Today is the second day of a two-day staff meeting. Yesterday’s topics interested me more than most staff meetings, and today looks to be even better, so I am feeling fortunate to have good colleagues and a good leader. Still, my instinctual dread of staff meetings is hard to suppress, and I have been rerunning some odd staff meeting moments in my mind.
In my first full-time job, I was part of a group that had just formed, and thus I was present for the boss’s first staff meeting as a boss. She was clearly determined to make a strong impression. Standing before us in a grim tomb of a conference room, Marina began (name changed out of discretion): “From the moment I wake up, I evaluate everything I deal with by asking ‘How does this effect Marina?’ If it doesn’t effect Marina, I ignore it.”
She turned to one of the people seated in the front of the room, Chuck, and asked him, “What question do I expect you to ask yourself all day long?” Chuck paused, and ventured, “How does this effect Chuck?” “No!” Marina bellowed. “No, no, no! The question you and everyone else in this room, ask yourselves, Chuck, is ‘How does this effect Marina?’ Once you answer that, then you’ll all know what to do.”
At first, I thought Chuck had botched his answer because he wasn’t clever enough to see the obvious response, but as I got to know him better I concluded he’d phrased his answer as a gentle protest against the raging egomania on display in that airless room that day almost 22 years ago. That job was a huge challenge for me and a perfect example of the aphorism “Experience is what you get when you do not get what you want.” My immediate supervisor was a feckless demonstration of the Peter principle, his boss was Marina, and her boss was scheming and horrible. In retrospect, I marvel it took me two years to quit.
Fingers crossed that no one asks me today what one question I should ask myself all day long, but if they do, I will know the right answer.