Until just this week, I had an employee, a Mr. Surly, a foreman who was extremely talented and good at what he did. The quality of his work was impeccable. This talent and capability covered a multitude of other shortcomings, which chiefly consisted of a growing and ultimately complete inability to get along with anyone who worked for him, or with him, or our clients (Heaven Forbid!). He was always inclined to see things solely in a light that was enhancing his own position, to the point that prevarication may be too mild a word, and finally became completely devoid of any vision that did not include him and his personal convenience as its theme. This resulted in a host of employees quitting over the years because of their refusal to subject themselves to his constant surliness, and clients who only tolerated him because of we who employed him.
Having to deal with his constant surliness came to an abrupt halt this past Monday morning.
On a job where he had demanded that he have some more experienced help, though experienced help routinely quit within a week of hiring them, we sent an entire crew that had its own foreman with specific instructions to help the job along for the next couple of weeks at Mr. Surly’s direction, until they would be needed elsewhere. As is to be expected, two bulls in one pasture will eventually butt heads, but the bulls always get things worked out, or at least agree which one will be on what side of the pasture, coexisting, if never quite bosom buddies. This is natural among bulls. It is not always so among humans, particularly if one’s purpose is to belittle and demean others.
Mr. Surly called me on Monday morning. Without so much as a hello, he shouted at me over the phone, “Look! Either ____ goes, or I go.” He was forcing me to make a decision. Unlike a judge who occasionally directs a jury to a specific verdict because of the lack of factual evidence, he merely demanded that I make a decision; he did not ask for a directed one. He did not ask me to make a particular one between the two options he gave me, nor did his attitude and urgent demand seem to lend itself to me suggesting a third, perhaps less dramatic option. It was simply an immutable demand. I was left with no option. I immediately complied with his demand.
I cannot vouch for whether he liked the decision I made, since he is unavailable for comment, but I certainly made one and am persuaded that I made the right one. After my decision, I immediately headed to the job site, and took over the reins of its management. Building electrical substations requires a specific set of skills, but not all of them are rocket science. In fact, none of them are rocket science since only rocket science is rocket science. Those skills are not beyond me and my brother, nor other people who work for us since that is what we do. Few we have hired over the years have come to us with substation skills. Most of them learned on the job. I wonder if they remember who they learned them from?
I needed that employee. I needed him to do his job. One of his most important jobs, which I could never quite get him to understand, was how to get others to do things for him without shouting, cursing, browbeating, demeaning, acting churlish, and creating and nurturing a hostile work environment. I fear that there are many simple human interaction skills he will never master. If he does master them, it will be while working for someone else.
Sometimes, all that is necessary to get others to do things on our behalf is to politely and simply ask them. Every junior, mid-level, and senior manager knows that he needs other managers, over whom he has no compelling authority, to do things for him if he is to get his own job done. The best way to get your own men to do things is to be willing to do them yourself. We lead from the front, not the rear. One can pull the world off its foundation with a chain, but one can’t push a chain into anything other than a tangled pile.
Mr. Surly is not a tall man. In fact, he is on the short side of short. We have all heard of short-man syndrome, but Mr. Surly has other issues, I reckon. I have known tall men who were very small, and some short men who were giants. Mr. Surly, I fear, is destined to be a very small man the rest of his life since he seems to think the only way he can disguise his smallness is to make others look even smaller. Why he thinks this is necessary, given his tremendous capabilities and talent, is mysterious. It is a quality, if it can be called that, which is completely foreign to me, and I confess is beyond my understanding.
“Kid stuff,” one of his relieved co-workers said after he was gone. “Kid stuff. He was always blowing up at kid stuff of his own creation.” Remarkably, the co-worker saying this happened to be somewhat of a kid himself, and it was only the very young men working for us who tolerated the no-longer-kid-like-forty-plus-year-old Mr. Surly. The fully grown men would not. You’d think that by forty (plus), some degree of maturity would have seen to it that one had mostly abandoned kid-stuff. Maturity never caught up with Mr. Surly, he apparently choosing to cling to whiny tattle-telling and thrown temper tantrums for yeas, nays, and even presents. In spite of all that, he was important to us. I unfortunately indulged him in his behavior until we could no longer keep men on the job with him, and our customers began to complain. My indulgence did no one a favor, including Mr. Surly.
No one is irreplaceable. In our own perceived importance as viewed through our myopic vision of things as we see them, not necessarily as they are, were we to find ourselves staring up at the daisy’s roots from the earthen side of the surface, the world will continue turning. It will continue its predictable transit around a hot-blazing sun, as the sun continues its transit around the vastness of the Milky Way, and it ever accelerating away from the singularity of the entire mass of the cosmos exploding from a single point in the big bang of our ever expanding universe. Those close to us will miss us, badly for a time, but soon enough they and others will turn again to their affairs, the affairs of the living, and get on with their daily business. If we are lucky, they will occasionally entertain fond remembrances of us. If we are not so lucky, they will not think of us at all, or worse, about how much more peaceful their own existence became once we were permanently removed from it.
I hope Mr. Surly finds whatever it is in life that will make him happy. He certainly was not happy working for us though he had done so for very nearly twenty years. He was not happy. I was not happy. His coworkers were not happy. Our clients were not happy. Today I can confirm to you that at least one of us is happy. When all else fails at trying to accommodate someone, and you finally realize that no one is happy, or going to be happy, you can then proceed to make yourself happy, that way someone will be happy. There is no point in everyone being miserable.
Mr. Surly demanded that I make a decision. I did what he demanded. I hope he is satisfied the result, or learns to be if he isn’t.
“You’ll never get that job finished on time,” he shouted.
“If the job is not to be completed on time,” I replied, “It can not be completed on time without you there just as easily.” Ponder that for a minute or two, if you will.
If I meet you and I don’t like you, that may not mean anything more than something is wrong with me. If you meet me and you don’t like me, that may mean there is something wrong with you. However, if no one likes you and you don’t like anyone, it is time to take a step back and have a look at yourself. It’s a safe bet there is not something wrong with everyone. It’s a safe bet that when your world has devolved into the idea that me and my immediate family are more righteous, more right, more correct, far smarter, and completely excel over the rest of the stupid lot of humanity by a large margin…well, then perhaps one might ask those family members what they really think of you, too. If they aren’t fearful of your reaction and simply indulge you, they may just tell you the truth. And you may benefit from it, if you just stop and listen. I doubt it will happen.
Surliness never seems to have ears for anything but its own futile roar, which is lost amid the violent silence of a grand, glorious, and eternal scale of time within which our own brief allotment can hardly be measured.
Adios, and best wishes for a new beginning. May we all find the truth and have it change us rather than attempt to alter it to fit our own personal narrative. If we succeed, life will be much simpler…and doubtlessly less vexing.
©2015 Mississippi Chris Sharp
PS: I’ve had two former employees offer to come back to work for us since word of Mr. Surly’s departure has traveled at light speed through the magic social media.