A few months back I was riding to the airport in Los Angeles with two teammates to catch our flights back home after a long week at work. One of the guys (we’ll call him Tom) was staying in Los Angeles for the weekend and didn’t have a care in the world. We were dropping him off at the hotel on the way and for him the week was done. But my other work mate (we’ll call him Jeff) was in a time crunch
Jeff asked Tom if he’d drop us at the airport and return his rental car so he didn’t have to wait for the long shuttle ride back to LAX. Tom selfishly replied, “Na man, I got places to be. You deal with it.” It really pissed me off, but I let it go.
The next week, I laid into Tom all week long. I smacked down a joke, insult, back handed compliment or criticism of his work every chance I got. It was childish and pretty unprofessional, but I did it anyway. Wednesday evening of that week I found myself at a bar with Tom, Jeff, the teammate he’d shafted and a senior director in the company (we’ll call him Kurt).
After a few drinks, Tom asked me what the hell my problem was and why I was such an asshole. I looked up at him and noticed he’d caught Kurt’s attention as well. I could see he was calling me out in front of the big manager to show me up and get a nice bit of payback.
Normally, you might want to back off at this point and try to make amends. Getting in an argument with a co-worker is never wise, especially in front of a senior manager. Unfortunately, I’m not always wise, and I really love to kick the shit out of selfish pricks.
I told Tom he was a selfish twerp. I told him he only thought of himself, and I told him he was a piece of shit for treating Jeff the way he did the week before. I told him that in our business, teammates are everything. Bad teammates are what cause you to have to work on the client site through Fridays, late into the night and over weekends and holidays. I told him that selfish teammates are the kind of people who steal away my precious time with my wife and children.
Tom was speechless. His face turned red and he glared at me, dying to find the right way to rebound. Instead, the senior director, Kurt chimed in. He said we needed to get over our shit and mandated that we go out to dinner together. He said we were to learn everything about each other’s families inside out, about each other’s culture, ambitions, dreams, EVERYTHING. And if we didn’t, someone would be fired from the project.
A few weeks later, things had been smoothed over, but then out of nowhere Tom came at me with some cheap insults after work at dinner with our entire group. I didn’t retaliate. After he did so, Kurt, a tall, hard, former hockey player from Sweden, pointed at everyone at the table and said, “I just want everyone to know, if you have a problem with Holden and it comes down between you and him, you will be the one rolling off the project and looking to get staffed elsewhere.”
My jaw dropped.
Kurt was a hard ass to me practically every day of my life working under him. Barely a day would pass that he wouldn’t criticize either the way I was dressed, the lack of shine on my shoes, how I shaved, my haircut and especially the quality of my work. I thought he had it out for me up until this point, but suddenly, I realized he was simply coaching me up. And when I had inadvertently gave one of the most inspirational speeches of my life to Tom a few weeks before, I must have finally proven that I got it to this manager.
Since then I’ve paid extra attention to the quality of the people around me. I too look at how much attention they pay to the details in themselves and their work, how they react when under the gun, how they talk about their teammates when they aren’t around and especially how well they stick up for them.
Last week I started a new project. My career manager is on this project too. He’s the guy who represents me to senior managers when it comes time for promotions. He’s also the guy that kicks my ass when I screw up. This new project is under major distress. We’re the subcontractors to our parent company, so we don’t get to make any high level management decisions.
One of the managers from the parent company came to my manager last week and said, “I’m going to need your guys to start being here Monday to Friday, and possibly work some Saturdays too.” My manager looked at me, then looked back at other guy and blankly said, “No. My guys have families. They’re not doing it.”