#PunkHR – we all need our heroes – especially when you’re flawed and you know you are…

Posted: October 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

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.


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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