Friday, October 28, 2011

Here's Your Sign

Comedian, Bill Engvall, has a routine where he talks about something that is obvious to everyone except the one poor schmuck who is the focus of the story. At the end of each story he says, "Here's your sign." I'm not into cruel humor so I don't always find them funny but the idea, that everyone out there understands something that I don't, really resonates with me. Here is an example of what I mean.

For the past six years I have served on a non-profit board of directors. I tried to volunteer for areas where I felt I could provide the greatest contribution and I never turned down a request. If someone asked me to head a committee I agreed and then gave it my best effort. In this particular association board members are elected to two-year terms and can be re-elected twice serving a maximum of six years -- unless they are nominated to serve in a board leadership role (treasurer, vice chair, chair, etc). While a board member I received the "Association Advocate of the Year" award presumably in recognition for the work I had done -- although maybe people were just being nice. Now, at the end of my last year it comes down to this: either I get promoted to a leadership role or I'm done. Turns out, I'm done. This wouldn't be that traumatic to me except that it has happened to me before.

When I was a Midwest Regent for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute program I also served my full term, volunteered for areas in which I was best suited to serve, and never turned down a request. In this group I actually was told on two different occasions by two different chairpersons that I was going to be recommended for a leadership position but then my last year came, and went, and I was not selected for that role.

The notification calls were eerily similar. First, why did I even receive a call unless the group had considered me for the position and felt they had some obligation to call me? Even then, I'm still not sure it merits a call (except maybe from the person who I'd already spoken with about the position) -- certainly not from the chair of the nominating committee. Secondly in both cases, the caller said, "It really had nothing to do with you," then missed a beat and said, "We really appreciate your service."

To give credit where credit is due, both of the men selected were extraordinary. They are strong, creative individuals and I expected both of them to be nominated for leadership at some point. But here's the thing, why was I not unless it really did have something to do with me? I think I've been traveling down the same road as everyone else but somewhere I missed my sign.

What would the sign have said? I have no idea, but I've decided that I might have had a better chance had I been more social instead of simply trying to get the work of the board accomplished. Also, I probably should have changed jobs more often as it seems as though that has helped some of the folks who've been given leadership roles. And I definitely should be younger, thinner and less gray (as I can't claim to being old enough where grayness is expected) and maybe male though I don't think there was a gender-bias. Or maybe not. Because at the end of the day I'm much more likely to enjoy a joke about Schrodinger's Cat than I am about someone missing their sign. People connections have always been my weakness. I build strong connections with the people I work with closely but really stink at networking-style relationships that have everything to do with bartering benefits and nothing with whether or not I really like a person.

Musing about the "loss" of promotion (although it really isn't a loss as it was never mine to begin with) I ended up with this thought. Even though I would love to be recognized as a person worthy to lead an organization and its board it isn't worth pretending to be someone I'm not. I'm not saying that I don't need to improve myself. I do. In lots of areas. But I don't think I want to compromise my values about relationships and time and hard work if that actually is what it takes to be deemed a leader. Maybe that really is what a leader is - someone who is willing to mold him or herself into the image that they understand others are seeking. The good ones manage to do that and still remain focused on their values somehow. The skill to do that is written on a sign I have definitely never seen.