Chill… it’s a metaphor. Don’t kick dogs.
This is a tale of two Jasons. One was me. The other was… another guy named Jason. Henceforth I will call him #2 (or The Deuce).
#2 and I are still friends to this day, and this story isn’t really about him per se. Regardless, though, at the time this happened he was a pretty big slacker. We both worked in the support office of the Precision Guided Munitions shop at an Air Force Base which I’ll leave nameless. Our job was to maintain parts, consumables, and test equipment that was used to keep our fleet of missiles and trainers combat ready. It was a coveted position because we had… internet.
And EBAY was the place to be
Our boss, who will also remain nameless, was an avid car accessory shopper. He constantly browsed for new rims or a new exhaust kit for his hideous Chrysler 300 (and I’m not just saying that because it was a Chrysler 300). #2 was not quite as avid, but he was exceptional at supervisor manipulation. As such, he became a car part shopper as well. The two of them spent hours each day ogling over all the cool things they wanted to buy for their hoopties.
I have never been a car person, and looking at things I can’t afford just frustrates me. So I didn’t join in. The result? I got to do all the work. I’m not just saying that to complain either, the boss was pretty open about it.
A few months into the saga he actually transferred one of #2’s core programs to me because it “wasn’t getting done.” I was fed up and let him know.
“This is crap,” I said (although I probably used many other colorful words as well). “You let The Deuce sit there all day playing on EBAY and I’m stuck doing all his work.”
“Well,” he replied. “It’s kinda like that ‘Kick your good dog’ theory.”
“What?” I glared at him.
“You know, if he sees you working hard maybe it will motivate him.” To this day that is still one of the dumbest leadership ideas I’ve ever heard. Not to mention that he completely got the dog kicking metaphor wrong.
“Ok, then guess what,” I sneered. “You don’t have a good dog anymore!” With that I went to my computer and pulled up MySpace (anyone else miss Tom?). He seemed surprized, but not enough to drop the issue.
“So you’re going to finish this work, right?” he asked.
“Nope. Go kick him.” I eyed my counterpart who was trying unsuccessfully to blend into his desk.
Resilience only counts for so much
That instance isn’t the only time in my career that I’ve gotten burnt out by poor direction and bad leadership. But it was an eye opener. I learned my threshold. I realized that I can take a lot of kicks but eventually my enthusiasm to show I’m the best or just do an OK job wains. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for accolades for the work I do, but I’m not willing to toil away for nothing when I have no support.
I think a lot of workers feel that way. Sometimes that feeling is self inflicted. Sometimes it’s the very real result of working for someone who doesn’t have your back. Being bitter about it is a choice, and one that we should avoid. But working without support is soul draining. Leaders should never expect that of those who work for them.
If you lead people, make a difference in their life and help them get the fulfillment they seek from their work. You might be able to accomplish that by simply asking how their day is going or if they need anything to make it better. The key is helping them get what they need once you find out what it is.