Archive for October, 2012

It’s a sad reason for this blog.  Terry Callier, soulful  jazz-folk singer from Chicago died on 28 October 2012.  Not known to that many, as he never really hit the big-time, he had a cult-like following especially in the UK.  He was a legend on the Northern Soul scene and someone who will be indelibly etched into my heart and mind for his thoughtful song-writing; sincere musicality and his depth of belief in the human soul. 

The very first song I heard of his was “I Don’t Want To See Myself (Without You)” a pounding piece of soulful gospel with a choral intro; pounding slap-bass; thumping percussion; soaring saxophone but it was those vocals…it was like he sang to me, directly to me.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0YwWU5wdEo

Now this is not a tribute blog to a singer, well a bit.  It’s more about something we perhaps all need in our lives put also in our workplace.  Not a charismatic leader to swoon over, not a flawed genius to accept; not a boring but steady middle manager to tolerate( you HAVE to read @FlipChartRick’s marvellous blog on this http://flipchartfairytales.wordpress.com/2012/10/25/6328/) not a wacky innovator to admire; not a bureaucratic perfectionist to dismiss – no, this is about that rare breed a sincere, authentic, humble but totally inspirational person – be they in a leadership position or not.  And I’ll confess, I don’t know how they do it.  How they keep such a true depth of quality about their being.  Their thoughtfulness, their selflessness, their calmness of influence.

Can people be taught these qualities or are we in another nature/nurture debate?  I guess there’s a large degree of implicit personality traits or preferences at play here; there’s some upbringing/environment stuff; and then there’s school and adult education.  Yet what Terry had is difficult to teach anyone who isn’t already made that way.  Sincerity; humility; care; thoughtfulness; depth; brilliance; passion.

I’m way too flawed to aspire to these qualities but this isn’t about me.  It’s about what having someone like Terry Callier in your life means and to appreciate it if you find someone like that in your professional or personal life.

Terry wasn’t at all a Punk – he had no attitude other than the passion and depth of belief in good.  He stood firm in what he believed in – so much so, that when he had to bring up his daughter on his own, he shunned the music industry, retrained as a computer programmer and disappeared from the music world.  My ego wouldn’t let me do that I’m sure of it.  A taste of stardom / performance / significance and then to let it go for the better of others?  I’m not sure I’d make that selfless choice so readily.

Even when Terry was traced by UK DJs overwhelmed by his music in the 1980s and 90s, he didn’t want to leave the security he’d found in salaried computer programming for another crack at musical stardom.  Thank goodness he did as he recorded some beautiful modern soul classics and endeared himself to many more fans especially in Europe and particularly the UK. We took to him because he was like no other artist ever before.  Different in a way that still is very difficult to explain.

A good friend of mine has seen him several times; shook his hand and she alerted me to his passing.  She was lucky – she shared the same room as this brilliant and totally understated man.  Another of my best friends saw him in Stoke 10 years ago and said he was “the perfect performer”.  I talk a good game about perfection, but I’m way too selective in what I deem perfect to measure up to Terry Callier’s always perfect vocal performances.

Idolising someone like this is often about them undergoing a tragedy and their triumphs over it.  Not so with Terry.  He was a normal guy with extraordinary gifts and unparalleled modesty.  I loved him for that.  He was so much the obscure singer I like to crow about as that’s – well, a bit cool isn’t it?  But there was something even me and my desperate coolness pursuit found in him – utter admiration, I actually didn’t care if it was trendy or otherwise to like this genius.

When I found out others liked Terry, I had a new found respect for them.  There was clearly something deep to this person.  Not about popularisms or obscure-trending – just appreciation for a rare quality in a human being.

So anyway, leadership and HR according to Terry Callier?  I feel a sense of obligation to align his contribution to me and play something out in a professional sense, so here goes…

Sincerity: HR has to be sincere about its role as the guardian, enabler and supporter of people in organisations.  Not hiding behind policies; headcount/salary cost pruners or job dis-assemblers.  Terry’s lesson in his music? – Keep Your Heart Right

Thoughtfulness; HR should deeply, and with sincerity think about the impact it has, the words it uses and the footprint it leaves.  It’s SO MUCH MORE than transactions.  It’s people and their lives; their professional interests and their care and consideration.  Terry’s lesson in his music? People Get Ready

Modesty; HR has a hard time promoting itself and getting the (sticks in the throat) “Seat at the table”.  Stuff that.  Terry’s modesty spoke louder than any ego trip or persuasive business case.  This is about a whisper being the loudest contribution we in HR should make.  Terry’s lesson in his music? Lean On Me

People: we’re not perfect, none of us.  In HR we have to deal with narcissistic ego trippers causing chaos without any regard for others.  We then have huge numbers of folks trying their utmost to do a good job, and who may find themselves stuck in a rut, under-appreciated, overstretched or dropping clangers.  Gently offering support and comforting words of belief should help restore pride and dignity and allow people to repair any damage they’ve caused or weakness / vulnerability / under-appreciation they are feeling.  We have a lot of people doing superhuman things despite the circumstances and if we remember we’re all made up of feelings and a heart, HR can restore the Human into the Resources element.  Normal people doing extraordinary things.  Terry’s lesson in his music? Ordinary Joe of course.

A bit of ramble this one and not too #PunkHR and rebellious but in his own way, Terry was the quietest, most serene and mindful rebel ever.  He didn’t follow trends and crowds despite his gifts.  He was just a normal bloke doing the hard knock stuff for his daughter.

He brought musical joy to my life and many of my friends but most of all he bought an unprecedented level of sincerity to mind that may now just keep me focused on being the best human being I can be, in a profession I love.

Thank you Terry Callier – though I will have to see myself without you, your words and meaning will bring more genuineness to my life and those around me.  RIP TC.

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This is as much of a tribute blog as I could construct.  It’s not sycophantic, it’s sincere.  It’s still #PunkHR though because it’s not how most people would pay homage to someone who’s looked out for them, looked after them, guided them and backed them to the hilt.  Even when things got complicated, tricky and difficult and it didn’t go to the agreed plan.

It started in 2009 with that incoming new boss feeling.  You know the one – that “ooh what are they going to be like?” and most importantly for me “will they get me?”  I both love and loathe in equal measure the parting of company with bosses and the establishment of a relationship with a new boss.  I’ve had some amazing ones in my time.  And like everyone, I’ve had some utter planks.

I don’t set out to be an awkward individual.  I’m responsive, adaptable and capable of changing most of the way I do things to suit another’s preferred style of leadership, management or supervision – whatever they deem appropriate.

Being a Punk though, after a while, if their style gets in the way, I rebel and I work around them.  If they are utterly underwhelming and uninspiring, I seek out and get that from elsewhere, from other people.  If they are utterly inept, then I’ll just cut them out completely and do whatever the heck I want to do the job I have been employed to do with the utmost creativity, energy and impact.

Now, when you get someone who is open, willing, able, who gets you, who loves what you do, who has the quiet word in the ear, who understands your motivations, who absolutely gets the best from you then that’s that rarity that is the inspirational boss.  Someone who I would – literally – take the bullet for.

I have now embarked on something new for my career proposition where I may never have another boss again.  No-one to be inspired by or dismayed by; and for that I am both sad and excited.

  • Sad because I’ve just left a boss who is the inspiration behind my words above.
  • Excited because the planks I’ve had are probably still living out their petty mediocrities somewhere else driving some poor so-and-so up the wall.

Let’s not dwell on the planks though.  They’re not what this is about however they DO make you appreciate the inspirers more.

Now the tribute – from the off, she was into everything I had already done and believed in it.  I felt valued already.  What was staggering was the immediate support and intervention provided when others didn’t get me and went on the attack.  She took some heat, and gave me advice and most of all was there in a non-judgemental and guiding manner.  This was SO important to me at a time when I was still finding my feet as a Head of function with a budget and key leadership role to fulfill.

She then backed everything I suggested and rarely even questioned why.  She admitted to being amazed by some of the suggestions; recognised so much of why things were being suggested and most of all TRUSTED me that things were the right things to do.

She stepped into the limelight when it was right to do so and she took the flak when she didn’t need to but did it anyway.  Unbelievably valued interventions – and JUST when it was right to do so.

As a boss, you like to know there’s transparent, honest dialogue – never any doubt.  Fantastic at discretion, immense in sharing, valuable in giving advice, open to receiving it and just open to new ideas at each and every turn.

Here’s a classic example of how fantastic she was.

A round the table discussion at a management meeting

The leader says in turn – “So Manager X, you do that plus this by then; And Manager Y you do this and that by then; and Perry, <pause and think> just keep doing what you do.”

No greater testimony ever existed to how much someone trusted, valued and believed in me.  I’ll never get that again. That’s partly why I don’t think I’ll ever have a boss again.  It’s inconceivable that I could find a repeat of what I have had for over 3 years.

I’ll now look after myself, my enterprise and work with clients.  I’ll put my heart and soul into whatever I do with them as I know no other way, but there will never be another boss to top the one I’ve just left.

There’s a lesson here I guess, love your rebels for their rebelliousness and you’ll get them to outperform time and again.  Even rebels need someone to look after them; believe in them and inspire them.

I have memories I will treasure for a long time I hope to renew our collaboration as a rebellious duo of HR Punk-consultants.