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Policeman: Do you have any disgruntled employees?

Nathan Arizona Sr.: Hell, they’re all disgruntled. I ain’t running no damn daisy farm. My motto is “Do it my way or watch your butt!”

Policeman: Well, do you think any of them could’ve done it?

Nathan Arizona Sr.: Oh, don’t make me laugh. Without my say-so they wouldn’t piss with their pants on fire.

From “Raising Arizona”

With all my heart I want this fictional film character to just stay that:  fictional.

I would guess that we have all had a boss like Nathan Sr.  Without a detailed character sketch, one can see that he saw his employees as something less than human and pretty stupid at that.

Reflecting on why I chose a career path of leadership—a path that is never linear and more vulnerable to sniping than even Nathan Sr’s employees—I wonder how I arrived there.  One explanation I have is that much like the claims I’ve heard from priests, I’ve always felt that I, too, had a calling.  I had a call to leadership.

Early memories from elementary school include being asked by teachers to keep an eye on the other students when they left the room and being elected class president and editor-in-chief of the school newspaper.  Junior high and high school was more of the same with being elected to positions of leadership to sports teams, band, varsity club, and the executive board.  I took much of this for granted and just figured it was because I had an inclusive personality, I wasn’t afraid to speak up, and that I was more responsible than my peers.

One key experience one summer with the Leadership Development Corps of the State YMCA of Michigan at Camp Hayo-Went-Ha gave me the opportunity to learn about the responsibilities of leadership with my own group of campers.  Leading a group of boys, often only a few years younger than me, and not my peers from high school that retreated to their homes and families at the end of each day, made me realize the power of being a role model and of being a dependable support person during the long stretch of summer.  Honestly, this model of teenagers leading teenagers, had the potential of becoming “Lord of the Flies”, but it didn’t go there.  What I found was that I could be more than a benevolent big brother or a surrogate parent.  I was the leader most boys wanted: fun, positive, supportive, protective, zero tolerance to meanness, patient, and available.  I saw how quickly trust developed between us and I learned about the stuff of which I was made.

I liked what I discovered about myself and how it made me feel.

Now health care operational leadership, like camp counseling and like parenting, if you are doing it right, never really stops.

If your job is to oversee more than one shift or you have staff working every day of the week, you need to be available whenever they may need you.  On my designated times off, I first wore a pager and then a cell phone so that I could be alerted immediately in times of emergencies or sick staff or issues that couldn’t wait until I got back to my job the next morning or on Monday.  There have been several occasions when I had to leave a movie theater to answer a call and times I had to go in to help with coverage or talk to a physician or an athletic director.  Could this be considered a hassle?  Sure, but it is part of the job and I know that my staff, often flying solo, needs me to be no more than a call away.  I know that this is the kind of leadership I would want and so it is the standard to which I hold myself.

I’d like to make it clear that I make myself available not just to my fledgling staff, but also for those who have been out in the field for decades.  I have to be, after all, a role model for all of my staff, displaying by example my dedication to the job, to them, and to our organization’s goals.

The more I watch “leaders” and read about leadership—and there are more articles on the internet dedicated to detailing what elements are necessary to being a leader then you could read in a life time—I am always a little disappointed. See, I find this cookbook approach to leading deceiving.  Unlike baking a pie, one does not simply fold all the “necessary ingredients” into any one container with the anticipation that another leader has been made.

Employees know when they are being lead or being managed or being manipulated.  Creating teams, instilling a vision, and guiding people in developing their careers, takes the care and attention that I found manifesting in myself as a State YMCA LC and camp counselor.  Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if our managers treated us like someone’s son and daughter that they have the responsibility to protect, educate, and nurture as opposed to being a human resource?

Yet, you’re right about one thing thing though Nathan Sr.  I need to do a better job watching my butt.