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Partners in the Unexpected

by | Dec 23, 2020 | Handel, partner, Unexpected

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Today’s lesson comes from trigonometry – and now I know I have lost most of you.  Hang in there – it is not that complicated, and a better leadership lesson is “what goes up, must come down”.  I just like the symmetry that a nice sine wave has – gently cresting, and then falling, only to come back. We are now JUST past the Winter Solstice – the low point in the year’s sine wave in North America – December 21 being the shortest day/longest night, and the “wave” will slowly build towards the midpoint in March before cresting and falling again in June.  Completely expected …if careers and partners were only so easy to predict… 

Handel had just been given a juicy raise, literally doubling his pension for life under now King George the First.  With that support, he could now indulge his first love – Opera.  The complexity of telling a story with lyrics, combined with music that needed to carry and advance the story was always intriguing to great composers.  The problem for Handel is his focus on it happened JUST as it fell out of favor with the audience.  And while his salary was covered by the King, the rest of the company had to be covered by the receipts from the box office… and that was not working well… 

In my story at Fannie Mae, I had gotten back into Software Development, and was actually working for a very good friend, who had “inherited” the NeXT software group called the Object Factory.  To say he was skeptical of it was an understatement – and yet, it was our job to pursue using this as the cornerstone of all development.  And as we stepped up effort on that work, it was helpful that they had some great software for automating the construction of mission-critical web sites cleverly called WebObjects… 

…. NeXT’s clever attempt to ride the explosion of the Internet.  I was recently doing some research on my time at IBM – in 1976 there were exactly 100 nodes on the internet.  During the 90’s, it was growing by that much – per hour.  Fannie had gotten into it pretty early, but the team leading that effort hated the NeXT software.  My boss was snatched by the CIO from that team, and given the NeXT group… and now we had to partner to reconcile the two platforms.  I was important in that transition, and he tried his best to leverage my talents.  And tried to give me feedback that would be “helpful” and was not entirely Unexpected:   “Your great strength is your greatest weakness”

…reminding me of something my Father said, “If you can’t fix it, feature it!” – which Handel tried when his Operas were failing, claiming that the empty concert halls were “better for acoustics”.  And then his Opera company actually went bankrupt.  And then he had a stroke.  He tried to cope by heading back into religious music, and actually wrote the first English language version of a new form of music – an Oratorio.  Similar to Opera, it didn’t have the expensive sets, staging, etc, and it mixed story and music together.  His original was the story of Esther, which you would think that the church would appreciate.  But, their response was unexpected: “A Bible story, told by common mummers, and even worse, the words of God being spoken in the theater!”

Partners often are needed to take the Unexpected role of truth-tellers, helping you realize that what you are doing isn’t working – for you.  It might be helping others, but your own flight path matters most – to you and therefore your partners.  They know how when and how to  get you on a better path – IF you have developed those relationships – both for you, and for your own partners.  The moment you need them (and they – you) it is too late to develop that candor that is critical… and wholly Unexpected in most professional relationships.

When my boss coupled “greatness” and “weakness” together, his advice was not that helpful… as he needed me to continue plowing through barriers to make “us” successful.  And he realized that by doing that, it was not helpful … to me.  I understood… but didn’t know what to do differently.  And I knew that he was really trying to be both a friend and a partner, but in an Unexpected way.  It was clear he was showing me that my most likely next step was.. Out.  I wasn’t at the low point of the sine wave, but I could see it from here… 

Handel was at a similar low point, when a good friend Charles Jennens stepped in.  He had penned the lyrics for an Oratorio that featured the life of Christ, directly from scriptures.  It sounded like the kiss of death given his experience with the church, but he was completely broke and broken, and had no choice.  He agreed, and said he would need at least a year to complete the work.  Charles agreed, and knew that the commission and support for his friend were as important as the result.

I don’t know where you are in your own sine wave – high, low, or in between.  I am privileged to work with people on all parts of the graph, and what I can tell you helps the most is… partners. Those who know you – REALLY know you… and that means by the way, you have to know yourself.  As we head into the last few days before this year ends, what is your own ‘trig’ telling you?  And, who is around to help you change your graph?  Contemplate that as you listen to the opening of the first, but not the best, English Oratorio.  Esther…another Unexpected partner (and a story for another day if you don’t know it… )


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