Invisibles: People who don’t pat themselves on the back (a reprise)

A few years ago, David Zweig was interviewed about his book called “Invisibles – The Power of Anonymous Work in an Age of Relentless Self-promotion.” The book is a fascinating read which explores the success of those who show up to work each day, do their job well and collaborate with others toward common goals. These folks do not seek the limelight and are definitely not about merchandising themselves. And, each has a very rewarding career doing a job well and sharing the success with others. I was thinking of this book as I read about the courageous and quiet healthcare and retail workers who are doing their jobs in more dire situations.

In my over thirty-three years of working as a consultant, teammate, employee and, at times, manager of people, one observation seems to ring true – “work will find good people.” These are the folks who don’t talk about getting it done, they work with others to get it done. In any business, we find people who are over-committing and routinely missing deadlines or producing less than quality deliverables. We will also find people who talk about good ideas, but fewer people who get up out of their chair and go do something.

The invisible people need not be the “stars” of the team. Sometimes their strength is project or process management competence. They are the machine that gets work product done. In other words, they do the basic blocking and tackling that does not make the headlines. A successful football team is more due to those guards and tackles who make way for the stars.

A business is no different. And, many may not do their job exceedingly well, but do it well-enough, and show up each day to do it again. These are those solid C+ and B- performers that every organization needs to be successful. They have an intrinsic knowledge of how to do things within that organization. If leaders do not heed their value and input, they will not be as successful or may fail.

I had an old management professor who advised his son on how to be successful, advice which I share with others. If you do these three simple things, you will have some success. “Show up, show up on time and show up dressed to play.” It matters not the underlying business or work group. If you are not there, others have to pick up the slack. If you are constantly late, others have to pick up the slack. If you are not there wearing clothes to present yourself as expected to your colleagues and clients or dressed with the right attitude, others will have to pick up the slack. Then, an invisible person becomes visible and management will realize they can do their job without you.

The lesson of the book is a good one. You do not have to merchandise yourself to be successful. Competence is a terrific aphrodisiac to an employer. I often help people network as it is my way of paying it forward. I was helping someone I know well get a job and she is all about competence, efficiency, teaming and effectiveness. She is not as good at merchandising and your first impression would be not to hire her. I used to tell prospective employers, she may not be the one you propose to, but she is the one you want to be married to. She understands strategy, tactics and execution and that is a powerful combination.

Let me close with some observations on what to avoid. If you hear someone say he/ she is a “big picture” person, don’t hire them. If you hear someone use far too many “I’s and me’s” and not many “we’s and us’s” don’t hire them. If someone “throws people under the bus” more than accepting responsibility, don’t hire them. I recognize fully the need to have people who can sell services and merchandise themselves. But, the merchandisers I would prefer to work with know that it is a team of others who back up their commitments. Many of them are in this group called “invisibles.”

Beyond the call – mothers, nurses, midwives and doctors

Our oldest son joined us for dinner on Sunday. He stayed around and watched one of our favorite shows “Call the Midwife.” He certainly got a lesson in births as they had several trying deliveries as the midwives mentored some new doctors. In one instance, the baby’s arm got stuck behind its back and was not coming out very easily, so seeing how the midwife handled it was cool.

We reminded him of the stories of the three births of him and his siblings. His birth was the easiest of the three, with one key note. His mother asked for an epidural too late and proceeded to have him sans pain reliever. So, he was the first of three deliveries without epidurals. His mother obviously has a high pain threshold. A funny story is my wife’s doctor told her the day before it would be another week, until she showed up at my office the next day after her water broke at lunch with a friend.

Our middle child had some challenges, but they were not uncommon to the nurse and doctor. Meconium is a fancy term for the baby’s first bowel movement. It is not uncommon for this to be released before delivery and cause aspiration issues. The nurse detected our son was having breathing issues with each contraction. They whisked my wife’s parents out and brought in a swat team. After delivery, the swat team cleaned out his passages and everything was fine. The doctor told the nurse under his breath “nice catch.”

Our daughter was born in a non-uncommon manner as well. She came out purple. The umbilical cord had wrapped around her neck and was causing breathing difficulties. The doctor went clip, clip with scissors and everything was fine. The doctor said it happens enough not to be rare.

Let me finish with two stories, one before birth and one after. A colleague of mine was in labor with twins and walking around the mall to move things along. In so doing, she was talking with a client on how to resolve a problem with various solutions. When they realized she was in labor, their favorable impression increased even more. That is beyond the call on client service.

The final story is about our neighbors who had triplets after a previous older child was born a few years earlier. The parents said, when one gets sick, they all get sick. They said they did assembly line feeding with the same spoon and three lined up high chairs. When I asked how they were doing, they said “we are numb.”

Kudos to mothers, nurses, midwives and doctors. Childbirth happens everyday, but we still should applaud the miracle it is. Tell me some of your stories.

And, a few more relationship funnies

In keeping with the theme of the previous post, here are a few more relationship funnies. These are more anecdotal pieces of advice dressed with some humor.

Experience painfully tells us not to try new dishes on guests without first trying them on just us. I am sorry it didn’t turn out as planned…

When my parents first visited after my wife and I married, my wife baked a pie that smelled wonderfully while cooking. After cooking about ten minutes, my wife realized in horror she put too much flour in. The pie had spilled all over the stove and we were scraping it off to throw it away. My mother walks in and says “Someone has been baking!”

Make sure old furniture holds together when guests are over. An old dining room chair (from my parent’s first set) crumbled under a male guest when he sat down for dinner. Oops.

Wooden outside benches can deteriorate, too. My wife and I sat down in a backyard nook joining our son. We sat on a second bench together and our son watched us collapse like a house of cards.

With kids at home or on vacation, make sure the master bedroom door has a working lock for privacy and use it while dressing or doing other things couples do. You will have to trust me on this.

Again, please feel free to share your stories, keeping it PG rated.

A few more relationship funnies

Relationships will provide opportunities for humor. The ability to laugh at these situations are part of the glue to long term relationships. Here are a few funnies to try and lighten our load.

When dating my wife, I took her back to the office after lunch. As I was walking down the hall, I turned to wave goodbye and then proceeded to walk into an open door (the door, not the entrance). My wife said she almost wet her pants trying to keep from laughing.

A good friend was worried about going to a school reunion with his new wife. His nervousness showed as he introduced her…and got her name wrong. She corrected him with a smile, that would be Jeannie not Jenny.

Another friend married a woman he dated since his teen years. When you asked him when they started dating, he would answer “thirteen.” But, when you asked her, she would respond “seventeen.” The dilemma is they are the same age. Although they did divorce later, they remarried and remain such.

Another friend traveled to an internal conference and hit it off with a woman from another office at the conference. While nothing transpired there, he returned to his office smitten. He shortly received a card from a consultant who he had fussed at for not being attentive to a client deadline. The card said “You are in my thoughts, D” as his first name began with that letter. Yet, my friend thought the card came from the woman he just met thinking the D was a P for her name, Patti. He called Patti, she confided that she did not send it, but wish she had. They remained married until she passed away from cancer.

I love these stories as each of the couples have had long term marriages, even the one which had an interim hiatus. Be able to laugh at these situations and you will laugh together for a long time.

Paraphrasing the words can make them resonate

I love quotes, but sometimes the quote has been paraphrased somewhat and it takes a slightly new shape. Quoting religious text is like that as the text has been translated and retranslated many times. In fact, the books of the bible were not all written in the same language. So, we should look for the gist of the point.

Regardless of religion, there are very meaningful guides that can be pulled from Jesus’ words.

– Treat others like you want to be treated, tops any list and can be found in other religious texts
– Take care of people in need as when you do you are honoring me
– Treat your neighbors well.

But, let’s not stop there. Mother Teresa said:

– Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody,is a much greater hunger than the person who has nothing to eat
– When she had doubts, she asked God to give her the strength to carry on.

Gandhi also spoke of helping people:

– a community’s greatness is measured in how it takes care of its unfortunate ones

Martin Luther King said of hate:

– Hate is far more debilitating to keep up than love. When you hate, you are being destructive to yourself.

A Chinese proverb is used as the title to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book “Half the Sky:”

– Women hold up half the sky (the proverb speaks volumes as does the book).

Finally, let me close with quoting lines from Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the wind.”

“Yes, and how many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky
Yes, and how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry

Yes, and how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.”

Peace be with you all.

A few movies I stumbled onto

While HBO and Showtime are more into showing series in prime time, I catch most of my movies in the afternoon during these shelter-in-place days. Here are few I stumbled onto that kept my attention.

The Recruit with Al Pacino, Colin Ferrell and Bridget Monayhan – about a CIA trainer picking a recruit to help in ferreting out a mole in the CIA.

Seven Pounds with Will Smith, Rosario Dawson and Woody Harrelson – I had seen this before, but it is excellent. Smith’s character is donating parts of various organs (which tally seven pounds in weight, hence the title). The story is why and how.

Temple Grandin with Claire Danes, Julia Ormond and David Strathairn – This is a terrific movie about a true hero, Temple Grandin. Grandin is autistic, but earns a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and helps reshape the livestock industry, treating cattle as humanely and efficaciously as possible. She also became an advocate for better understanding autistic people.

Mary Magdalene with Rooney Mara, Joacquin Phoenix and Chiwetel Ejiofor – this move drags on at times, but is of interest in telling Jesus’ story more from Mary Magdalene’s perspective. I find movies like this interesting, as they provide a new lens.

The Legend of Bagger Vance with Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron – this movie is little cheesy at times, but it has a great cast. It is about a former golfer who lost his swing and is being asked to take on Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen in a match.

The movies above have a little bit for everyone. In terms of unexpected enjoyment, “Temple Grandin” is very moving. You may need some tissue in a few parts. If your have not seen “Seven Pounds,” it is also excellent. What are some of the ones you have been watching?

Ain’t no sunshine when (he’s) gone

Bill Withers died a few days ago at the age of 81. If you don’t know who Withers is, you may know one or two of his songs. The one that is getting the most attention, and should is “Lean on me.” More on that later. The one that also should get attention is the soulful song of loss called “Ain’t no sunshine.”

The next lyric is “when she’s gone,” but we can use this title to remember Withers with the replacement word “he’s.” This song has been used in at least one movie to share the sense of loss. I also liked that Booker T. Jones produced it and Donald “Duck” Dunn played bass with Stephen Stills on guitar.* Here is the first stanza.

Ain’t no sunshine

“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
It’s not warm when she’s away
Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone
And she’s always gone too long anytime she goes away.”

“Lean on me” deserves attention. It keeps coming back in new strains and served as the title song to a movie in the late 1980s. In my view, given its words and simple heartfelt melody and delivery, it is one of the finest pop songs every written. It is not a surprise that it is an anthem for healthcare workers today. Here is the first stanza and chorus.

Lean on me

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on.”

A song that is a little out of character with the first two is “Use me up.” In short, he knows he is being used by a girlfriend, but he is enjoying his time too much to change her poor behavior toward him. Here is the first stanza.

Use me up

“My friends feel it’s their appointed duty
They keep trying to tell me all you want to do is use me
But my answer yeah to all that use me stuff
Is I want to spread the news that if it feels this good getting used
Oh you just keep on using me until you use me up
Until you use me up.”

The final song I want to highlight was released as duet with Grover Washington, Jr. about ten years later. It is called “Just the two of us.” Here is the chorus.

Just the two of us

“Just the two of us
We can make it if we try
Just the two of us
Just the two of us
Building castles in the sky
Just the two of us
You and I.”

If you only remembered the first two songs, that would still paint Withers in a good light. He had voice that resonated. His songs also had a good pacing, so that the words could shine through. He will be missed.

* Note: Booker T and the MGs were the studio band on many Memphis R&B recordings. Donald “Duck” Dunn was a member. Think the band behind John Belushi and Dan Akyroid in “The Blues Brothers.” Stephen Stills, of course, was with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and Buffalo Springfield.

Note: Here is a link to Jill’s post on Bill Withers which includes some song links.

♫ Bill Withers — A Tribute ♫