PlazaJen: Passion Knit

Monday, May 02, 2005

Kiss Up & Kick Down

I'd never heard that phrase before, but it is astonishingly succinct & captures what is wrong with oh, a gajillion people in management out there. In her regular column in the Sunday KC Star, Dianne Stafford wrote all about John Bolton, here. (Apologies in advance, you have to register to read it.) Apparently this dude was a nightmare boss to everyone under him, but was exceptional at kissing ass and so has risen up through the political world, and thus the phrase, "kiss up & kick down". And to explain my reading habits, I make it a point to read the employment section, even since getting my new job, because I always think it's interesting to see what activity is happening in the market, and the articles on the front section are worthwhile.

So, I was struck by the phrase, "kiss up & kick down" - universally, we've all known a manager/boss who does just that - treats the people below them with disrespect & disdain, while solidly sucking up to the political stratosphere floating above their level. I've known a lot of people like this, some have been my bosses, and I'll admit I've been political myself, and done some level of sucking-up, because I guess I've concluded that it's part of business. But I have never kicked down. I take it back. I did it once, in St. Louis, because I had an assistant (pre-dovetail boy) who was insolent and demanding, and she pissed me off. In her review, we had a come-to-jesus of sorts, and I learned just as much as she did - for she said to me, "You never thank me and you never appreciate the work I do." And I said, before thinking, "Well, I don't get thanks or appreciation from anyone, so...." and then I heard what I said. Huh. I guess the buck CAN stop with me, and I interrupted myself by continuing, "And I guess what that means is just because I'm not getting it, doesn't mean I can't give it, and so I will try to do that more for you." Our working relationship improved over time, and while we still never saw eye-to-eye on things (she was the one who believed Richards Simmons was NOT GAY), I still look at that supervisory experience as the one that taught me the most, because she was so difficult, and she was so direct.

So as I reflect on the bosses I've had, the bosses I have now, and the boss I want to be, I think of some of the conversations I've had of late with friends, about the battles they have at their current jobs, along with the giant battle I waged for two years that essentially got me nowhere towards attaining change, except to have learned more about another venue of my business (knowledge that, I admit, is necessary for my current job!) So I can't say the last two years were a waste of time - but the direction I expended energy, and the anger I held so tightly was a waste.

My problem is twofold: I want work to be about the work. Not about someone's ego, or somebody's need to create an award-winning television spot, even if the money to buy the airtime isn't there, not about doing everything the way it's always been done, not about being afraid of new ideas. I want work to be about doing the best damned job you can, and even though what we do is harder to define, in the end, it's just like cleaning the bathroom sink: you scrub it and clean it and you don't leave toothpaste behind and call it "artistic" or worse, tell me you don't clean sinks because you've been with the company for 25 years and doing any kind of work is beneath you now. My other problem is that I care too much about things being "right". I want the little people to get their cake. I get angry when they're denied tap water and a cracker. I run headlong at brick walls, because I believe so strongly in the average worker, I think my force of will has the power to break the wall down and make the world a better place. I have the arrogance to think I'm a better manager than most of the people who've ever managed me, and I'm smart enough to know that arrogance is not a good quality. I basically never want to become those bosses I abhored. I've never seen the movie "Norma Rae" but sometimes I feel like the main character in that movie, because I wanted to start a revolution at my last job. Hey, my dad tried to start a union in Colorado when I was a baby, and that action got my mom & him fired from their social worker I guess I come by it fair & square. And I almost got myself fired in my crusade, and then I tried to keep my mouth shut as long as I could, because, like, you can't make a mortgage payment with a passionate desire for justice and a strong sense of ethics. But now that I'm not there? I realize I've still got a pile o' bottled anger to get rid of, and I'm working through it. I don't want to still be bitter in two years, I want to be able to laugh about it. Right now, I can laugh, but not without feeling that burn in my stomach at the same time.

Here's to kicking up and kissing down. I still believe you can save the world, one person at a time - starting with yourself.
posted by PlazaJen, 9:50 AM