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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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Stream of consciousness brain dump time…

Get two of those soft molasses cookies. The fresher the better. Careful that they’re not too spicy, or it ruins the effect. Glue them together with a healthy layer of peanut butter.

It’s magic.

You wouldn’t think so, but it’s just pure magic. Was one of my mom’s favorite treats, and it’s stuck with me through the years. Always makes me think of her when I eat it.

Need to call mom, dad, brother, and grandma. Been sucking at that lately.

Anyhow, went through some management training at work the last couple of days. Back when I was at the investment bank, during the first week of training we devoted three days to leadership development and teamwork training. In reality, it was a complete waste, featuring activities like “lead your blindfolded partner across the room” and “trust in these two people to hold your safety rope so you don’t die.” While the program emphasized the “classroom” portion of these sessions I found it to be overly artificial, impersonal, and stifling. I can’t think of a single positive take-home, and there’s nothing lasting that I still remember.

Of course, the class was full of the top graduates of various MBA programs throughout the nation. Wharton, Sloan, U of M, Harvard, Yale, you name it. I was part of the group that went through the same training, but was destined for the back office and not a whirlwind tour of the trading floor. I was not comfortable. So, maybe that was the problem.

Anyhow, fast forward a few years. This training was quite a bit different. There were eight software engineers, one trainer from Villard (don’t mind their awful website), and another more senior employee who had been through the classes before playing the role of the observer.

Here’s where things got weird. We got tossed into our first activity after a gentle introduction. Nobody took the lead, so I, of all people, took the lead.

Yeah, that surprised me too.

Don’t worry, I botched quite a few things, but then that was the point of the encounter. It’s meant to be a demonstration that if you approach everything with chaos and without a plan, all you get is chaos and no plan as a result.

Anyhow, it’s interesting because this first exercise is based on the idea of awarding discretionary stock awards. It was meant to be an impossible task, but I think it’s probably always an impossible task. So, I wrote down my first take-home: Comp is hard. You make a decision that means a $25,000 difference to somebody (making the numbers up here, just for the sake of argument). That decision is made in 5 seconds. “Everybody agree with Jon? Alright, awesome.” That’s take-home two: Silence is not consensus.

I deliberated a bit over even putting this stuff here, but it’s been an interesting mental exercise. After the two days, things ended with a 360-review session where everybody in the program (the 8 students) received feedback from all the other students, as well as the instructor and observer. This was done on a flip chart, in front of everybody, which is always a challenge both for the recipient of feedback, and perhaps more so for those offering it.

So, the results of that was two lists that we wrote up by the end, our ‘Strengths’ and our ‘Blocks’ (call it like it is; I grow tired of stepping around a word: weaknesses). Screw the rest of the training program, I think most of what I learned there was that I’d already figured out the basic tools of management on my own, be it from good (or bad) managers in the past or from books I’ve read.

The real value was in practice interaction with other class members (yes, I’m actually admitting to appreciating role-playing sessions at work), and the days of introspection that were launched as a result of these two lists. Introspection in a bottle … if only one could buy it.

An aside: I was giving an interview the other day, and as we were heading to a place to sit down for a bit I’d opened our discussion by asking how things were going. His first response was that things were going well, that things had been very easy to that point compared to some interviews he’d had elsewhere.

There are times in life where one must make a personal challenge of a situation.

Interesting memory: The role-playing activity at the investment bank was something to the effect of “create a hypothetical courtroom where you try the investment bank against complaints that it’s not one of the best places on earth to work.” I think the angle was something to do with diversity, but at its core it was no better than Pravda during the Soviet era.

Whatever, here are my two lists, which were written in front of the group, during a time where I was not allowed to debate or question the feedback I received.

Strengths

  • Take-charge attitude
  • Initiative
  • Facilitation
  • Negotiation
  • Organization
  • Good at providing both positive and negative feedback
  • Communication skills
  • Insightful word choice
  • Understanding of group process
  • Willingness to take the lead
  • Strong presence
  • Willingness to put self out there
  • Resource and role model
  • Sense of humor
  • Capable of big things

Weaknesses

  • Takes on too much
  • Approaches everything with a poker face
  • Dry sense of humor
  • Inability to “be yourself”
  • Detachment
  • Aloofness
  • Resistance to delegate
  • Wears too many hats
  • Potential to eclipse the initiative [in re-reading my notes I don’t know what this means]
  • Be conscious of involving other people
  • Tough act to follow
  • Silence is not consensus
  • Sells self short.

Alright, so I put that out there, and it looks either like hubris or some weird means of fishing for something, and that’s really not what I’m trying to achieve. My head hurts, and I think it’s from thinking through both of these lists. I don’t think I really understand who I am anymore, let alone who I wish I was, which is sort of disconcerting.

Take-home three: “managing is not acting.”

Of course, this is based on two days of people in a room, who only for the last half or so even realized they’d be doing this, so I’m probably putting way too much thought into this.

And with that, it’s make-the-headache-go-away time.