Fixed at the Edges but Broken at the Centre

The past few weeks have been some of the most difficult in my working life, and the show is set to continue, during a year that is extremely heavy on conference and meeting schedules. I am heading my small unit as Officer-in-Charge, while management makes a final decision in the recruitment process of my future boss, the new head of the unit.

The workload has been unreal, and my team are some slackers, to put it mildly. Some of them will not do an ounce of extra work without the incentive of overtime. Meanwhile I am doing double my usual quota of work in addition to the admin I am saddled with since October.

Through this, I have attended to my own waxing and waning aspirations at work. I oscillated between wanting the vacant position of chief of unit, and dreading the prospect of it. As I mentioned earlier, by all reckoning I am the only one in my small team who is willing to put in the extra work and go the extra mile. The rest are in it for their own agenda. One wants a promotion to land at his feet when I become the chief, and the others just want things to carry on as slack as ever while cashing in on the overtime.

One afternoon, they even decided to leave the office and work from home for the rest of a Saturday meeting shift without checking with me. On that day I was in and out of the office several times, dealing with one problem after the next with my son, who needed to attend a compulsory school open day, then came back from it with an upset stomach. When I finally settled my child’s ailment, I came back to find an empty office two hours before official shift end. I wrote an email to the typing team leader reprimanding her on leaving the office, and while I copied only my immediate supervisor, she went on to escalate the matter to the several heads of the Department, questioning my own lack of reporting to my subordinates on my whereabouts.

Fools have the biggest egos, and I have to manage a small incompetent team where each member has a huge sense of entitlement, whereas I have none myself. It looks like I am not even entitled enough to become their boss. I did not have enough ego to sell myself to the selection panel for the Chief’s post. Perhaps my inner dread at managing this exasperating and frustrating team sabotaged my chances at landing the job. In short I failed the interview, even though I was the top scorer on the technical part of the recruitment test. It is true that I barely make the cut in terms of the years of experience required, but the job was within reach. I have been doing it for six month already during the heaviest workload I have seen in three years, so perhaps it is my intuitive side that did not really want it.

While I was initially disappointed at my failure to grab the chance for a promotion, my feelings finally settled into a sense of relief. The battle is far from over and I have some of the heaviest challenges ahead as officer in charge, but failing at them is no longer such a big deal, because at least now I can plead that the responsibility is above my grade-level. I can allow myself to fail now, and this has eased my sense of dread considerably, especially as my stint as officer in charge might lengthen at least three more months into the future. It is going to be a marathon, not a sprint and I might as well conserve my efforts. And I should follow the example of my slacker team on this one, since I am not getting paid for the extra responsibility.

You would think that with all this going in my life I would have little time to ruminate over my other emotional problems, You would be wrong. There is always time for a little bit of heartache. When I led my team to finishing a successful meeting, and as I came down from the adrenaline rush of delivering all those documents on time to the participants and member states, there was a piece of me that missed a kind word, from the man I loved. He used to text me at the end of my night shift to check on me. The memory of this would lead me again to remember all those little moments of kindness and caring that he showed. My rational mind and my wounded heart would then start again on their well-trodden circular path of an argument that leads nowhere. My mind would tell me it was just normal and natural kindness and my heart would deny this and try to articulate what each small gesture felt like, and how they were all perceived, as part of something bigger, even before he or I were aware of them as such.

Another day in the morning I was sitting at my usual spot nursing my heartache. I wrote about it in my notebook. I was feeling blue because I had conjured him the night before in a dream. In the dream we just walked together and sat on the steps of my old college in my country of birth. I think we held hands as we walked but no further intimacies were shared. I reflected on this earlier as I was drifting into wakefulness. My brain has no reference to what it would feel like to be intimately close to someone I love so much, so I cannot recreate it, not even in a dream.

I once told him that seeing him, even from afar, is enough to bring my day off balance. But apparently even the thought or image of him, in wakefulness or asleep, does the same. In my notebook I wrote: How do I get over someone I carry within me? And that question made me weep. A Kenyan colleague I never met before stopped on her way to a morning walk, and we talked. I told her my story, and in the telling the loss and the pain intensified and became even more real. I must remember this too. I should never share it outside of paper, and cyberspace, as it will just grow and fill whatever empty space was left for my breath. I went to the office with red and swollen eyes, but at least I connected with a kindly soul.

I still walk with the pain, and on some days it is kinder on me than on others. Philosophically I try to take it as a lesson, as a teacher of endurance, patience and acceptance. If it weren’t for surviving my suffering of the past 20 months, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the pressure and adversity at work. I would have crumbled under the weight of this responsibility, this grindstone I am carrying around my neck. Today, thanks to my training on the endurance of pain, I am still upright, and still planning on going the distance, like a marathon runner. I say to myself that being here has fixed me at the extremities but broke me at the centre, in my heart. My consolation is that a broken heart feels keener compassion for a broken world. No regrets.

The Blogosphere : My Own Wishing Well

It has been a while as usual. I have now taken on a new challenge. I am studying Global Development through an online university and it is taking me a lot longer than prescribed to go through the material. It seems that I am somewhat of a slow reader.

Apart from that, two very important things happened. First, my son has his first Canadian passport. I do not think it is any thanks to his father; Canada is just a civilized country, which has respect for its citizens, regardless of their age, and does not discriminate against single mothers, whether they were Canadian or not. The father has given me a little lip recently about going to the Australian Embassy in Pnom Penh and wasting some of his precious time. I just let it slide, as I usually do. So we now have travel dates, and it is going to be absolutely fine, with a bit of administrative juggling to report Robert as a Canadian citizen here in the US. My employer would take care of that but it simply means that as far as the US government is concerned he would have to stay Canadian for as long as we stay here, and he will have a considerable advantage over his South African mother, I do not mind that.

Another amazing thing was, that I got my own little slice of window in a new office. It was purely through an act of providence that I got this blessed change of scenery. For once, the dreaded grapevine of office gossip served me correctly and I was recommended for an open plan cubicle without formally asking for it. I can only say, it was just good karma coming my way, or perhaps the magic of putting my desires and wishes out on the blogosphere; my own wishing well. A few weeks ago I blogged about my old hobbit hole of an office.

Next time I will wish for something more substantial.

Dear Blog: I want a tall, dark single dad with a sense of humor, and preferably with a connection to Africa.

Readers, cross your fingers for me, you will be the first to know if this works.

A Working Mom’s Guilt Trip

Today was the last of the spring break. I mostly spent time with my son, looking after several outstanding issues, taking him for a dental and doctor checkups and putting our home in order. I have only ventured near the office on Sunday, the last day of the month, to put in a last translation to boost my average for the month of March.

That afternoon I had taken some good friends from the office out to lunch. We marked the 2nd anniversary of my arrival in New York, and my confirmed appointment as permanent staff. After lunch we walked to the office, and I took my son Robert along, thinking I will be out of there in an hour. I forgot that the office was like a black hole. It swallows all sunlight, brightness, joy and enthusiasm. So I made the mistake of reading my email, and was immediately consumed by fury at one of management ill-advised and badly thought out plans.

It seems that we in the lower ranks need a little more mental stimulation, never mind that we barely cope with the workload. Therefore we need to get excited about collectively reviewing the Arabic terminology database, by order of management. It should be noted that we the little people were singled out for the task, the seniors were excluded from it, although they are the ones who supposedly correct our work, and set us straight with terminology. There were many more problems with the division of labor, as the letters of the alphabet were considered all equal (or almost equal). This means that one colleague has to check the WHOLE section starting with Q, while letter sections like A and S were simply split down the middle between unhappy colleagues. One particularly unlucky (or unloved) person ended up with the chunk starting with P on his own, maybe seeing that p and q can simply be mirror images from each other. This review is done in addition to, and in parallel with, the work done by dedicated terminology staff, and I would not even try to explain the unwieldy process we are required to follow in order to mark the records needing reviews.

One of my good friends at the office has this brilliant strategy of just working through his task and not checking any emails until he has finished his allotted work for the day. This is something I should try, because normally if it is urgent someone would phone. Email is for less urgent stuff, or the downright annoying bickering. After reading this email, I was stuck in the warp of indignation, righteous anger and the need to vent. I started reviewing it with some of the colleagues who also showed up to work on Easter Sunday. I made tables and rebuttals, showing how badly planned this whole thing was, and soon it was night-time. My poor son was keeping busy on his tablet, making drawings, designing posters, playing the ukulele and generally being an angel. When I finally turned to the work I was supposed to do in the first place it was past his bedtime. I walked with him out of the office after ten. Throughout the hours we spent in that cave, he never complained, and although he asked to go home half a dozen times, he never raised a fuss when I told him I had to finish what I was doing.

Robert’s maturity on Sunday night broke my heart and made me regret that I made him suffer my office for so many hours, when we should be doing something more fun instead. We had walked three blocks away from the office when I realized that I left my USB key on my desk, and I said: “Oh I forgot my USB”. Robert said: “Mommy we can go back if you want”. I cried when I heard him say that. No matter how hard I try, I can never be free of working-mom guilt.  Sunday night as I registered the delivery of my document, I did not feel my usual sense of accomplishment at a job well-done, there was only the bitter taste of guilt. I felt a lot of resentment against a workplace that causes me to be unfair on my son. A lesson learned from my past, however, is that I can never influence the politics of the workplace, I can only change my reaction and attitude towards it, maybe I should ignore work emails and half-baked plans. Concentrate instead on my own plans, and on my growing son.

Life in the Hobbit Hole

In our office there is no coffee machine for the workers to gather around. There is a tiny kitchen where we occasionally meet while depositing salad in the fridge or washing  yesterday’s coffee out of our mugs. What we do is mostly a solitary activity, save for some team-building communications that serve the exact opposite, or email exchanges on terminology that keep going for weeks.

We also meet sometimes at the hub of the activity the office of programming where the documents are distributed, then each of us heads up (or down) into our individual Hobbit Holes, as a good-humored colleague quite aptly named our office cubicles. Some brilliant genius thought that translators really need peace and quiet to enhance their productivity, so they mercilessly partitioned the floors of our office block into open working areas for typists and small windowless individual boxes for translators; we do not need sunlight anyways, it will hurt our poor eyes. So we sit in these caves and translate the world’s bumbling bureaucracy into equally baffling Arabic. We are encouraged to translate ambiguity with ambiguity, because the original is most likely intentionally ambiguous. Yet, when an Arab delegate picks up a document he cannot make heads or tails out of, it will certainly be the translator’s fault. So is our life, we bottom feeders.

Nobody really cares about the lowly translator. The interpreters often get the limelight. Their triumphs (and mistakes) are broadcast on national television. Ours are relegated to the gods of filing and archive, forgotten until they are once dug up, to be passed around for the mirth and amusement of other colleagues. It is about the only pleasure we get, to laugh off mistakes, horrible rendering, or gaffes of mistranslation. Because there is little pleasure in rendering utilitarian text. I always wondered whether two years of translating them has made my Arabic writing better or worse, I am not sure.

In-house translators are not too visible. They are perceived to be highly tolerant of crap coming their way, linguistic and otherwise. Therefore the high echelons of management gave us these terrible offices; out of sight of the main campus of our organization, we will also stay out of mind, so management hopes. I have been in this tomb of an office for almost two years now, and to add insult to injury there is a demolition going on next door to our building. They mailed us tenants back in November (or December) to tell us that the demolition will take 6-8 Weeks. Well, it has been almost 12 Weeks now, and they are still going at it full-blast with cranes and jack-hammers. The combination of noise, dust, vibrations and gloom is quite nerve-racking. Last week, I needed to run outside the building, I felt close to a panic attack.  We on the  lower floors are most affected, by dust, low light and noise. Apparently the former director of our section wanted the lower floors, because the lifts weren’t reliable, and so we suffer the consequences.

I have decorated my office space, and tried to bring in some color to the gloom.  Pictures of my son, and some of his artwork to remind me why I have to keep working. Pictures of Africa and a map of South Africa to remind me of where I want to be. I have also opted out of the institutional fluorescent lighting and brought a yellow indirect light. One of my colleagues invested several hundred dollars in buying noise-cancelling headphones, I still cannot justify this type of expense, so I put up with this noisy hell-hole. Another colleague found the solution to escape to a higher floor. She works in an open plan area at a different section. I may still follow her example.

For this week though I am giving myself and the Hobbit Hole a break. I am off  with my son for the Easter Break.

 

 

 

Paper Men (and women)

Don’t you just hate it when you ask something relatively simple and doable from  your superiors at work and then they start quoting you the “rules” , the Employment Act and proper procedures ? Meanwhile you know and they know that rules and procedures are elastic and that they have frequently transgressed those or blatantly threw them to the wayside whenever some minor interest of the corporation was at  stake.

I had this experience many times, therefore I was not surprised when I asked my superiors a few days ago to retrench me and got NO for an answer. I just knew that they wouldn’t do it because of the way they started citing the rules. Basically it does not change a thing, I am still going to leave this company, but it would have afforded me a little better shot-term financial benefits.

I have mixed feelings at the end of my road with this corporation. I am frightened, relieved and elated, all at the same time. I might miss the benefits and suffer the lack of funds for some time,  but I definitely will not miss the office politics. I will not miss the rules and regulations that are taylor-made to restrict and obsturct the employees. I will not miss the paper trail recording everything from minor mistakes to a few minutes of late-coming. I will not miss having to explain sick days or the reason why I wanted a particular day off. And most of all I will not miss the paper men and women who think that forms and signatures will help enforcing a collection of mindless rules. They don’t! They only teach people to sign whateve stupid idea their bosses come up with thus creating more and more “paper” men (and women).

I only have to put up with all this for another four weeks. My resignation was handed in today.

Starting to Crack

Wednesday was a hopeful day, and I thought I found our new flat and started planning my life -sort of- around it.

Today was a terrible day in contrast. I am stuck with a proofreading job, part of a translation that I already did last month and got paid for. It should only take one or two passes with an experienced layout artist but I am dealing with a rookie, and she is driving me around the bend. I have been trying to work with her for about two weeks now and there is very little progress, so I finally decided that perhaps it is good to try and do the job myself and embarked on a downloading half a dozen of trial software, using up my internet bandwidth and purchasing extra. I feel sick just thinking about the bill that I will get next month for my usage. This in addition to the upcoming bills of moving and admin related to rent.

Lastly when I called the property management company to enquire about the lease for the apartment I viewed, one of the workers there gave me lip and retorted that I was “not a good tennant” because I argued that they should please give me feedback soonest, I do not even know whether I will be getting the flat or not. Life is not easy when you are me.

My place looks like somebody just dumped a truckload of broken toys, dirty dishes and laundry haphazardly everywhere, I am demotivated to no end, and blogging about it to the whole world is not making me feel much better about myself.  Hopefully today is going to be a better day.

Poor Robert has to put up with a grumpy mother today. I feel sorry for the little boy, it is not his fault what is happening right now.

My Days Just Outside the Spotlight

dsc00501I rarely do interpreting in Cape Town, because I cannot trust myself to simultaneous interpreting, and other interpreting jobs do not come up as often. One of those rare ones came my way in the past two days, and the bizarre thing is that I ended up on the set for a commercial. The ad was for an international brand and the same crew and set was used for both the South African and the Middle East versions.

Initially I was contracted as a language consultant, to monitor the correct delivery of the Arabic script; altogether three sentences. I thought I will have a boring time watching and sitting around, but somehow I had a gut feel that it will turn out to be a little more. I was right, because already on the first day I jumped into the role of interpreter for the Egyptian star. interpreter.  The actress was someone I have never heard of before, which means that she is not one of the ancient actresses I used to watch when I left the Middle East ten years ago. This of course is a good thing if they were trying to advertise for a beauty product.

So for the first day I shadowed the star, through her beauty routine scenes, and one sentence of the ‘dialogue’. In the meantime I learned and watched what goes on behind the scenes of a movie set. Before this I only had second hand experience through the stories I heard from Robert’s father. He used to get the occasional assignment as an extra for some commercials. I got to do the same thing, only a little better, because I was just outside camera range, interpreting the instruction to the lead.  She could have done without me I suppose, because she understood and spoke basic English, but I made her feel more comfortable and less intimidated by the foreign crew; she never worked with non-Egyptians before.

When the star was resting between scenes there were still dozens of people working on the set. I got to meet half a dozen interesting people, and learned lots about their various roles. I will probably go back to my call sheet a few times and look up the various designations again.

At some point I got to chat with the VT (Short for Video Technician I suppose) and he explained to me the various roles of DOP (Director of Photography),  gaffer, focus puller, spark (lighting crew), key grip and clapper loader among others. The rest I looked up on this handy database

Some jobs sound a lot more glamorous on paper than they are in actual life. On this set for example, the main job of the production assistant was moving around the smoke making machine, then wafting the smoke for best effect.

If I had a little more time on set though I would have ended up with a serious crush on the AD (Assistant Director) who is a great sport with a wonderful sense of humor. Of course he also has to be a no-nonsense guy to manage the progress of filming and the production schedule.  According to him working on a movie set is great, and beats a real job.  The problems of course are the long hours, little time for family during the summer, and the drain on energy. One guy told me that they virtually run on Coffee and Vitamin B injections, which led me to a scary thought that these people are not even allowed to be sick on a movie shoot day.

Another observation for me was that almost everyone in this industry (including the actress) smoked profusely. It was a good thing that smoking was not allowed on set, because I would have ended up with a serious headache.  The AD said he quit smoking a few years back but it must have been terribly hard in this environment.

There are a few perks to working on a movie set. The free snacks all day, the buffet lunches, and getting paid for being there even while not working. On the second day I got a little bit more down time and I retreated to the relaxation area with the extras to read for a little bit. The highlight of the day -if I may call it that- was seeing a former Miss South Africa, who was playing the lead in the South African version of this commercial. I used to think she was graceful and glamorous, but seeing her in real life made me change my mind. She is all bones and limbs, terribly thin, and slightly masculine. I would say that her smile is her best feature, and without it she just looks like some scrawny athlete. At lunch time the poor thing mentioned she was on diet, and I felt grateful for my curves and my appetite.

The comparison between the two leads was in favour of the Egyptian star. Although she is a mother of five, and on the wrong side of the thirty five, making her perhaps a decade older than the South African former beauty queen.  She has however that mysterious softness of the Arab woman.  Something essentially feminine that all women of the east are born with. I understand how this quality attracts men the world over. I wish I had a little more of it.

A Flop

I was scheduled to have an interview at my workplace today for the job of a “Communication Specialist”. A colleague and I decided to apply for the job when it was advertised almost a month ago and we wondered since whatever happened to our applications since we did not receive anything, not even an acknowledgement.

The complication was getting someone to babysit Robbie for the morning while I was at work. Lucy works in the morning for Jackie’s mom and of course my only choice was to ask Mrs. L. if she can look after Robert (with Lucy of course) for the morning. I am not on very familiar terms with Mrs. L. but she does like Robert, and she often sends him baby food and toys with Lucy. Although I was prepared to get out on time, I had to rush back into the house when I realized the Robert needed a nappy change. In consequence I had to run all the way to Mrs L’s place pushing the pram (I have thanked heavens many times for the new lighter version). When I finally arrived at Mrs L’s block I noted with dismay that the lifts on her side of the building were not working, and I had to make a long turn to another foyer where I caught the lift to her floor and then run back to the side of the building where her apartment was located. I had no idea how to get there in the maze of hallways so it was really lucky that she came to get me from the lift. She knew I was there because I had to notify security at the entrance.  The adventure with the lifts cost me a few precious minutes, and despite all my efforts I arrived a few minutes late.

The person in charge of recruiting for the position was a former duty manager I worked with on the floor. As a DM he struck me as subservient to high management and not overly enthused or supportive to co-workers. But he wasn’t the worst we dealt with, I mean he was just traditional top down manager and not a worker’s manager, no big deal.  I was told that the interview consisted of a written assignment followed by a face to face question and answer session. The written assignment required about an hour and a half of work, after which D. will come and do the face to face session.  After my ordeal of the day I was in an extremely cynical mood and I found myself completely incapable of writing corporate spin and memoranda. One assignment asked me to write a notification to staff about the death of a colleague, another wanted me to write a speech for a station manager promoting our services, but when I arrived at writing a piece to inform workers that there will not be a pay increase this year due to the situation in the air travel industry I was completely demotiviated. I thought to myself, heck, they should have called this position “corporate spin doctor” I am not sure I am cut for this type of thing.  I like to think that I am honest by nature, and I only write things I belive in.  As a translator I come accross Arabic rubbish which I am required to translate from time to time. Writing it in English doesn’t cause me any discomfort or guilt because I am insulated by my role as a messenger, and my honesty is channelled into faithful transmission of the text, regardless of my mental attitude towards it, but I cannot bring myself to write from scratch about things I do not believe in.  This Friday morning I couldn’t anyway, so instead of sticking with the script I used poetic license and invented reasons and justifications that weren’t even part of the briefing in the assignment. I was still pondering the wisdom of what I wrote when D. arrived signaling the end of my allotted time, and once the face to face meeting got underway I came to the conclusion that what I wrote in the sheet didn’t matter anyway. My superior was obviously in a hurry to leave and I was given the impression that the interview was just a farce. I think by then they had made up their mind that they needed someone from outside.  I hurried home thinking what a terrible waste of time.

Mrs. L. said that she enjoyed Robert’s company and took him out for a walk on the promenade. She even showed him off to some of her friends who thought that he was a grandson. I was relieved that he did not give problems although Lucy told me that his diaper rash is still bad. Later this evening he cried bitterly when warm water touched his bottom and it was a very stressful time getting him to quieten down then to sleep. I experienced an episode of intense misery, cried, screamed and blamed the universe and my ex husband for everything that was going wrong in my life.  My situation hasn’t improved in over three months since I moved out and my life is in chaos, I just wanted order back in my life any way possible.

Once Robert got to sleep I had time to reflect a little bit normally on what is happening. For Robert’s problem in the nappy area I blamed the chocolates I copiously consumed in the past few days, so I promised him that I will stay away from chocolate. As for my problems though, they are more complicated and they need a lot of patience to fix.

Post Scriptum : The job of communication specialist was later assigned to a lady with a higher degree in journalism, who used to work as a crime reporter for one of the national newspapers.  Makes you think about people’s choices and career moves.

More on the Bad Mommy

Something that I fed Robert during the past two has caused an awful rash in his nappy area. He is red and sore and can’t even stand the touch of warm water. I tried to think back about the food I gave him in the last 48 hours. First I suspected the olive oil, which he has ingested for the very first time. The other foods he has taken before without any problems. After his dismal weigh-in on Wednesday, I have been running after him, trying to convince him into eating different types of high calorie foods. I lined up a variety of foods so when he refused one I moved on to the next. At any given lunchtime we had toast, yogurt, eggs, avocado and cheese, in addition of course to the ever present formula bottle.

The situation did not improve with the application of soothing cream. Today, Lucy mentioned that he was very uncomfortable from the rash, she only fed him yogurt and baby porridge, avoiding adult foods to give him a break. Later I figured out it was possibly my milk that caused this reaction because the day before I had a huge craving for chocolate and went on a chocolate binge. My milk probably caused him diarrhea and rash, so here I am to blame again. To add to his troubles, poor Robert also has an absent minded or sleepy mom most of the time these days. I have landed a big project, requiring me to translate 20,000 Words from Arabic into English before the 10th of August. This means that I need to churn out just over one thousand words daily. I am trying hard to meet the quota, but most of my working time happens in the evening after Robert goes to bed and extends into the small hours of the morning. It follows that I am not at my best in the early hours of the day, and I have less energy to play and take the little one out.

Apart from these few complaints Robert is thriving. Between myself, Lucy and Jackie we manage to keep him entertained. Lucy turned out to be quite a gem; last Tuesday I came home early to find her sitting in our room watching over Robert as he slept in my bed. Lucy made me forget my disappointment at missing his good night hour, when she said to me:”touch my hand… he is walking !!”. Apparently she encouraged him to walk two steps independently after she practiced with him, holding his hand and then holding onto his sweater. Lucy has a terrific way with babies, and Robert loves her, I am truly blessed to have her help.

Why Some Women Are Not Management Material

Being a woman myself, I say this with some regret. However, I do realise that sometimes we do not have the right temperament to lead people, and I am one of the biggest offenders.
The months I spent managing Alex Motors are a case in point. Dealing with the demands of around 20 staff members was a constant strain; it drained me physically and emotionally.
I am happy to admit that I am not management material. My absolute limit would be perhaps supervising five people, but to be honest I am most content when I only work to the limits of my own incompetence.

The staff at Alex Motors might have considered me a humane and benevolent manager, but most of the times I was weak and could not offer them the strength of leadership they needed; I stood shoulder to shoulder with them, leading from the flanks rather than the command position. My biggest fault was getting my emotions tangled in the employee’s problems, applying my own reasoning to these problems and getting exasperated when their behaviour came short and did not measure up to my principles.
In effect I placed an unnecessary burden on myself; I tried to manage and correct people’s lives for them when it was only necessary to deal with their working performance.
By the same token, I did not succeed in detaching myself emotionally from the working environment, I was troubled by the staff’s mistakes and shortcomings, because I judged them by my own standards. I also could not handle crisis, and flew of f the handle at the first sign of trouble or mishap. In short I was a reactionary and emotional leader, not at all a calm and collected trouble-shooter.

Today I was on the receiving end of the exact same type of behaviour. My days as a manager are long passed, and I am happy now to be a simple employee, one of many pegs in a giant wheel, doing a singularly unspectacular job.
Admittedly, the query I raised with management today was not of great importance. It was a whinge, basically pointing out a minor hitch in planning the allocation of break time for the agents on the floor. What I did not expect was the vehement reaction I got. The answer was simply that the planning was not perfect, and we the employees should take the initiative and fix things amongst ourselves.
I am afraid that this type of argument does appease me. These people work so hard to elevate themselves into positions of responsibility, but once they get there they try to wash their hands off the very same duties they are required to perform. I am tired of this policy of shifting responsibility downwards. I am sitting here at the bottom of the food chain, the buck stops with me, when I bungle up there is nobody to squirm or hide behind; I am simply instructed to make a statement explaining myself. Furthermore, my mistakes will directly influence my performance bonus. Meanwhile the people supervising and evaluating me, keep making the same mistakes over and over again; they mess up working schedules, shift plans, break allocations and pay cheques, and we here at the bottom are supposed to grin and bear it, no we should even take the initiative to correct their mistakes.
All these thoughts went through my head, but of course there was no way I could escape with my skin intact had I given voice to them.
I simply pointed out to the duty “manager” that even small inconsistencies should be communicated to admin, because otherwise they will be totally out of touch with the working procedures and problems on the floor. I added that there were already some people on the floor who feel that admin has no clue anymore about the actual operations here.
When I finished my sentence, the woman in question jumped up as if bitten by snake, made a snap decision of rescheduling my break, crossing out the previous scheduling for the day and arbitrarily putting in a new one, then she stormed out towards who knows where.
I was shocked at receiving this reaction, but on further reflection I realised that I was not a stranger to it. Here was another reactionary manger flying off the handle for no reason at all, when it would have sufficed if she just said: Thanks for bringing this to our attention, I will forward it on to the relevant parties.

People in positions have to realise that most of their work will be fielding questions and dealing with staff. We are human too, occasionally there will be complaints and whinges, and sometimes people will give substandard performances or not perform at all. However, it does not serve the organisation at all if the leaders jump into the fray and get themselves involved. No general jumps into battle to save one of his soldiers. A leader has to stay in control, keep a cool head at all times. Yes, it is not easy to deal with the constant flow of complaints, whinges and failures of your people, but unfortunately it comes with the property and if you can’t take the heat then stay out of the kitchen.

Leadership is an art and a discipline, it is a skill that can be honed with experience and training. However, I get the feeling that men are more capable of perfecting it than women. Women take ownership, while men take responsibility. And taking ownership is by far the more painful route to management; it implies deeper personal involvement and opens a person up to disappointment. Taking responsibility on the other hand is a more sober approach, since it excludes or limits the emotional involvement.
Taking responsibility can be done with the cool reasoning of the head, while taking ownership is a personal cruisade and a battle of the heart.
Having said that, I still believe that women can make good managers with the correct training and discipline, and if they can learn to put aside emotions and motherly instincts, but I also know that neither myself nor my duty manager today can quite cut it.