Thursday, October 04, 2007

Executive Initiative

I run a moderately sized organization in our company. I would not exactly call it an empire, but the corporate organizational chart shows that I have over 30 people reporting into me. My team is spread across the world, with people in the US, India, and the Czech Republic.

Maybe not an empire, but the sun never sets on it.

My wife sometimes makes the mistake of asking me what I did at the office on a given day. Sometimes I follow up that mistake by telling her the truth.

Last week she asked and I told her that in addition to the usual meetings to attend and fires to put out, I spent a good part of my day busily burning CDs, updating and printing labels, editing release notes, and double checking dozens of little details that come along with a product release.

My wife wanted to know why *I* had to do all of that. Didn't I have somebody to do all of that stuff for me? She has seen the org chart. She knows how many people I have working for me.

I explained that the people who work for me are all highly skilled, well paid professionals.

She pointed out that I was also a highly skilled, well paid professional.

I told her yes, but I am a manager. My primary responsibility to ensure that my team is productive, that the company is getting their money's worth out of their investment in these people. Often that means keeping them somewhat isolated from the trivia and focused on the goals for the team.

I then told her a story of my youth, which is what I do a lot these days now that I am over 40 and something of an old fart.

When I was around eight years old, I was at my grandfather's company. He started his own business after the WWII, which turned into a reasonable success. My father, my uncles, my aunt, and a few cousins ended up working for him at one time or another. I did my own stretch working for him, on the loading dock, when I was in my teens.

But back when I was eight, I was in his office, which was large and well appointed. I said to him that I would like an office like his some day. He smiled and asked if I really wanted to be an executive. I said "Yes!" quite enthusiastically. He got up and said, "Follow me."

He lead me off to the men's room where he picked up a toilet brush and handed it to me.

He said, "If you want to be an executive, start by cleaning the toilet."

He laughed while I looked at him like he was crazy. Cleaning toilets wasn't going to get me a big office.

Then he said, "When you're ready to do what needs to be done, no matter what, you can be an executive."

So now when my wife asks about my day, she makes a point to enquire about the toilets. I assure her that we pay somebody to take care of that.

Meanwhile, I do what needs to be done... though I do not have a nice office.

Not yet, anyway.

Maybe I should go order some pop-up Post-It® dispensers.

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