Sunday, July 23, 2006

Administrative Hijinks & Power Plays

Certain jobs in corporate America are ripe with office politics, power plays, and inept administrators and managers who maneuvered their way not unlike a chess piece, into a corner office or choice cubicle.

I am a writer. I am an editor. I am a teacher. I was an actor. I have directed staged readings. I am an artist. Oftentimes artists don't fit into restrictive corporate arenas. I can only speak of New York City, but can imagine the same applies to cities large and small throughout the world. New York is one of the financial and business centers of the world. Is it then irresponsible for an artist to seek temporary employment, complete with full medical benefits, while pursuing and financing creative endeavors?

I never liked playing office bingo or politics. I have worked with people who were competitive because I was able to blend into the woodwork while maintaining a smile and sunny disposition. In their minds, this wasn't supposed to have happened. I was supposed to be miserable or bitter, and join them in a rousing verse of Misery Loves Company. If I've learned anything from my eighty-nine year old granny, is that we're here today, gone tomorrow: "Some of us who were here last night, aren't here today," she often says during our weekly long-distance Sunday afternoon phone call.

I have worked with and for barracudas, or tiger sharks, whichever applies. I remember this one attractive female supervisor (who later met with an unfavorable end) who could equally rally (and or beguile) female and male staff. She reminded me of All My Children's Erica Kane. I'm sure there were women in the office who wanted be her when they grew up. She was a smooth operator, and one didn't feel the sting of poisonous dart for several minutes after leaving her presence.

I'm not female, so I can't say what it's like to be a woman in a man's world. When I first worked on a helpdesk, there was another female supervisor, reminiscent of Whitney Houston, or some other black diva, without much of the attitude. I think her being a reborn Christian helped her manage us. She too, had a way of inspiring the troops, but she did so with a smile on her face, gift mugs from Disneyland, or homemade cookies.

One of my worst immediate female supervisors was the only other black person in the department, who wanted me to align myself against the man, whitey. She had an annoying habit of flicking her long unpolished nails outward like a movie villainess as she spoke. We didn't like each other, and I did everything in my power to find a new job and move on.

One of my best immediate female supervisors reminded me of my cousin's stepmother. It was my first job in New York City, and I was admittedly homesick. I worked in credit authorization, but wasn't content, so I transferred to the credit collections department. Big mistake. I should've stayed in authorization with the homemade treats and carefully dispensed motherly advice.

A close second worst female supervisor was a woman who had major control issues. It was a long-term temp assignment, and she replaced an outgoing supervisor who was loved and respected. Inside of her first two weeks she had chipped away at the comraderie in the office, and set about trying to divide and conquer. This was a troubling environment because the staff worked well together before she arrived. I'd never seen someone with such insecurities, not even the aftermentioned nail-flicking villainess. She was rude, unprofessional, and deserved what came her way.

The male supervisors paled in comparison to the women, much like they do in men's professional tennis. I'm not one for drama, heightened or otherwise, but some men tend to grunt and shift only for the sake of announcing their continual presence.

One male supervisor stands out. He liked me in ways that I didn't want to be liked. He'd call me into his office and make subtle sexual overtures to see if I'd take the bait. I knew what he was doing, and turned a deaf ear. His attention and pet projects made me uncomfortable. I resigned after having found a new job.

Endnote:I imagine that all jobs have some level of administrative hijinks and power plays. I prefer to work in a team environment, and there's no I in team. There should be no egos, divas, stars, and slackers, but there are and will be. Everyone has a role in life and oftentimes the chess pieces collide and explode, propelling the unsuccessful players off the board and into the unemployment line.

One of my favorite lines of dialogue is in the movie Wonder Boys based on the novel by Michael Chabon. Rip Torn plays "Q", an often-published novelist/teacher to Michael Douglas's stalled and currently unpublished status. Midway through the movie, at a writer's festival on campus, Q announces: "I am a writer!" To that, the audience applauds.

My quote: "I am an artist. Crazymakers and those bent on destruction, keep five hundred feet behind."

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