Wednesday, August 09, 2006

To Old Friends

An expectation of returning to the, ahem, “professional” world is that you read “professional” journals to “keep up.” Now I happen to believe that most such journals aren’t worth the paper and ink used to produce them, but a diamond is occasionally found amongst all that gravel.

Case in point is
this article from a recent Modern Healthcare magazine about the value of keeping in touch with old friends. I'm sensitized to the issue, perhaps uniquely, resulting from my recent two-year sabbatical from the work world. I had a great time sabbaticalizing, as y’all know, but there was also time for some life lessons to emerge.

Case in point: I was amazed (and more than a little disheartened) by how few of the colleagues I’d spent 20+ years with bothered to keep in touch at all. Oh sure, they’d take my phone call or answer an e-mail (usually with a polite two-sentence response) but I can count on one finger how many initiated any “Hey, how are you doing? Are you OK?” conversations. (My former boss, God bless 'im.)

Maybe it’s to be expected. It was apparent that my beliefs about how organizations grow and thrive had diverged significantly from the “party line” long before my leaving ratified the rift. I'm funny. I believe in growth, innovation, the power of visionary ideas and the abilities of people. The “party line” prized managing by the numbers, cutting budgets, playing politics and avoiding risks. My boss saw the signs and said "Vertical Man, here's a package. Take it and run." I did.

My former peers thrived in - and mostly endorsed - the status quo. They wouldn’t call; they were the “victors” in a battle over ideas. (Some victory, eh? The "victors" endured endless rounds of budget-cutting. The "loser" (i.e. me) was condemned to travel, tan, train, and triathlon.) Those a level or two down in the organization suffered in a culture that now saw me as an expunged virus and, thus, defined any contact with me as “disloyal.” “Oh, ignore him. He’s just that wild-eyed radical, that crank, that fool.” So they couldn’t call; understandably they feared for their job if they did.

But now I’ve landed in an organization that validates everything I believe. An organization that’s thriving by doing exactly what my PPE (Prior Place of Employment) never trusted its people enough to do. An organization that believes in the power of big, audacious visions and the value of a strategy based on “separation” from the herd, not in the value of being sublimely average. Sure, being average gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. But it's usually nothing more than the herd’s accumulated body heat…as it heads for a cliff.

And, guess what? Now my PPE is in some turmoil due to leadership changes at the top levels. I’m sure there are some nervous people and, frankly, a few who have damn good reason to be. Resumes are being refreshed, contacts are being discreetly pinged, futures plotted. Good for them. I hope their friends treat them better than they treated me.


As for me? I learned my lesson. I'm busily making amends, converting "old" and "long-lost" friends to "current" and "good" friends. And that's where they'll stay.

5 comments:

Obviously not a Former Coworker said...

HEY - ONLY ONE PERSON CONTACTED YOU?!

Comm's said...

At least for me, its not so much not contacting old friends but upgrading to better relationships. I generally don't hold much stock in business friendships, since they are usually based on location or time together than meaningful conversation or bonding.

However as a partner who works daily with my other partners that have a vision for our business, thats a tight bond.

trikonasbr said...

You know what...I don't have any close friends...never had, probably never will. I think that as a human being it hurts too much to get "screwed" over. I know people who don't mind and just get going again with their lives. But as a perfectionist, it hurts too much. You must be the epitome of perfection.

mipper said...

First, let me say how happy I am to see you back on the blog! YAY!

Second, it works that way in personal life too. You move on and you do your best to keep in touch and cannot figure out why no one blthers to do teh same. Sure, they take the phone calls, answer the emails, send you a Christmas card if you send one first, but overall, not a lot of effort. It's hard pill to swallow but still, I would rather know that I have done all I can to stay in contact with people who are supposed to be my friends.

Glad you are around and vertical and liking the new job. Best wishes to you Mr. S (Oh yeah, I remember the days before VM was born... yes I do.) Take care.

tarheeltri said...

Good post. The herd just loves to kill innovation.