Saturday, February 23, 2008

Head Girth

Roger was an expert. As a new supervisor I relied on him to keep our CNC Router going. The CNC was the lifeblood of our department as it shaped all the desk-tops and table-tops our furniture factory produced. The raw top came to our department and was set on the CNC where the routers shaped the top into the size it needed to be and cut a groove in the edge so we could attach a “T” shaped edging to it; then the CNC drilled holes in the bottom so we could attach hardware and so the installers could attach legs or brackets to hang the worksurface. Finally we date-stamped it, labeled it and shoved it in a box for the customer. EVERYTHING depended on the CNC and it’s expert operator.

The problem was: Roger new he was THE expert and that the whole department depended on him. It went to his head. He would come to work just a little late and stay his breaks just a little long to make sure I knew he was the expert and I needed him. He would quit when he wanted to and start cleaning up even if we were only two tops away from finishing an order. I was the boss, the supervisor but he was the indispensable expert and made it clear to me that he ran the department.

John Maxwell, the leadership guru said, “You cannot lead those you need.” Even as a young (25 year-old) production supervisor I recognized there was something wrong with this arrangement. At first I started by calling him in the office and trying to be his friend and getting to know him but that backfired into even longer breaks and earlier cleanup. When he refused to stay a little longer for overtime to finish an order I “wrote him up” which was the first step in discipline. He laughed at me and didn’t change. When I gave him a second disciplinary letter over another refusal and he still didn’t change I began to document his tardiness to prepare to fire him. I can still, 20 years later, hear him say to me: “You can’t fire me, I keep this department going. They will fire you because you will get nothing done!”

What he didn’t know was that I was close to the First Shift Supervisor and I had sent one of my best employees to first shift to train with their CNC operator. Tim came back to my Second Shift ready and trained and I moved Roger to pounding the vinyl edging for a week as Tim ran the CNC and ran it well. From that time on, Roger was one of my best employees. You cannot lead those you need.

I learned some life lessons from that experience. I learned that, while being friends is great and good, you cannot befriend everyone if you want to be a leader. I learned that NO ONE is indispensable and EVERY ONE can be replaced, including me. I learned that befriending someone with a big head only makes the head bigger and you smaller. After a dose of humility and recognizing he really wasn’t indispensable Roger and I had a great working relationship and I had the respect of the department.

Are you an expert? How’s your head girth?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I have to admit, I cheated in Seminary. That sounds pretty bad doesn’t it so let me soften it a bit. In seminary I got really good at killing two birds with one stone. I would have a huge paper due on one particular book of the Bible and so I would “just happen” to be preaching from that same book at my church. My masters thesis “just happened” to be on the VERY THING I was doing out in my community at the time. The research I did for my class I used in my sermons, the surveys and community involvement I did for my church also was the research for my master’s thesis.

In the 1700’s and 1800’s there were composers that would compose a complete opera for one particular opera house in a matter of two weeks. Rossini was one of those wandering composers who came to the Valley Theater in Rome and was asked for a quick opera. While a genius, many thought he was more lazy than genius and would often not compose the overture until the very day of the performance. The composers often did battle with the singers, especially the “prima donnas” who would take their composition and “enhance” it with all kinds of extra runs, high notes and even drop out songs to make themselves look better; after all, people came to the theater for the soloists not the composer. Rossini composed this opera in two weeks, turning over the overture a full day before the performance. The opera was a hit and Rossini became a legend. The opera was called The Barber of Seville and it’s overture was it’s second most famous piece. (Figaro being the most famous piece) Most of us grew up with the overture to the Barber of Seville from Bugs Bunny’s rendition: The Rabbit of Seville. You can find it on Youtube if you forgot.

What we don’t know is that the overture for the Barber of Seville was used not just once, but this was the FIFTH TIME he used this overture in one of his operas. You wonder how a composer can produce an entire opera in a few weeks. He borrows from all his previous operas, changes a note here and there and reuses it. He could get away with it since nothing was recorded in the 1800’s and composers would often wander from town to town. Talk about killing two birds with one chorus.

There are some preachers I know who believe they only have a certain amount of good sermons in them. Once they start running low they take a call to another church and start over again. Is this cheating and underhanded or is this smart and efficient? I have come to discover that if you give a lazy man a job that he HAS to do, you will find the most efficient and quick way to get things done. I think it all depends on your expectations. If you pay someone to produce a great opera for you, HOW he did it didn’t matter as much as how GOOD he did it. If you are expecting God to move through a preacher and touch you, should the fact that he gave that sermon 5 times before detract if the message truly moves you?
You will find many a genius is a master of efficiency. Or he could simply be lazy

By and Large

By and large I am a pretty simple guy.

By and large I don’t get riled up about much.

By and large my peccadilloes are relatively miniscule.

Whoa. Let’s stop a minute before I get too carried away with my excessive verbiage. I like words. I like to look up the meanings of words, this is called the etiology or more precisely the etymology of words. By and large it is kind of a geek pastime.

By and large. That is an interesting phrase isn’t it? A friend of mine gave me a desk calendar that has etymologies on it and “by and large” showed up. This is a nautical phrase. A phrase used by sailors. When you have a LOT OF wind or a “favorable” wind, one in your direction, you say you have a “large” wind. You then use you large square sails to catch the most out of this large wind. “By” is a little more difficult, because it means the opposite: sailing against a large wind or you sail “by the wind.” So when you have a ship that can sail in a large wind, in a favorable direction and by the wind in the opposite direction you have a ship that can handle anything: by and large. It was used first that we know of in 1669 in the Mariners Magazine “this ship handled in fair weather and foul, by and large.” Since then it has come to mean “generally” or “for the most part.”

We use those phrases all the time in English and it is confusing to those who are learning the language. I have a Korean friend that I golf with and I will say things like, “You are ahead of me by one stroke” or “I can’t get down on the ball in my swing because my back is killing me” or “I have a serious case of aquaphobia.” Think about these phrases as a person learning English would. Ahead by a stroke even those you have LESS strokes to lead in golf? Get down on your ball? Back killing you? Aquaphobia?

Words can be very powerful and very confusing. Words can sting and can calm. Words fascinate me by and large.

As to peccadilloes and miniscule? Well, I’ll let you look them up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Rendering to Caesar

I just got done filing my taxes. It is still early in the year so you probably know that I am not paying into the IRS. You can tell people who are getting money back with how quickly the file their taxes after getting their W2’s in the mail. It may come on January 31 and their taxes are filed and off to the IRS electronically on February 1 in anticipation of their bonus check in three weeks. Others will wait until midnight of April 15th and slide it in the mailbox at the last possible moment to make sure the check will float for the longest period of time until it hits their bank. I am somewhere in the middle. I don’t pay in and I don’t get back so I am in no hurry, it is more of a nuisance than trauma or bonus check excitement.

Taxes are an interesting phenomenon. Taxes are what helped start our country in rebellion to England. Taxation without representation has been an issue every year since. Too much, not enough, taxing the wealthy, taxing the middle class, taxing death, taxing birth, taxing luxury, taxing winnings and even taxing losses. As much as I like the idea of a postcard tax form I realize it is not practical but my telling the government that I don’t owe them anything takes 16 pages of tax forms is not practical either. Now that I can file electronically at least I don’t waist all the paper and postage to do it but it is still a bit frustrating.

Republicans will tell you that they want to cut your taxes because they think you can handle your money better than the government. Democrats will tell you that they don’t want to cut your taxes but they want the rich to pay more because you have proven you can’t handle it better than the government. Taxes support our schools, our military, and they support many of the things we take for granted but there is also a lot of waste in our distribution. Since we are human and the people who distribute our taxes are human and the people who receive the support are human you will inevitably find that there will be abuse and waste. We can demand accountability from our political leaders for our tax money but that costs more money.

I wait at a light and see a scruffy looking man limping by me and carrying a beat up piece of cardboard with “Hungry, homeless, God bless” scrawled on it and I wonder about all that charitable contributions I just listed, I wonder about all the money for social services I just paid in taxes, I wonder whether it is a scam, and I wonder about whether I should look him in the eyes or ignore him. I wonder what happens when you render to Caesar and he turns out to be a people-hating tyrant. I wonder how my few dollars will impact a trillion dollar budget one way or another. Then I quit wondering, roll down my window and hand him a fresh bottle of water.

Minding your Spiritual Business