A common thing people Prepare for is the next “promotion”. The next level up is an illusion that I have now heard hundreds describe as: “better”, “easier”, “more satisfying”, or my favorite, “more powerful”. It is always implied and often stated that clearly it is more “successful” because it pays more. A recent conversation was with a leader who got the “best” kind of promotion – battlefield. His boss quit unexpectedly and now, he is “stepping up”. And the quote he came up with as he realized WHY he had quit makes a great bumper sticker: “The more they pay me, the less I enjoy the work”.
In my world at Fannie, the work of the War Room was so impactful, that my boss was suddenly in the running for a promotion to VP. The issue was having him reporting to the other VP, and how to finesse that. The easy answer of course is to make his boss a Senior VP, but that is rarefied air and doesn’t happen easily, or without the “white smoke” like becoming a Pope. Either way, it was good for him, and for me, as I could easily exit cleanly now for sure, having helped my boss “look good”…
Today’s offering started in the UK on a label that was originally called His Master’s Voice – or HMV for short. You know the label – it has a dog, listening to a record album through the large gramophone that was “current” in the 20’s. It eventually became Victor from the “V” and morphed into RCA Victor. The song was recorded by a number of singers before landing as the title song on a Gordan Jenkins album with Nat in 1958. Their partnership developed 4 amazing albums in the late 50’s and early 60’s, one of which has never been out of print. He knew exactly how to Prepare music to match up with Nat’s vocal style, and many standards are still drawn from this set of albums.
By this point, I had a peace about how things were developing at Fannie. The type of things that were being done at that “next level” were things that I was not terribly good at. I like taking difficult stances, taking risks, trying out new things… definitely not the things that most VP’s did, particularly here. There was a lot of “group speak” and “agreeing with each other” at least in public… with lots of conversations behind closed doors that were very different. I was asked once “What did you learn at Fannie Mae?”, and at least one answer was “How to work with people who play with knives – stiletto’s mostly”.
And because I had found other ways to be a partner with them on my own terms, I channeled the energy of looking for a promotion into finding as much interesting work to learn from. There was plenty of that, one becoming the official “Court Jester” which included writing songs (yes, really!) for the newly promoted officers each fall. It was a way of poking fun at the whole game, and that stance helped me really study both music and comedy – and how to blend the two together in a creative way. Comedy is always on the edge of reality, and there are many lines in those songs where only I get the humor, and now I got to do one for my ex-boss 😉
One funny coda to this season: the officers all met in a big offsite meeting in January, and it was always in a nice location with golf and recreation – Arizona, Florida, or Texas, for example. My boss went off for his first Officers Meeting, a little nervous to meet his new partners. He Prepared by thinking about what he would talk about, and returned from the meeting with some fun stories, one that I could easily see myself in. Nervous a bit, he went down early to the first gathering. Not knowing all of the officers, he struck up a conversation with a nice gentleman at the back of the banquet hall. They exchanged pleasantries and had a good discussion… which was then ended when his “partner” said, “Excuse me, I need to go set up the tables for the meeting”. He and I both shared humble upbringings, and laughed at how we would more easily relate with the workers than the Officers.
As you are thinking about Preparing for the year ahead, what type of partner do you want to be? I ask all of the leaders I now work with that question, and only a few have actually thought about it. They are clear they want to get “ahead”… but what is it about that Next Level that you are Preparing for, and is it worth the cost of the stances you will be taking? Having seen this at both Fannie and IBM, I ask them to look in the mirror and think hard about … The Very Thought of You…