Sunday, June 10, 2012

Breaking Eggs, Making Omelettes

Sometimes the deft touch is a valued thing.  Sometimes, ironically perhaps, when a deft touch applied to something is truly deft, it isn't even noticed at all.

Other times, though, the bull-in-a-china-shop routine might have merits.

Yesterday at the Acre Festival on the North Common, Dr. Julio Carvalho was speaking to Mayor Murphy and brought up the need for executives to make difficult decisions, consequences be damned.  That led us to refer to Michael Bloomberg's decision several years ago to ban smoking indoors at public establishments in NYC.

People said he was on a power trip.  People said he would ruin the restaurant business.  People even said he was just plain nuts.

Years later, however, indoor smoking bans have become the norm across much of the country.  Besides the better air quality for patrons casually passing through, who knows how many medical problems bartenders and waitresses have been spared from?  The difficult of proving negatives means, of course, that we won't know...but it's safe here to assume better quality of life for several service industry types.

There may not have been an incremental way to do it.  And besides, the whole point of representative democracy is that we don't just do everything by an all-hands plebiscite.  We elect people, they make decisions, and then if enough people don't like those decisions, we can elect different people the next time around.  Sometimes, leaders can actually "lead" in the sense of driving public opinion to somewhere that it currently isn't.  Sometimes, as the old cliche goes, an egg needs breaking for an omelette to be made.

I thought about this yesterday when I got a "nastygram" e-mail from a Major at my unit.

I have been dealing with a painfully slow bureaucratic process of a unit transfer (from Reading to Devens) which should be relatively simple and not require much paperwork.  The problem is that the person who is the "linchpin" in the whole process is anything but proactive.  E-mails and phone calls aren't responded to, so I'm forced to either be totally passive (and just let NOTHING happen), or try to be a squeaky wheel.  The squeaky wheel strategy meant asking another full-timer at the unit to check up on the status of a certain memo, which led to the ruffling of some feathers, which led to the nastygram about respecting the chain of command, letting an NCO do her job, not trying to go rogue, etc.  Just so you know how the tone of that one went, the words "cease and desist" were actually contained therein.  Seriously.

Knowing better than to let e-mail skirmishes flare up into full battles, I sent a mea culpa sort of response, with some details about my understanding of the situation.

Somehow, that led to another dressing-down, to which I simply didn't respond.  However, the story took a turn for the better when the guy sending it decided to call, perhaps because he realized his second e-mail was over-the-top (usually you don't ratchet up the firepower to someone trying to make something better, right?)

The phone call went well, and as a result, he agreed to set up a conference call Monday morning with the key bureaucratic nodes in the process to identify what things need to happen, and to then see to it that they happen.

Predicted end result?  The impasse will break.

It won't be pretty, but who cares?  Ironically, by doing the *wrong* thing and bringing negative attention upon myself from that Major, I will have finally moved the chains ten yards down the field.  It's not like I wanted to break the chain of command, bend rules, or take matters into my own hands when they belonged in someone else's.  If that key person were more willing to do her job, none of this would have happened.  

But none of that is relevant to me.  I got someone riled up, and may have kinda sorta burned a bridge, but the only thing worse would have been the alternative of inaction.

So as great as it is to be diplomatic, and to have a deft touch, and keep everything smooth, some occasions really call for the ballistic option.

Whether that's a politician advancing an unpopular but wise idea on which he's really just ahead of his time, or a person frustrated with months of bureaucratic logjam trying anything he can to move something along, sometimes it's frankly worth it to piss people off.  

Michael Bloomberg can look back on his indoor smoking decision and bask in the glow of hindsight that he really was right when he stepped out and made that happen.  Hopefully, I'll be able to look back at that virtual "chewing-out" and say the same -- that the temporary pain associated with upsetting the apple cart is offset, and then completely overshadowed, by the end result.  


C R Krieger said...

Yes, but the soft drink ban was over the top and he is a tin horn dictator.  Glad he left the Republican Party.

Regards  —  Cliff

Nick McNulty said...

If it makes you feel any better, sir, we let less valuable officers go without a struggle.