Friday, January 23, 2004

January 23, 2004
Here’s a frightening thought: I’ve been a boss for four years, going on five. It’s a position I really never thought I would ever have. Why? Well basically, for the majority of my life I’ve excelled at being an irresponsible twit (I was a drummer in a rock band, an underground cartoonist and a radio morning show “personality,” and for a period of time, all three at once!).

When we bought True West in 1999, I brought absolutely no experience or known managerial skills to the job. Graphic and layout skills, yes. But a boss? Get real.

One time at New Times Weekly (must have been 1978) the staff and the owners, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin, were sitting around imagining which tribe of Indians the various employees would belong to based on their demeaner, competitiveness etc. All agreed Lacey would likely be a Chiricahua Apache (relentless and vicious), and there was some discussion about Larkin being a Chemehueve (big head, slippery when wet), and there were other nominations, but when it came to me, both Larkin and Lacey laughed and pronounced me a shoo-in for the Pima tribe (Pima translates literally as “the bean eaters”). While I am partial to pintos, it wasn’t much of an endorsement for a future management position at NT.

With that said, it’s somewhat satisfying to realize I am still here. Quite a few people said I couldn’t do it. These people are called “employees.” Not really. In fact at least 12 of them actually show up every day to work with me (I can’t bring myself to say “for me” or “under me.”). I have learned a thing or two along the way, most of it the hard way, but here’s a brief overview of being The Boss:

• payroll: No man is a man until he has had to meet a payroll. It is the metaphorical equivalent of running in front of a train.

• office politics: if you have more than two people trying to get anything done you will have office politics. Most of the infighting and bickering is just superficial and not “real.” The trick is to know when to intervene (slit tires and death threats are a good clue).

• the difficult employee: some people have had a rough and troubled childhood. Fortunately, most of these people become cops. But as a general rule it’s not a good idea to hire convicted felons. That’s just me—I tried it once, and that was enough.

• Fear of decisions: Many times it’s better to do something, anything, even if it’s wrong. Just the idea of movement can be helpful. Stagnation is the kiss of death (just ask the Vikings, the Goths, the Huns, the Moors and Wal-Mart). Yes, I am watching “The Barbarians” on the History Channel)

• Stay focused on the goal: this is my growing edge. I have the hardest time with this one because I am constantly trying to make the magazine better, and sometimes I get going on a tangent (like writing this blog) and lose sight of what and where we should be going. Fortunately I’ve hired people (or, talked them into my dream is a better way of putting it) who are quite anal and always on task. It is a talent to find talent and keep them happy. That is a job all by itself.

“Writers are always selling somebody out.”
—Joan Didion

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