One bleak December day back in the mid-1980s, my boss’ boss asked me to come to her office. At the time, I was working in a just-a-smidgeon-above entry level position for a major governmental agency. I was a technician of the law. My job was to help people who were having trouble solving problems within the normal system. My parents had also worked for governmental agencies, and I knew the meaning of hierarchy. I had a healthy respect for bureaucracy. Therefore, my anxiety antenna went into overdrive when I received the call from the mid-level manager. For the sake of convenience, let’s call her Patty.

I cautiously toddled on over to Patty’s “office.”  In those days, the workplace was experimenting with open concepts and cubicles. Even a second-level manager would not merit an “office” with walls and a door. To create some semblance of privacy, someone pushed together an elaborate system of cubicle walling to make a “cone of silence” with no top on it.

As it turned out, Patty was not summoning me to give me the ax or anything equally tragic. In fact, she was asking me if I would take on an acting manager role for four weeks- the last two weeks of the current year and the first two weeks of the new year. The agency was even willing to give me a temporary promotion and raise to compensate me for assuming this additional duty. I was flattered, but also surprised. Patty registered my shock and wanted to salvage the situation, so she reached over the desk and carefully pushed my jaw shut.

“We really thought you would be such a great person to do this because you are so calm and unflappable,” Patty explained.

Calm? Unflappable? Me? There was a never a more flappable person on the face of the earth. Way to ratchet up the pressure, Patty.

I agreed to take on the assignment, but I told Patty that I planned a few days off after the first of the year. My then husband and I were taking a short vacation for the first time in four years. I had worked out the timing with the New Year’s holiday and a weekend so I would only have to take off two workdays. Patty’s face dropped. She began to make noises designed to convince me to cancel the trip. I guess I won that negotiation without even knowing it was a negotiation. I had no intention of bailing on the trip. My husband was a full-time student, so was only able to go during the holiday break. I had not taken off any vacation time in my four years of employment with the agency. I needed this time off very badly. Left without a fallback position, Patty agreed that I could take my two days off but made me promise that the weekly statistics for the department would not tank while I was gone.

This, of course, was a totally worthless promise. There is no way to guarantee a statistical outcome, especially for a period during which one is not working. On the other hand, being as flappable as I have always been, I immediately began devising a strategy to maximize my odds. In retrospect, I know that the whole scenario was toothless. After all, what could they do to me if the weekly statistics did tank while I was gone? Take away my birthday? None of this rational line of thought entered my head.

Anyway, my strategy involved scheduling out all the cases that would probably close in a two-week period. I also evaluated all the other cases in the inventory to see if there were any criteria we could apply to make them closable. Then, I devised a calendar for closing the cases during the entire time I would be acting manager to make sure that the proper balance of old and new cases closed in a given week so that the average number of days on closed cases and the percentage of closing inventory that was over 30 days old would be within acceptable limits. Scratch that. Not “acceptable” limits. Ridiculously low limits so that, in case I screwed up the math, we would still be okay. In other words, I manipulated the statistics. I also schooled my coworkers/temporary subordinates on how to manipulate the statistics in my absence if anything went astray.

Flappability is a great motivator. Some people call it “drive” and praise it as a desirable quality. In my case, it is simply nervous energy wrapped in fear of confrontation. As much as I have matured in the forty or so years since this episode, I am afraid that I still struggle to find the calm… before the storm or otherwise. As hard as I work to keep things in perspective and evaluate situations from a rational point of view, I am afraid flappability is something with which I just must live. I guess I might as well embrace it.

I plan and schedule everything. I am facilitating a brainstorming session at church in a couple of weeks. I have prepared a PowerPoint presentation for it. We made dinner reservations for a trip to Las Vegas… four-and-a-half months from now. On my first trip to Disney World, I spent a whole night awake worrying about what to do the next day because it might rain. When I was working on a simulated project as part of a management training class, I came to the class with a rolling suitcase of supporting information. I am, if I had to put it in one word, ridiculous.

I am also prepared. I am also dependable. I am also generous with my efforts. I am also typically successful in implementing anything I set out to do. Flappability works for me a lot of the time. On the other hand, there is a cost to my central nervous system. The key is to figure out the risk/benefit analysis in each situation. In most cases, I could conserve a lot of the energy I expend on anxiety by demonstrating a little wisdom as to when flapping works for me and when it works against me.

Flapping is not all bad. I must flap if I am going to fly. The trick is figuring out when and how to flap that will propel me forward, not cause me to crash and burn.

Are you a flapper? What do you do to control your flappability to keep it working for you instead of against you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at terriretirement@gmail.com.

Fly high today!

Terri/Dorry 😊

Extraordinary Personship

I have always believed in the importance of self-improvement.  Maybe it is easy for me, since there have always been so many areas in which I need to improve.  As much as I laugh at myself for all my introspection and navel-gazing, I do try to use my observations to be a better person.  I don’t know if I succeed, but I think it is important to try.

I used to think that the key to self-improvement was to identify areas of weakness and work on correcting them.  Then, I read a book called The Extraordinary Leader by Joseph Folkman and John Zenger.  It changed my whole perspective.  Folkman and Zenger suggest that it is not very productive to identify weaknesses and invest energy on them.  They hypothesize that, no matter how much energy a person spends on attributes that are not natural strengths, very little improvement is likely to result.  The far greater investment is to identify natural strengths and develop them even further.  Folkman and Zenger believe there is much more value in turning “good” to “great” than in turning “weak” to “mediocre.”   

Of course, Folkman and Zenger acknowledge that there are certain weaknesses that, if weak enough, will result in failure to lead.  These are known as “fatal flaws.”  In most positions of leadership, there are critical job duties that require basic competency at some particular skill.  For instance, many leadership positions require the leader communicate effectively in writing. A critical job duty might be writing performance appraisals.  Someone who aspires to be a leader may not have to be the best writer in the world, but she probably won’t succeed if she can’t at least string some coherent thoughts together on the page and consult spellcheck appropriately.  The idea of the fatal flaw is that the inability to develop at least minimal proficiency in some specific skill will be so detrimental or distracting that the leader will be unable to deliver the necessary results or to inspire followership.  In that case, the leader will fail, no matter how extraordinary the leader’s other attributes are. 

Therefore, the concept of extraordinary leadership is that a person should work to eliminate any fatal flaws and then concentrate all their improvement efforts on their strengths rather than their weaknesses. 

I think the concept works over a much wider landscape than “leadership.” I think it is desirable to live life pursuing extraordinary personship. I think we all have the capacity to grow in excellence and contribution.  I think it is much more satisfying and productive to grow by nurturing our gifts and leveraging our strengths than slogging our way through the depths of our disinclinations.  It’s a whole lot more fun, too. 

The result I want most out of my personhood is to be kind, have integrity, and demonstrate Christianity.  These are high aspirations.  I think I will have to develop extraordinary personhood to even come close to achieving them in whatever time I have left in this life.  I really do want to spend the time I have left developing the parts of me that are most likely to yield greatness. 

However, before I start shooting off any fireworks or throwing any parties in celebration of my extraordinary personhood, I have to acknowledge that I have a fatal flaw.  I am a terrible worrier.  To be a truly extraordinary person and allow yourself to succeed at growth, you have to be brave and free enough to let yourself go.  Worrying is a pretty big detriment and distractor.  I’m sure the inability to control worrying will ultimately prevent me from delivering the results I want in my life.  Before I can really cultivate and leverage my natural personship strengths, I have to shore up my propensity towards worry. 

I have been working on that fatal flaw, with some success.  The thing to remember is that I don’t have to become great at keeping worries at bay.  In fact, I don’t even have to be as good at it as the next person.  I just have to not suck at it.  In other words, I have to gain at least enough competency in anxiety management to make sure that my worries don’t completely negate my strengths. 

And I do have strengths as a person.  I know I do.  I do believe I have a strong capacity to empathize, love, and nurture.  As I mature and grow, I am taking specific steps to grow those natural inclinations.  If the results I want out of life are kindness, integrity, and Christianity, I think I must improve my empathy, love, and nurturing skills from good to great.  I just need to be mindful about my attempts at extraordinary personship.  When I wrote my blog piece Love-er-ly (http://www.terrilabonte.com/2020/02/love-er-ly/), I think I was exploring that process. 

There is one more thing that I am doing to increase my mindfulness of my extraordinary personship goals.  I have two bracelets I wear when I know I will be tackling a challenging situation or just feel the need for reminding.  One says “Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10.” This bracelet reminds me to curb my fatal flaw of worrying.  The other bracelet says, “Let all you do be done in love. 1Corinthians 16:14,” reminding me to lead with my strength.

Let’s face it.  There is no way I’m getting anywhere close to extraordinary without God!

What are your greatest strengths?  How can you grow them from good to great?  Please share your perspective by leaving a comment,  In the alternative, you can send me an email at terriretirement@gmail.com

Have an extraordinary day!

Terri/Dorry 😊