reading them both, while working in the shop where he'd pulled off an unprecedented turn-around. He'd made my turn-arounds look like child's play. I knew, more than anyone, what he'd pulled off. He did it in two years' time. It had been so dysfunctional, I didn't think anyone could turn this one around. I'd been the acting CFO, and acting Deputy, before - five years ago. I knew the place was a mess. Years and years of shitty leadership will do that to a joint. But, Joe managed to do it, then left behind his recipe for how he did it - his books. This is heady stuff for someone who had just started getting comfortable on a shelf in a closet. The term, "Like a Pig in Shit" comes to mind! That was me, slopping around in it, like a kid in a candy store, digging the shit out of every single challenge, every single day, being able to have an impact again, to be making a difference. To be appreciated.

    Oh, did I mention that, after the Big Boss had told my boss that I was going over on the detail, she tried to spin it like it was her idea, to me? Seriously. I dropped by her office to talk about something else, and she launched into a 45 minute lie, another blatant attempt on her part to make me feel insignificant - telling me they'd wanted someone else for this, but that SHE had convinced them to give me a shot. I'm fucking serious. That's how she rolled. Two years of this shit, I've been living with.

    So, back to Friday. What made it such a good day. For seven consecutive years before she got here, my performance evaluations were always Outstanding, the best you can get. Her first year, in which I changed jobs for her, moved into the position she'd wanted me in, "to increase the band-width of this office" she'd told me, did everything she asked me to do, and then some, while Mom was dying, so my focus was there, even while I carried all of her water for her. She gave me my first less than Outstanding rating in eight years. I got a "Superior", a step down, but still better than average. I didn't complain. I knew where my focus had been, and if it meant I would get less than the top, so be it. I had spent most of the year acting as her deputy, and thought I might get a shot at it, permanently. No - she'd brought an old buddy into that job, and together, they'd shucked me off to my shelf in my closet. He was smooth. Came off like he was your friend, like he was going to help you figure out what she wanted. Then, he did jack shit. Just made it all look good, while they ran the joint into the ground.

    These two couldn't lead their way out of a paper bag. Morale went to shit in a hurry, and I just stood by and watched it all happen, from my shelf in a closet, while I did my best to have an impact from there. My best couldn't make a damned bit of difference. Any time I made any noise of anything positive, they were quick to put it down, secure me back up on the shelf, and quickly lock the closet door, before anyone noticed.
  • Friday, someone noticed. Last month, they gave me my Performance Evaluation for the year. Fully Successful. That means, "you did your job." Nothing special. You didn't knock anything out of the park, You didn't walk on any water. You showed up, and didn't screw anything up, too badly. That's what a Fully Successful means. You're one of the clock watchers, one of timeclock punchers. Doing your job. There's no shame in it, really. And, even though I know what I did. I started up a committee from scratch, that was a leader in the area of its subject matter, within the entire cabinet level department - I didn't do it the way they wanted me to do it, which was a way that would have failed, so I couldn't be given any credit for that. I did a good job staying on my shelf, in my closet. Fully Successful.

    I didn't argue with it. I agreed with it. I didn't bring my "A" game this year. Bring it to what? You gave me nothing worthy of my "A" game. Well, I did bring it, but I learned to bring it to make a difference where I saw the opportunities to do so. Mentoring others. Helping the ones whose morale was reeling from your lack of leadership. Helping them see through it. Helping them get the hell out, if that's what it took. Picking up projects that you didn't even know, nor care, about. Since they weren't in my performance standards they didn't count - and I didn't care. I did them, because they made a difference. Others noticed. Including the Big Boss. He saw what was up with me. He knew I was still out there, doing my thing.

    He got word the other day. Heard what kind of a rating they gave me. I'm told he marched right over to the deputy's office and read him the riot act. The doofus told him I hadn't challenged it. "No shit, shurlock" he'd said back to him. "P. wouldn't". He'd had a rough year, losing his mother and all. "And that's how we treat him?!? That is not how we treat our best. That's bullshit!" That's what he told him. That's what I found out on Friday.

    Friday was a good day. Their shit is beginning to stink, and they're finally starting to notice. My days on the shelf, on a closet, are finally behind me. I won't go back there. I don't think I'd fit anymore, even if I tried.
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